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WORLD TEAMTENNIS MEDIA CONFERENCE
July 3, 2007
NOTE: Pete Sampras returns for his second season in the World TeamTennis Pro League presented by Advanta on July 10 in Newport Beach, Calif. Pete will be playing one home match for the Newport Beach Breakers and will also play three times on the road - in St. Louis, Schenectady and Philadelphia. The WTT Pro League regular season runs July 5-25 in 11 U.S. markets, with the top two teams from each conference advancing to the WTT Championship Weekend, July 27-29.
For more information, contact Rosie Crews, WTT, at 817.684.0366 (firstname.lastname@example.org ) or visit www.WTT.com.
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon and good morning, everybody. Thank you for joining us. This is Rosie Crews with World TeamTennis. I'm here with Pete Sampras for this conference call.
Pete is going to be playing four matches this summer for the Newport Beach Breakers, playing July 10th in Newport Beach, July 18th in Schenectady, July 19th in Philadelphia and July 24th returning back to St. Louis where he played (a match) last year.
I will go ahead and get started with questions. I think we will go to Houston first.
Q. Obviously, you have come a long way from this time a year ago. Can you talk a little bit about where your game is for a retired guy, of course, in context versus a year ago. Also as a second part of that, I talked to Jim Courier a week or so ago and he is of the opinion that were Wimbledon best two of three sets today, you would be a number two seed. I wonder if you agree with that assessment and where you are today versus when you came back to Houston 15 months ago.
PETE SAMPRAS: Sure, as far as the tennis, I've gotten a little bit better when I first started Houston and some World TeamTennis last year. I wasn't in the best shape. I was a little bit rusty, I wasn't really -- I wasn't practicing that much. And I think I have been consistently playing the past year, 15 months, and I have actually -- I have been playing quite well and kind of developed a little bit of my conditioning and my strength back. And for the past six months I have been playing good.
I hope to perform better this year at the TeamTennis than I did last year. Last year I wasn't very good. But I have been playing. I have been hitting three days a week for the past six months. It's amazing what a little bit of practice will do for you, so my tennis has gotten a little bit better.
As far as playing Wimbledon, I think -- I appreciate the compliment, and I think certainly grass is such a unique surface, I can probably still be competitive against anyone in a two out of three match. I can still hold serve and that's one of the things I am still doing well. I am volleying pretty well and grass is definitely a surface that is a bit of an advantage to the guys staying back like they are today, you know.
Q. It is tempting, isn't it?
PETE SAMPRAS: I am curious more than anything. I would like to play a set with one of these guys and see -- I am still serving pretty hard and volleying pretty well and moving pretty well. That's kind of half the battle. Certainly a hard court would be a little bit different. But grass -- at least when I was playing, when I saw guys stay back, that's when I start licking my chops.
I played big servers on grass. The guys that serve and volley didn't like it. I think I would be fine. I would be okay. I think if I give myself a legitimate chance to practice, to get in shape and serve and volley a ton and do the things I used to do, for one match, I can do okay.
Q. Of course, I did say best two out of three. It is not best two out of three. I still like your chances.
PETE SAMPRAS: It is such a big advantage on grass. It is sad for me to see Wimbledon today and everyone staying back. It is not one-serve and volley playing. It is sad to see that sort of game being extended. I felt grass court tennis is the attacking guy, the serve and volley guy. In my generation, that's what everyone did. You look at the French and Wimbledon, the only thing that's different is the color of the court.
Q. I wanted to talk to you a little bit about why World TeamTennis has held this appeal for you? When they called you up and asked you to do it, what was the impulse behind doing?
PETE SAMPRAS: I enjoy the night. It is actually a fun night. It is competitive tennis. It is real tennis. It is definitely an environment that I want to play well, I want to win. Give the fans a chance to see some different people, double-doubles, singles. It is a team atmosphere.
Actually, not playing well, I enjoyed the experience last year and a lot of them have been friends of mine for many, many years and I hope playing helps the tour out and helps their cause.
I'm excited about playing. Like I said, I think I will a play a little bit better this year than last year and lead our team to a few victories. And it is summer. It is a great time to be outside playing tennis and hitting the Hall of Fame here in a little bit so I will be hitting the East Coast in a couple of weeks and ready to play and have fun along the way.
Q. You are doing the Hall of Fame and also doing a Dellwood tournament in Rockham County, New York, which is also in our coverage area. I wanted to ask you, so you really have been doing quite -- I know you're playing in an exhibition with Federer later this year. What were you thinking when you were putting together -- you really have a schedule this year.
PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah, it is something that was needed, I think, after I retired and I didn't do anything for three years. I think I was getting a little restless, a touch bored. I needed to start to do something. I played in an exhibition in River Oaks 15 months ago, and that was my first exhibition in front of people.
So I kind of opened the door to playing some exhibition, and it has been really fun playing TeamTennis. Played a few Courier events. Gets me in shape and gives me something to prepare for, focus on. It is like it used to be. But every few months, I like to have something there to look forward to and playing a little bit.
I still enjoy it and use the technology like I have been doing. When I look at my schedule, it is not too taxing. The trip against Federer is a pretty unique situation going to Asia, which is a long trip. I don't think I would have committed to it unless it was Roger because for us to be competitive with one another is probably getting to an end.
So playing some exhibition, playing some TeamTennis, it is not anything I am doing week in, week out, but keeps my hands dirty which is good for every man.
Q. In particular -- my last question then. In particular, what drew you to the Dellwood tournament since that's in our area?
PETE SAMPRAS: In New Jersey?
PETE SAMPRAS: That basically came up through Justin Gimelstob. I practice with Justin here in L.A. He asked about how I felt about playing an exhibition with him, and I said, yeah. It was right after the Hall of Fame, really the same day. He said if I was interested, let him know. I had a few days off before I played in Schenectady. One thing led to another and Justin put it together.
It is a private affair. Hopefully will play well and people will enjoy it.
Q. Speaking of Schenectady, you played back here when you were 17 years old. Can you kind of describe what you remember from that experience and kind of where you were at that point in your career?
PETE SAMPRAS: Sure. I was just starting out and I was trying to make ends meet and trying to get a few points and make a few dollars.
I remember getting -- I think maybe getting a wild card in the main draw. I don't totally remember, but I remember getting to the semis and losing to Tim Mayotte top ten in the world. I think I played him reasonably tough. I think I walked out of there like I set off the guy in the top ten. I was playing pretty well for my first semi. That was really kind of my -- sort of my best week at 17 years old. When you are that young, you are just trying to win a few matches here and there. I remember Schenectady I won more than once so I felt good about it.
I played Tim reasonably close, gave me some confidence.
Q. When you are that young, is there any way to sort of envision that your career could take off the way it did or is that just way too early to really think about those sorts of things?
PETE SAMPRAS: It is really way too early. When you are a kid, you have a dream of being number one and winning Wimbledon. You don't think it will really happen. At 17, you are just trying to find your way on the road. You are still a pretty young man and trying to grow as a man but also you are out amongst guys that are older, that are more experienced than you, bigger, stronger.
Those days, you are trying to improve, trying to learn the ropes, trying to improve your game and it takes time. It doesn't happen overnight. Little did I know, I had no idea where I was going to go, how good I was going to be. I didn't think I would be sitting here today with the majors I've won.
Crazy things happened along the way for me to figure out what my direction was in the sport. By 22, 23, I knew where my place was.
Q. How were you received by the crowds when you played your WTT matches last year, and what do you anticipate the reception to be when you come back to Schenectady?
PETE SAMPRAS: Last year was great. They really responded well to me and they appreciated me playing in some of the markets I have never been to. That felt nice. It is just kind of my first sort of event for me back in four, five years. People look forward to seeing me play again, and it has been a while.
I think this year will be the same, I'm inducted into the Hall of Fame right before I play some of these matches. That's the icing on the cake for having a good career and will just hopefully play well.
That's kind of my goal. I people want to see me play well and hopefully I will perform this year better than last year.
Q. Just wanted to get your feelings on your impending Hall of Fame induction.
PETE SAMPRAS: I'm excited, looking forward to going. I am working on my speech over the last couple days, trying to put something together. It is a time to reflect and look back on my career. To my career, when I look back at the things I have been through, having my entire family over at the Hall of Fame, my family hasn't been together that often when it comes to my tennis. In some ways, it will be a little bit emotional.
I am just looking forward to the experience, seeing the Hall of Fame, seeing all the other great players that have been in there and it hasn't hit me quite yet. But I think when I step on the grounds, I think I'll appreciate it. I will appreciate my career and it is a time to reflect.
My daily life today is about my kids, about taking care of them. And this is a time to think about my career. It will give me a chance to appreciate it. I am looking forward to it. I think it will be a great time.
I talked to Courier about this and the Hall of Fame. He said he didn't quite enjoy the speech. Once that was done, he had some fun.
Q. Are you pulling for Federer to win his fifth straight Wimbledon?
PETE SAMPRAS: Well, yeah, I'm a fan. I'm a fan of his game. I am a fan of the type of player that he is. I think he's going to win his fifth. I think he will break any foreseeable tennis record that's out there.
He is my sort of guy. He is my sort of player. He is not grouchy. He is not abrasive. He is smooth. He is fun to watch. I don't see anyone really threatening him seriously, so, you know, I am pulling for him. I always pull for the favorite,.
Q. Is there someone in particular you look forward to playing against in this league?
PETE SAMPRAS: Well, I'm not sure who I am playing -- who is playing this year, so I don't know who is on the other team.
Q. What racquet are you using now?
PETE SAMPRAS: I am using a little bigger one, the one that Federer is using, kind of the red and white one.
Q. How do you like it? How do you like the new technology? Is there something new now that you're using that wasn't available back in the day?
PETE SAMPRAS: I love it. I love using the bigger racquet. What really makes a big difference is the string, the half gut, half Luxilon. It gives you power and control. That's why you see the guys hit the ball so hard, with a spin. I wish I had this ten years ago. I played with what I had. I wished I would have tried something a little different and be a little open-minded with technology back then.
Today, it is fun to try some different things.
Q. You mentioned your practice plan now. What do you do different now? You said you play three times a week. Who do you play with and all that?
PETE SAMPRAS: You know, I hit every other day for an hour, hour and a half. I will get in the gym and do a little workout. I find some young kids here. There are some young pros that are going to college, couple kids from UCLA. Every now and again a pro might come back. I hit with Haas every now and again. Jim Courier lives up in the Woodland Hills. There is an enough guys.
Justin Gimelstob, I hit with quite a bit. There is never a shortage of players. I am not looking for anything too intense but also something challenging and kind of get me out there, get a little competitive.
Q. What are your impressions of the direction that the WTT is going in?
PETE SAMPRAS: I think the direction is a very positive one. I think they see a vision of TeamTennis being a little bit different than what you see on the tour, something a little more colorful with the color of the court, having a little bit of everything. It is entertainment. They try to put out a little singles, a little doubles, a little music, just a little bit more fun atmosphere, a place where the fans can touch the players.
There are certain markets that people just really like. St. Louis last year and other places, they sold it out. It is just a reflection of building a passion for the sport and seeing this thing really do well. It's been years since they kicked it off. I see it going to become more successful. It is a testament to the passion.
I think it is a fun night. It really is. It is a fun night to get the kids involved and to, like I said, have the fans really be up and close to some of these players.
Q. Is it something that you see catching on potentially? It probably won't be mainstreamed but into a bigger form than it is right now?
PETE SAMPRAS: It is tricky. Tennis is such a traditional sport. You look at the majors and the Wimbledon and what's going on now, it is a lot of tradition. And to get into some of the things that World TeamTennis is doing, it might be a stretch and it might be tricky to hit the mainstream but I think there is a definite market for it.
I think there is a certain part of the public that want to be able to scream and shout at tennis matches and there are others that do not. A little bit of everything out there. This is something that people can choose to watch on TV or go to if there's a TeamTennis team in their city. It is traditional, but at the same time they are pushing the envelope with some of the different things.
You know, will it transcend into ATP events? Probably not. I don't know that they want to do that. I think they like having their month season and knocking it out and having some fun and make a little money along the way.
Q. With you departing in 2002 and Andre leaving after that, what do you think the state of men's tennis is right now?
PETE SAMPRAS: I think in America, with American tennis and overall, I see that, you know, it is really dominated by basically two guys -- one guy, that's Roger. Inevitably, he is breaking all my records. I have had more interview requests in the past year than I have throughout my whole career to do the comparison of the record-breaking. I think he is on his way to breaking my 14 and winning as many as Nicklaus. That's the biggest story.
As far as being the American tennis, it is a little bit on the thin side. I think Roddick is a main guy and Blake, but I think they are getting better, they are getting closer to Roger. I still think he is really the man to beat.
Ultimately, what sells sports is some sort of rivalry. The more you have with Federer and Nadal, there's not an American in there and that hurts it. After getting done with the '90s and that generation - one of the best generations in American history, it is tough to compare what we have today to that - to those '90s. I think it is unfair to live up to what we had. Jim and Andre and I won over 20 majors. We hit number one in the world. It is a unique situation.
Today it is Federer and Nadal against everybody. And Andy is behind them. He is knocking on the door. He is going to get closer. He is working harder and has a passion for the game that's fun to see. But still look at Roger as really the head of the sport right now.
Q. Do you think Americans can do anything to kind of embrace tennis a little bit more so that way they will have more of a talent pool so once guys like Andy depart; they will have more stars coming up?
PETE SAMPRAS: It is tricky. Tennis is competing with so many sports in this country. Young kids are picking up football, basketball. Maybe tennis can hit kind of the urban areas. It is not such a traditional sport, a rich man's sports, for the kids to get racquets who are a little less fortunate. Tennis isn't that expensive to play. You just need a racquet and a public court, and you can go out and play.
Ultimately when it comes to majors, I think that's when people are watching tennis. That's when the media coverage is highest. And to get an American presence in there, I think, is almost essential to transcend the sport.
I had that a little bit in the '90s with Andre. Today it has changed. Not a whole lot of tennis in the U.S. It is going over to Europe and Asia. It is a tricky time. If we can take it to a higher level and see more majors, I think that's going to help.
Q. What about women's tennis with Serena Williams and Venus Williams dominating. You think they would get more -- obviously, they get more of a following in an urban community. What is the state, do you think, of women's tennis? Do you think that has exceeded men's tennis in a way?
PETE SAMPRAS: I think they have. I think when they were dominating and doing their thing, I think they transcended the sport.
Now, they're still doing reasonably well but not as dominating. It hurts a little bit. But I think in the U.S. they have more of an impact than the men's game. I just think with their personalities, the men's don't have quite what they have. But it is still -- you know, the men's game is still a little bit more competitive. For me as a fan, a little bit more appealing to watch.
So they certainly can carry that torch and transcend it if they choose to. It is up to them what they want to do. I think it's hard to be a great player and be involved in some of these other things they've done. It seems like they are a little bit more focused now.
Q. First off, have you been approached at all to do any broadcasting, either full-time or part-time?
PETE SAMPRAS: Not officially. NBC has asked for me to try it out, and I honestly don't have that passion to go on the road and commentate. I think I would do a fine job, but I don't quite have it in me to -- it is not in my blood at the moment. Maybe I will change my tune in five, six, seven years.
Right now I am happy doing what I'm doing. But I do know the game. I don't know a lot of the players today which probably doesn't help being able to commentate, but I know how to talk about the game.
Q. On NBC as well, they announced they are letting Bud Collins go. He has had a long career in broadcasting. Any particular memories of interacting with him? Because you certainly did many times over the years.
PETE SAMPRAS: He was always nice to me. He was at Wimbledon, and we would step off behind the park and he was a colorful personality. In some ways a little over the top with some of his commentary.
That brought a lot of fans to the sport. He would yell "net cord" and go above and beyond with the enthusiasm in the booth. I think McEnroe has taken that role.
Bud, I always liked him. He loved the sport. He is passionate about the sport. He will be missed. He was part of Wimbledon for a number of years, and for him not to be back is a bit of a blow to the sport. I think people liked him. I think he was a colorful guy. He will certainly be missed.
Q. Similar to the broadcasting question, I was just wondering, Luke Jensen, he is now the coach at Syracuse. Have you ever been interested in getting into coaching at college or any kind of professional level?
PETE SAMPRAS: No, not college. If anything, I have been hitting with some of the young kids for the past year. Some of the young pros, juniors going into college. I have been somewhat interested in trying to help a little bit.
My experience being on the road with the game itself, anything where it is a serious job, I don't think so. I like helping and kind of giving my two cents.
Q. Are there any young players that you are guying your eye on?
PETE SAMPRAS: Hit with Sam Querrey here in L.A. a few times. I felt he has got a great game, a great attitude, someone that can do really well. It is limited out there, but I think he can do well. Some of the younger ones that are going to college, nobody you would know. Other than that, there is not a ton of guys here.
So I am not that in touch with it, but I am just kind of seeing who is around the L.A. area and practicing with them and kind of just going from there.
Q. Again, kind of an unrelated two questions. We're in the middle of Wimbledon right now. Is it strange for you, even after a number of years, to be at home and not be at Wimbledon? And, of course, the follow-up to that is do you miss the rain delays?
PETE SAMPRAS: The first question, you know, at first when I retired and the first couple years, yeah, it was weird. And now that it's been five years, no, not as much. I have gotten used to it. I've watched the finals here because I am not in Europe, that's a little bit different.
I am so far removed from the sport and kind of being at any of these majors that I am used to kind of my life now at home and so forth.
Rain delays, I don't miss rain delays. One of the toughest things about Wimbledon is rain -- I remember playing one year, I played on a Monday and then I didn't play until Friday. So you were basically starting over. I always felt that was unique about Wimbledon. I felt it was a challenge, with grass court tennis; you have to be on your toes from the first point. Everyone was in the same boat, that's why I don't want to rain on the parade of the roof but I am not that much in favor of it.
I just think part of the rain is part of the charm of Wimbledon. It rains and you have to step off the court for two hours or six hours. You know, it is a mental sort of test. It is not a physical test. Just waiting to play -- what time do I eat? You know, it is really a challenge.
So I don't miss those days at all. But I will say I still miss Wimbledon. Today I miss it. I will miss it when I am 45 and 55. It is still of a big part of my life.
Q. It is one thing to play Justin Gimelstob in exhibition. It is another thing to play Roger. Can you reflect how you will approach that match and what does it all mean? If you are placing your serve and hitting 65%, Roger will never break you.
PETE SAMPRAS: When I practiced with Roger here before Indian Wells, I was serving quite well and holding serve pretty handedly. If there is anything Roger doesn't like to see it is someone coming in and serving and volleying, someone putting pressure on him. I think my game matched up reasonably well against his.
Playing Roger, before I go out, I will have to be practicing a lot and have to be serving and volleying a lot. Really make sure my body is fit enough to go the distance with him.
And just playing, playing a lot and hitting the ball well. Hopefully I can find my game as we go. I think Roger will get done playing four weeks in Europe. So he will be pretty primed and ready where I will have to find my confidence as we go. So that will be tricky.
And I am just practicing, hitting the ball well. It is nice to hit with him here and I held my own here at my house. But maybe he won't embarrass me anymore on the road. We'll see.
Q. You really do want to show well there. I don't know if you need to make a statement, but you really do want to play well against him.
PETE SAMPRAS: Sure, sure. People are going to be interested in the outcome. I don't think we want to be too much into the results, but I think for me at this stage of my life, if I could play well and push him a little bit and make it competitive, that's what I am looking forward to. I don't think I am going to win any of these matches. But if I can push him to a few breakers, I would feel ecstatic, I really would.
You never know. I have never really practiced really full-time. If I hit every day for two, three weeks and really, really focused on what I am going to do against him before I play him. It will be tricky -- it will be interesting to see how well I do. For me it is a timing issue with my serve and volley, if I really get that timing down and that movement, I think I will be able to hold my own for a little while.
THE MODERATOR: Pete, thank you very much so much for joining us.
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