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January 14, 2010

Pete Sampras

THE MODERATOR: Pete, thank you very much for joining the call.
PETE SAMPRAS: No problem.

Q. Few basic facts about Pete. He is a two-time SAP Open champion, '96 and '97; he owns 14 Grand Slam singles titles; and the thing that I just learned yesterday, he made the final at Wimbledon seven times and won all seven of those titles; for six consecutive years finished the season ranked No. 1 on the ATP Tour, and won more than $43 million in prize money.
Monday, February 8 at 7:00 p.m., Pete will kick off the 2010 the SAP Open with a charity singles exhibition against world No. 9 Fernando Verdasco of Spain, and this is the first time these two players have ever stepped on a court together.
So I'll kick off the questions. Pete, when you kick off the event in February, you'll play Verdasco, a guy you've never played. What are your thoughts about returning to go San Jose and playing Verdasco?
PETE SAMPRAS: I'm looking forward to it. I always enjoyed my time in San Jose having played a few years, played Tommy a couple times.
When you play a current player that's a really good player like Fernando, it's not gonna be easy for me. I kind of have to get to work here a little bit and hopefully play well.
It's always a good crowd that night, great atmosphere. I'm looking forward to it.

Q. What kind of training regimen are you on these days to do these exhibition matches? What keeps you interested in doing these matches? Is it getting back in front of the big crowd and playing, just sticking with it a little bit?
PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah, it keeps me in shape and keeps me doing something that I'm pretty good at.
As far as my training regimen, I probably work-out just about every day I do something physical. If I don't play basketball, go for a run, get on the bike, do something.
As you get older, everything sort of slows down. I think playing has enabled me to be in good shape, and to go up and play someone like Fernando is not easy. Kind of have to start playing some sets and getting the body ready to go at that speed, which is a speed I don't really play that much at.
So when I play someone like Tommy or Fernando, it's whole new ballgame. It's not like playing the UCLA kids here. It's just a different pace, so I just gotta find my way and get up there and do what I can and have some fun with it.
But at the same time, these people want me to play well and serve and volley the way I used to. It's not as easy, but I'll do my best.

Q. Pete, how long does it take you to get your form back if you haven't been playing as regularly so you feel you're be at your best?
PETE SAMPRAS: I give myself a good two to three weeks where I'm playing every other day, you know, physically doing a few things, getting into the whole -- the heart of things for me is movement and flexibility, so I spend a little bit more time stretching.
It's easy for my body to break down, and it's important to stay healthy. And because I'm not playing consistently, I'm sort of prone to getting injured.
So it's just taking my time, easing my way into it, and then I'll just start playing some sets two or three weeks a little more seriously, and, you know, just really just try to find my rhythm and my game.
Then when you go out and play, obviously you do the work beforehand. When you go out there, you've sort of got some nerves and want to get off to a good start and settle into the match. Hopefully that's what I'll be able to do.

Q. I'm wondering, when you play the younger guys and maybe if you do well against them, in the back of your head, does that make you wonder how you could do right now if you were still playing?
PETE SAMPRAS: Not really. I have said this the last number of years, if I could be just competitive against Tommy Haas or Fernando or Roger when I played him a couple years ago, that's all I'm really looking for. If I win a set, great. If I happen to win, that's even better. I'm not expecting miracles out there.
When you've been retired six, seven years, you lose a little bit of your sharpness and movement. It's just a matter ever time where everything just starts slowing down.
So I enjoy it. I don't ever think about coming back. I'm happy with where I'm at in my life, and really glad not to be in Australia. I mean, I miss it obviously, but at the same time, it was a lot of work.

Q. I believe last time you visited San Jose you had the most Grand Slam titles, and now you're coming back as the ex-record holder. How does that feel, and have you gotten used to that title?
PETE SAMPRAS: I got used to it and I pretty much accepted it a couple years ago when Roger was winning major with ease. Even though he's had to work harder the last couple years, I always knew it was inevitable that he was gonna break the record, it was just a matter of when.
And to be there at Wimbledon last year, it wasn't bittersweet, because I accepted that he was gonna do it. There's nothing you can do about it today except sort of admire what he's been able to do and how good he is.
Records are made to be broken. I really felt 14 was gonna be a tough one to break, and little did I know that Roger was gonna come around in the next seven, eight years and do it.
I'm happy with what I was able to do in the '90s. It was a tough generation, and 14 was quite a bit. Roger is the player of his time and an incredible athlete.

Q. Is that as impressive as anything in his run, that he's done it in the number of years he's done it?
PETE SAMPRAS: Oh, yeah, just being so consistent and winning so many in such a short amount of time. I won my first at 19, and I think he won his first at somewhere 21, 22. So in that short span of time to win on the average the two a year, two or three a year is just incredible. It's just a great run of dominating in any sport maybe in the history of sports. It's just phenomenal.
The next couple years will be interesting to see if he can maintain it. But for three or four years he was winning his majors with easy, but now he's got more competition with Nadal. For a while he was unbeatable.

Q. What was your reaction to Agassi's book?
PETE SAMPRAS: Regarding what?

Q. Well, I mean, you know, the big revelation. He played a lot of tennis on crystal meth, for instance.
PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah. (Laughter.)

Q. He was big rival of yours.
PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah, he was big rival. I think it's a reflection that I didn't know Andre all that well in our competitive days. Got to know him a little bit better as we got older, but in the mid-20s and times he was there and at times he was a little removed. Little did I know he was getting involved in some bad decisions.
He had a lot of peaks and valleys, a lot of ups. You know, everyone's sort of asking about it and talking about the whole crystal meth. Decided to bring it out now, which was a little surprising, but Andre always likes to separate himself from the rest, good or bad. Certainly this is something that he has clearly separated himself from.

Q. Did you read of book?

Q. Did you plan to?
PETE SAMPRAS: You know, I'm not much of a reader. I don't know, I probably won't. You know, I'm not much of a reader.

Q. Have you heard of anything in there that might have upset you at all about the game or you?
PETE SAMPRAS: I got wind of a few things that he said about me, and, you know I was a little surprise and a little disappointed. I always felt like Andre and I had risen above taking shots at one another. When I did my book, you know, it wasn't my may way of setting scores or taking shots.
Personally, I was a little disappoint that had he took some shots. I'd like to sit with him man to man and ask him about it.

Q. One of the things Agassi always wrote was that he feels that winning all of the slams is more important than the number of slams won. Do you agree with that?
PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah, I mean, they're both great records. I like, you know -- having a lot just means you've been able to maintain it for many, many years versus obviously not having as many, just a short little window. You'd rather have it all, but I prefer to have the numbers.

Q. And how much does it bother you that you never won the French Open?
PETE SAMPRAS: At the time I was competing it was frustrating. I was disappointed with not being able to figure it out. In my everyday life today, I rarely think about it. It's one of those things that never seemed to find my game there at the right time. Came close one year, but it wasn't meant to be.

Q. I hate to keep harping on the Andre book, but I wanted to get your reaction to his statement that tennis played too big a part of your life and too little a part of his. What are your thoughts on that statement?
PETE SAMPRAS: It's the first I heard the statement. We were going in two different directions. I think he was sort of lost and not sure what he wanted, and I knew exactly where I wanted to go.
In order to be the best player in the word, tennis has to be your life. It's a sacrifice, and something I was willing to do and it was something he was willing to do at times. But consistently I was willing to sacrifice more than many.
You can't have it both ways. I did it my way, and I have no regrets when I look back on my career that it was just a big focus for me. Now being retired for six, seven years, I can do what I want. I felt like in the my physical prime, it was time to take advantage of it. I didn't want to let any time go by that I packed it in or I got soft. I just wanted to keep going.

Q. One of the other revelations was that he hated tennis at some periods of his life. Was there ever a moment during your career when you got up one day to go out to practice or you had a night match on a back court somewhere and you just really weren't up for it and sort of disliked the game, or did you always love it?
PETE SAMPRAS: Listen, we all have our days in all professions. It's tough. You have to get up and practice and train and do all those sort of grinding things. But at the same time, we're making a hell of a lot of money playing a sport and being recognized all around the world. I just felt like it was a pretty cool place to be.
Most 20 year olds were looking at what they're doing with their lives and getting in and out of college. And I just felt an appreciation for the sport. It's done a lot for my life and given me some financial security, which is great.
I never once hated the sport. It was more you had your times where you were just sort of getting through some tough moments. That's part of it. It's part of great job. You're gonna have your highs and lows. To say you hated it was a bit extreme for me.

Q. I know you spoke about the Wimbledon record. Anything that stands out to you that you would like to hold on to.
PETE SAMPRAS: Um, well, the years at No. 1 six years in a row is probably something that's gonna stay for a little while. That's one I'm proud of, and I worked hard to get that. That's just a lot of hard work and consistency and being on top for so many years, so I think that's a record that I'm proud of that is gonna be tough to break.

Q. I spoke a couple weeks ago to Fernando's agent, and he mentioned something interesting. He said that when he brought this up about playing against you, he said it was about a five-second decision. He smiled and said, I'm very excited to play against Pete Sampras. I can't wait. Why do you think he said that?
PETE SAMPRAS: He probably grew up watching me play a little bit and maybe admired my game. I'm not too sure why else. I'm looking forward to playing him. I've seen him playing quite a bit over the last few years, and he's got a big game and he's one of top players in the world. He serves well, huge forehand.
It's gonna be a competitive match. That's what I'm hoping for. I hope we spend a little time beforehand and hit a few balls and get used to his pace and go out and play some good tennis.

Q. Any chance we'll see you fall out of your shoes on match point?
PETE SAMPRAS: I'll tighten them up a little bit better this year. Let's hope that doesn't happen.

Q. Do you get invited to a lot of these tournaments? Why do you pick San Jose?
PETE SAMPRAS: Well, Bill's been nice enough to invite me to San Jose. He invited me to Memphis for a Monday match. It's close for me. It's an hour flight. Pretty much up and back pretty much the same day.
To play someone like Fernando or Tommy Haas is exciting for me. It keeps me going and in shape. Those are basically the reasons why I choose San Jose.
If Bill was in New York, it would are tougher decision for me to go play one match. San Jose is convenient, and I'm looking forward to it.

Q. In this day and age when there's so much negative news about athletes, the debate seems to continue about whether or not professional athletes should be held up as role models. Do you think they should be?
PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah, I think so. I think kids are look up to who's on TV and things that I used to do or whoever, if it's Kobe or LeBron, I mean, that's what kids look up to. What kind of they're wearing and what they're saying.
Even my seven-year-old kid is into Kobe Bryant and watching him. I'm seeing it kind of through my kid's eyes, and as much as he looks up to me and all these other athletes.
I think there's a responsibility, and if you make some mistakes, I don't think you should be judged as hard as some of the guys. But it's something I was sort of aware of when I was doing my thing. I never wanted to embarrass myself or say or do anything to embarrass my family.
Some people liked it and some people didn't. I wasn't gonna sell out for more money or marketing or any of that stuff. I sort of stayed true to myself and the way I was raised.

Q. Was that a burden or all, or did you feel like it wasn't so tough?
PETE SAMPRAS: It wasn't so tough. I mean, I think people wanted me to push the envelope a little bit by doing more and saying more. And, sure, I could have created a little controversy, but that wasn't what I was about. I was about winning and being the best player in the world and about being a positive role model to some kids.
I think that's what means the most to me, is when parents come up to me and say, Wow, you were really great for my kid. Really feels like I'm making an impact versus getting involved in all the glitz and glamour of the sport.
It was a responsibility for me, but it was also the way I was and the way I was raised. I didn't want it offend anyone. I just wanted to play and let my racquet do the talking. And in a day and age where people and media want more, all this sort of 24 hour Internet stuff, it's getting out of hand. I'm glad I played in the '90s. Things were reasonably simple back then.

Q. Michael Chang was elected to the Hall of Fame one year after you. How do you feel about him getting in with one slam?
PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah, well, I think he's proven he's a great player. Winning one is -- you know, I think there are some people in there that haven't won any majors in singles. Pam Shriver doesn't have a win there. I think Michael deserves it. He got to the final of the US Open and was a couple points away from being No. 1 in the world and beating me at the US Open.
So I think he's deserving of it. I think there are some people in there that are a question mark, but I think Michael is a great player and was at the top of the game for many, many years. Just always had a lot respect for Michael. Not the best of friends, but always respected him.

Q. When did you play him for the first time?
PETE SAMPRAS: I was eight years old and he was seven in California. I ended up winning the match, but he was one of the first guys that able to push me a little bit on the court. We battled through the juniors and early on in the pros. He's sort of been my rival throughout my career.
And as I started to dominate the sport a little bit, he was always the one that gave me problems. I think as I got a little better in my mid-20s, I sort of started to figure him out and really dominate him.
THE MODERATOR: Pete, thank you very much for your time today.
PETE SAMPRAS: No problem.

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