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January 25, 2011

Pete Sampras

THE MODERATOR: Thanks for joining in for today's call with Hall of Famer and 14-time Grand Slam Singles Champion Pete Sampras, who joins us from his home in Los Angeles.

Pete, who is a two-time SAP winner in 1996 and '97 is the only player in the ATP World Tour rankings history to finish No. 1 for six years in a row. He's also the all-time leader with 286 weeks at No. 1.

I'll introduce Tournament Director Bill Rapp.
BILL RAPP: Thanks, Jim. And thanks to all of you for joining the call this morning. Pete, wanted to start with a question. You've obviously had a lot of success at the SAP Open in the past. Can you just share with us some of your fondest moments of playing in San Jose?
PETE SAMPRAS: Yes, I remember playing Andre in '96, I believe. I think he beat me in Australia. Our No. 1 ranking was up in the air. And I remember playing a great match. Beat him pretty convincingly.
Next year, playing Rusedski, who ended up hurting his wrist in the match. I sort of snuck that one out. But I've always enjoyed playing in San Jose. It was close to home, great crowd, nice arena to play in, a lot of support from the community in San Jose. And I've just enjoyed playing there. And I'm looking forward to going up in a few weeks.

Q. This will be your first time on Monday night you'll be playing in an exhibition against Gael Monfils. What do you know about his game, and what do you expect the match will be like?
PETE SAMPRAS: Well, it does get a little more difficult as time goes on to play these young guys. And Gael, I've seen him play a number of types. He's a talent, exciting, athletic player that can do a lot of different things on the court. It's not going to be an easy match for me to beat him.
Hoping to make it competitive and the fans can enjoy it. But he's one of the best players in the world. And it's just going to get better and better, and he's young and he's eager.
But for me, it's about being competitive. It's about seeing if I can put a little pressure on him, kind of go from there. But I don't play at this level very often. So it doesn't come that easily to me.
But I'm looking forward to it, even though I've got my hands full.

Q. I was wondering, obviously a down period a little bit for American tennis. I was wondering what you attribute that to, and do you see it turning around?
PETE SAMPRAS: I don't have a great answer why it's on a decline. I don't think decline, but I think what happened in the '90s was pretty rare with Kristof and Jim and Andre and Michael.
I think we have some young kids that have a lot of potential in Isner and Querrey. And Andy is getting a little bit older and James Blake is sort of not playing as much.
It's a tricky time. I think the game has gotten so global, you have so many different areas in the world that are playing tennis. And a lot of talented players around the world, that it is tougher for America to dominate. And I think this is what happened in the '90s. It's hard to duplicate that every decade. Just gotta be realistic about it. Might take a few more years to get a crew of Americans.
But we're fine. We're not where we want to be. It goes in cycles. And unfortunately we're not where we want to be in that cycle.
I mean, you've got two legends dominating in the game. And it's hard to really compete with those guys when it comes to the Isners and the Querreys, those guys are head and shoulders above everyone else. So it's a tricky time. But hopefully we can turn this around.

Q. Pete, Mats Wilander recently admitted that while on paper he thinks Roger is the greatest of all time, if you look at the numbers. But the competition that he's faced over these years, the Roddicks, the Hewitts of the world, is it necessarily the highest level of competition? And back when he was playing, whether it was the McEnroes and the Connors and the Beckers, et cetera, of the world it was a tougher time. I wonder if you could comment on that and compare Yuri or Andre, et cetera, that you had to face and what that compares to this current era?
PETE SAMPRAS: I understand what he's saying. And what's happening in the game, it's only a handful of great players. I think there's a lot of really good players. And there's only a number of guys that have won majors. Mats' generation, my generation, there's a lot more major winners. Becker, Edberg, Stich, Courier, Agase, going down the list.
Now with Roger being so dominating over the years that there's not anyone else that really believes, if it's a Sodelring or Vibrato, they're really, really good players. But I don't think they believe can win majors.
And I think it's an answer to how dominant Roger's been and how great he's been. Not necessarily how the competition hasn't been great. I think it might be a little bit of both.
But it's sort of a time of tennis where I've never seen two guys dominate as much as these guys have. And the competition is -- the competition, nothing that Roger can do about it. If he plays Wawrinka like he did the other night and it was a 1-3-1 in an hour and 20 minutes, it's not his fault he's that much better.
And guys are just pretty content now just getting to the quarters and just sort of not believing in themselves being able to beat Roger and Rafa. I think they're clearly the best players in the world, but I think mentally they've got a really big edge on these guys.

Q. You spoke about how hard you worked for those six years to stay atop at No. 1. Has he had to work as hard with the competition that he's faced as you had to in that era?
PETE SAMPRAS: Well, it's a different sort of -- he's up against different sort of players as far as styles of play. I felt in my day there were some players that were dangerous, had big serves, that could serve you off the court.
I played one of those guys one day and the next day play a great returner. Versus Roger never feels scared out there. I think he doesn't feel like he's under that much pressure against some of these guys.
I think just everyone sort of plays the same. Roger is just better at it. And Rafa, they move just better. They move better from the back court. Mentally stronger. It's very clear to me there's no major threat when it comes to like a Krajicek or Ivanovic, guys that potentially can blow you off the court with their serve.
But I just think you just have to admire what these guys have been able to do, being so consistent. It's incredible. And that's the way I look at it. I don't look at it as, wow, they're not playing anybody. They're playing the competition of their generation and they're dominating. That's enough for me.

Q. Pete, just curious, in reference to the greats of today and your great play that preceded them, could you make a comparison to you at the height of your game and what we're seeing from Federer and Nadal today, if we could change time and put you head to head in your heydays?
PETE SAMPRAS: I think when you get your top guy in your generation, I think like if it's me and Andre or Becker, I was going to win my first year big ones; they were going to win their first year big ones.
And I think that it's hard to compare the decades. I think that if we had -- we're all playing at the same time. I just think it all would have been pretty even depending on the surface. I think there would have been a lot of wealth spread.
I don't think one guy would have been clearly 10 and 1 against someone. I think it would have been pretty even. My game certainly would hold up, I believe, in any generation with a certain volley game. And everyone talks about that game being extinct. I still think it's an effective way to play.
I think it would have been exciting, and we all want to compare generations and what I do against Borg or McEnroe or Laver, for that matter. It's hard to compare it. The game has changed; the technology has changed. But I feel like we all felt that -- in my prime I felt unbeatable, as does Roger, as does Lendl, as did Laver. I think it's just the way we look at our decade and to say one's better than the other, it's hard to compare.
But I felt I came out of a generation that was very, very strong and very deep. And I feel proud about that.

Q. Quick follow-up, how about Federer and Nadal now likely perhaps headed for a showdown in Melbourne for it at all, how do you think that would shape up?
PETE SAMPRAS: I think it would be great. Adds to the rivalry and adds to the sport. And we're waiting for them to play again. They obviously have a little bit of work to do to get there.
But I really like Roger's chances. I think he hasn't expended a lot of energy in his first number of matches. I Djokovic will be a challenge. But I think he can beat him. And Nadal and Rogers is a toss up. I can't say one is a clear favorite. Maybe Rafa with the slight edge because of what's been happening here.
Anyway it's going to be exciting. It's like the Packers and Steelers, you have the two best teams playing in the Super Bowl. You'll have the two best players playing down there. I think it's going to be Roger and Rafa.

Q. If Nadal wins in Australia for his fourth in a row, where do you rank that in terms of major tennis accomplishments, and how does it compare to Laver's calendar year Slams.
PETE SAMPRAS: If you look at the record book, it's not the calendar year and the record books, but I think that is what it is. But for what he's going to do here, if he does it, you know, it's incredible.
I mean, I don't know what else to say about it. That it's one of the greatest achievements in all of sports in this day and age where the competition is a lot more fierce than it was back when Laver was doing it.
It's hard to believe, honestly, that he's so close to doing it, that he very well could do it; that it's mindboggling to be that consistent and to win on all those surfaces and in a day and age where the competition is very tough.
You gotta put him right up there with Laver, with that Grand Slam. I mean, like I said, technically it's not January through the Open, but in my eyes he's going to hold all four of them at one time, which no one's done that since Laver, which is pretty incredible.

Q. A follow-up on Courier, who is about to embark on his Davis Cup debut. Obviously you know from Jim from competing on Davis Cup teams. Can you talk about what are his qualities as a coach?
PETE SAMPRAS: I think he's a great candidate, great captain that he's going to bring a lot of experience. He's going to bring a hard-nosed attitude to his players. His presence on the court will be felt by everybody. He's a very intense guy. But I think he's aware of the different personalities on the team, if it's Isner or Querrey or Roddick, he's been around long enough to know what to say, what not to say. I think he's going to be pretty disciplined, pretty structured.
And just knowing Jim as a competitor and as a guy that trained very hard, he was very just, you know, he was very organized. And I think he'll be a great captain. I think the players respect him. And I think he'll do a great job.

Q. Let's say that we have a Nadal/Federer final on medium hard court, and you're the coach. What do you tell Federer the night before and how he can bring down Rafa and what do you tell Rafa?
PETE SAMPRAS: You know, I've always felt playing lefties and Nadal, especially, that you're really -- you know, I did this a little bit against when I played against Andre, you have to use the whole court, you can't get it just to his backhand. You have to go wide to Rafa's forehand, open it up, get it to the backhand.
I think something that Roger might try, isn't going to do it every game, but second serve, run around and smack forehands and chip and charge a little bit. I think what Roger doesn't want to get involved in is sort of long, grinding rallies that are tough to recover from that will take its toll over a five set match. And Rafa can keep doing that. I think he has to take his chances, serve and volley occasionally, even on the second serve, because Rafa stands so far back. Just giving different looks. And I know that's a little uncomfortable for Roger just to get out of that. But I think against Rafa, I think he's forced to do some things that he doesn't have to against other players. I just think that Rafa is that tough for him.
But use the whole court. Try to take your chances. Come in a little bit. Other than that, he just has to play and just think of a couple of those things and take some chances.
I just don't think he wants to get in long, grinding rallies. He's great at that. And he can win a lot of points that way. But over three hours and five sets, I just think it's tough to keep that up physically and mentally against Rafa.

Q. What does Rafa have to do to take down Roger?
PETE SAMPRAS: I think Rafa just wants to do what he does well, and that's play long points and play grinding points, being able to throw in a couple of aces here and there.
Make Roger work. Obviously get a little bit more to his backhand. But Rafa's goal is just to grind him down and just be the counter-puncher that he is.
And I think where Rafa is going for the big blow, I think Rafa has to sort of stay back, be consistent, maybe Roger miss a little bit. And just because Rafa seems to play well. It just a matter that Roger can be better than him on that day, because Rafa, I don't see him missing a lot. I see him being the machine that he is.

Q. Do you think there's any similarity at all between Rafa's grind 'em down mentality and what Andre tried to do on a hot day?
PETE SAMPRAS: Different. Different. Andre was a little, played a little closer to the baseline, and with my game it sort of felt -- if Andre was moving well and returning well it was sort of a long day for me. It's similar, but they're different ways to win the point.
Rafa is more of a spin and get it high to your backhand, where Andre was a little more offensive early on and sort of stood closer into the baseline.
So they're counter-punches that Andre was just a little bit, just caught a little bit earlier where Rafa gives you a little bit more time but obviously moves a ton better than Andre and probably and competes just -- he probably competes a little harder than Andre as well.

Q. If there was someone's stroke you could magically have had to just to add to your considerable arsenal, what stroke out there, what quality of a particular player would you really like to have had?
PETE SAMPRAS: You know, it's hard to say. If I take a Nadal, you know, forehand, whatever on clay. Then you sort of lose your serve. I don't think there's really -- you know, any stroke, to be as strong and as mentally and physically as Nadal has, I think that's what I would take, you know what I mean. It wouldn't be a serve or a forehand.
It would just be more like a mentality that he has that he was given from his parents as something that's hard to find, hard to teach.
He just have that attitude of being a marathon runner, just keeps going. That's something that I had but he has it at a whole new level.

Q. On the question I was asking when Rafa and Roger are playing, when Roger finds himself sort of pinned on his backhand by Nadal's forehand, how can he get out of that situation of just being pounded?
PETE SAMPRAS: It's very tough. It's what makes Rafa as great as he is. It's tough to get control at that point. And once Rafa gets that ball to his backhand, it's hard. I can tell you from one-handers, it's the hardest shot in the game for us.
And you know it's hard to -- what can you do? You just gotta try to get it back deep and wait for your forehand, and you can try to chip it, but it's gotta be a good chip. I think he is returning Rafa's serve and being pretty aggressive with it.
Once you get one short ball you have your track shoes on and he's going to get it to your backhand. And (inaudible) did that to me. And those guys. So there's not much he can do. It's a very, it's an uphill battle once those points happen.
That's why Rafa has been dominant against anyone in the game just because of that play that he has against the one-handers. The guys like the Berdychs and the guys that have the two backhands that kind of hit it through the court is tougher for Rafa, whereas Rafa and Roger was at a bit of a disadvantage.

Q. You did say the final would be a tossup. But if you had to do a prediction, Roger in five, Rafa in four?
PETE SAMPRAS: It's so difficult to just think on the three out of five and depending on the conditions, it's a 50/50. You might give an extra percentage or two to Rafa just because of his play, does have some work to get there, they both do. But if it happened -- Rafa might be the slight, just because of the last year. And Roger can win just as easily. He has to play well. If he has a off day, then Rafa will win the title. But there's some work to be done.

Q. Pete, you were sounding pretty natural as a coach there for a minute, any developments in that area we should know about?
PETE SAMPRAS: No. But I do know the sport, and I know the ins and outs and the mentality. But no one's approached me as far as coaching. I think they're all a little scared to.

Q. I know you had talked to Patrick a little bit, but there were sort of no meetings of the minds with USTA. So any further discussions there?
PETE SAMPRAS: When the phone doesn't ring, I know it's them. Listen, I've talked to Pat. I live in LA. I know there's some pros that come around here. I love helping some young guys and being on the court with them. It's fun for me. And I could shed a little bit of my knowledge.
But like I said, when the phone doesn't ring I know it's the USTA.

Q. And two days ago you know Milos Raonic, this incredible Canadian with incredible serve, said you were his idol and that really inspired him especially with the serve. When you hear things like that in terms of your heritage and legacy, what does that say to your heart and so forth, how does that feel?
PETE SAMPRAS: Makes me feel old. (Laughter) Makes me feel like, wow, what I thought about Laver, what he thought about me he was probably born in the '90s.
It's flattering and sometimes you forget the impact you've had on the sport when you've been out of it six, seven years, and people looked up to my game and my serve and emulating some of those things. It's very flattering.

Q. To let you guys know, Milos Raonic, we just gave him a main draw wildcard. So he's coming up to San Jose. Pete, he let us know he wants to meet you.

Q. How important was going to Lendl's place and practicing with him when you were real young and seeing his work ethic and so forth, was that a key?
PETE SAMPRAS: It was just a good eye-opener for me being around the best player in the world seeing the way he prepares for his matches, seeing how he trains, just getting to know him a little bit and how organized he was. At 16 you're not grasping what's really going on with your career, you're just trying to play some good tennis just a good eye-opener for me to see a legend in the game in his prime prepare for his matches at the Masters, seeing him play, talking about the sport, talking about my game, going on these 25-mile bike rides in the middle of winter in Connecticut, just what he had to do to, just a good eye opener for me to get insight on Ivan and the respect I have for him and someone that wasn't blessed with the talent of a McEnroe but overcame it with hard work and dedication, and I saw that firsthand.

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