August 25, 2003
NEW YORK CITY
RANDY WALKER: Welcome, everybody. Pete is going to start with a statement and then we'll go to the question and answer session. Pete.
PETE SAMPRAS: First of all, I want to thank everyone for coming here. I really, really appreciate it. I think you know why we're here, is to announce my retirement. It's been quite a process this past year. I know that the process is now over. So I am a hundred percent retired. It brings back a lot of memories, coming back here to the site, being back in New York. I'm looking forward to tonight. You know, I knew once Wimbledon came and went that it was time for me to stop. And I know that it's time. And I'm content and I'm at peace with it. It's time to, you know, call it a career. Couldn't happen at a better place than here in New York where everything happened for me at 19, and it ended for me last year here. Anyone has any questions (laughter), you guys can ask.
Q. If you were still one Grand Slam behind or tied with Emerson, would you be retiring today?
PETE SAMPRAS: It's hard to say. That slam record was something that was really important to me. I worked hard, I focused on it. Once I did it, I felt like it could have been time to stop then. But I wanted to win one more. It was a tough year and a half. To win last year felt great. But that 12 was definitely a number that I had on my mind. It felt nice to break it at Wimbledon.
Q. When Boris retired for the first time, he initially retired from Grand Slam play only. I read an interview. He said he just didn't have the selfishness in him required to compete at the highest level in Grand Slam tournaments and also have a life. It sucks too much out of you; you don't have enough to give to your wife and child. Could you comment on that.
PETE SAMPRAS: Well, I'm not retiring because I'm married or, you know, I have a son. I'm retiring because I have nothing to prove to myself. I've always had challenges ahead of me, either staying No. 1 or winning majors. My biggest challenge was last year when I didn't win an event for a year and a half, and the challenge of winning one more. Once I did that, I felt, you know, I really have climbed a tall mountain. If there's something out there I wanted to achieve, I would go and do it. You know, the support of my wife and family, to go and travel, to go and focus, do everything I need to do. I'm content, I'm a hundred percent content with everything I've done.
Q. Can you tell us what's gone on the last few months that's brought you to this point? We were all wondering what you were going to do. Tell us some of the process.
PETE SAMPRAS: The process, like I said, before Wimbledon, when I started to do some training and practicing, I felt this was real, I was going to stop at some point. I felt like it was going to be maybe later in the year. But I feel like I was ready, I was ready to move on and retire. The USTA approached me a few weeks ago as far as coming here and being part of the ceremony. I'm flattered, you know, to be back. But I know in my heart it's time.
Q. Can you talk about what it was like just walking in here? I know you're emotional now, but just arriving on the grounds tonight, did you look at center court, anything?
PETE SAMPRAS: No. All I did -- it was an emotional drive, just driving here, my last time doing that. I just went into the office. I haven't seen the court, haven't really seen anybody. Just got here a few minutes ago. I'm sure tonight will be emotional, to be back on the court, to see the fans. It's definitely coming to terms with stopping. This is something that I love to do and I've been doing since I was seven. Saying good-bye is not easy, but I know it's time in my heart (tearing up).
Q. What do you want to do with the next 10 years of your life?
PETE SAMPRAS: I'm going to figure that out over the next couple years.
Q. What are the options?
PETE SAMPRAS: Whatever I want really. I can watch my boy grow up, be a good husband. Really I'm going to figure that out. I'm enjoying my time, playing a lot of golf, doing a lot of things that I couldn't do for many years. That's really it. But there will come a day that I'll want to do something. I just don't know right now.
Q. You talked about coming to terms with giving up. Did it take a full year for you to do that?
PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah.
Q. How hard was that?
PETE SAMPRAS: It was very hard. I went through this process starting last year here. After winning, two months after winning here, I felt like I wasn't sure what was next. I kept on pulling out of events through the year, always thinking I might play Wimbledon again. And once I started doing some practicing and training for Wimbledon, and my heart wasn't into it, I knew that it was time, or the time was close to just saying good-bye. And I know in my heart that I'm done, a hundred percent done, I'm not coming back, coming out of retirement. I'm at peace with it. That's great.
Q. What was the biggest thing in the other category to make you consider not being done?
PETE SAMPRAS: Well, playing well again. Winning here last year. Momentum, just keep it going for this year. But I realize it's a lot of work, a lot of focus. I've been going at it pretty hard for a very long time. And either I'm going to do it all the way or I'm not going to do it at all. I'm not going to play to say good-bye, I'm going to play to win. And once I felt that my heart just wasn't where it needs to be, it needs to be in your blood. And after The Open last year, I felt like slowly it was going away. And I'm at peace. I'm really a hundred percent done.
Q. Four men, if I'm right, very important in your game: your dad took you out to the courts, Pete gave you your early strokes, Gully and Paul guided you. Of those four, which do you think was most key? Secondly, what was it like going through the Wimbledon fortnight and not being there? Did you watch? Was that tough?
PETE SAMPRAS: I watched a little bit, but it wasn't tough. You know, first day I saw Wimbledon, I missed it, I missed the court, I missed the stadium. It's another tournament. It's a grind. It's a lot of pressure. In a lot of ways, I was glad I was home. The answer to your first question, obviously, my dad, he gave me the chance to play, which I'll always be thankful. And Tim, he took me from 6 in the world as far as going No. 1 in the world. Lost him. Paul really, for the past seven years, has been huge for my career. I mean, he has never got the credit that he deserves, and has been instrumental with everything I've done in my career as far as staying No. 1. It worked out well.
Q. Would you be where you were without Pete Fisher?
PETE SAMPRAS: You could say that. But, you know, I don't --
Q. You always shy away from discussing the situation that a lot of people say arguably you're the best player that ever played the game. Can you kind of put your career in perspective, how you see it now?
PETE SAMPRAS: I will never sit here and say I'm the greatest ever. I just won't. It's up -- it's not up to anyone. I've done what I've done in the game. I've won a number of majors. I think that's really, you know, kind of the answer to everything. It's hard to compare the '90s to the '60s and the '40s. I don't know if there's one best player of all time. I feel like my game will match up against anybody. I played perfect tennis in my mind at times. I really stayed No. 1 for many years, which is tough to do. I feel like when it was a big match, that I was going to come through. But to say I'm the greatest ever, I won't say that. At times I felt like when I was playing out there, I was playing, you know, pretty close to perfect tennis. But it's hard to compare.
Q. Do you have one special moment in your career?
PETE SAMPRAS: It's hard to pick one right now. I mean, last year was great. What happened here, coming through a tough year and a half, breaking the all-time record. The Wimbledons that I've won, all the Slams that I've won. Davis Cup in Moscow. I mean there's quite a bit there.
Q. When you were kicking back at home the last year, thinking about your career, what are the images that pop up in your mind, some of the tournaments, people you've played, all that?
PETE SAMPRAS: Just a whole bunch of memories. My Wimbledon finals. I mean, there's a few to choose from. I mean, obviously what happened last year here, everyone kind of writing me off - felt great. Being able to stay on top for many years, to be that consistent, I think I can say I was pretty happy about that. Just the majors that I've won. I mean, those mean a lot to me. Having a great career that I'm proud of and I'm content right now. Played a lot of great players over the years. You know, the Boris Beckers, Andre Agassis. I look back on those matches as being some great tennis that I was a part of. There's quite a bit there.
Q. There were a lot of people who were here last year for the final who thought that was just the perfect punctuation mark for your career. At the time, when you sat in here last year after that final, how much of a feeling did you have that you were done?
PETE SAMPRAS: You know, I really didn't know at the time. I thought about it a little bit, you know, during the two weeks, but I never realistically thought I was going to win and stop. But once I did, it's a process, retirement. It's not something you wake up one day and say, "I'm retired." You need to go through all the emotions, and I did that. I went through everything I had to go through to be convinced I'm a hundred percent done. And that's where I am right now. To say I would have stopped on the final, I was not there yet. I certainly am now.
Q. When you say you knew in your heart it was time, does it mean all these years there was a kind of a small voice that you were following which also became part of why you are greatest of all time? To finish career with the Grand Slam, no one did it in history of game. Thanks.
PETE SAMPRAS: I'm not sure what your question is (smiling).
Q. I knew that you say, "I knew in my heart it's time."
PETE SAMPRAS: Right.
Q. Does it mean all these years you were following still small voice, specific conversation you had, which can also be a part of the answer why you're the greatest of all times?
PETE SAMPRAS: I mean, no. The only thing that I was telling myself was I wanted to win one more major. I've always had goals, very lofty goals, over the career. But I know what it takes to be there, and I know now I'm not there. That's the formula that I had over the years, was the focus and the drive. Now it's not there anymore. So it is time to stop.
Q. It's obviously impossible to pinpoint one match in a long career. For many people in New York and tennis fans everywhere, that night against Corretja in '96 was pretty special. Have you ever watched tapes of that night? What effect do you think it had in terms of you in your career?
PETE SAMPRAS: If anything -- I haven't seen the match in a while (smiling). The perception was maybe that I have heart, and I wanted to win, and I was digging deep - no pun. I won it. There are times where I look a little lackadaisical, not into it. Not feeling great, physically getting tired, I was able to get through it. That was a great moment for me.
Q. You said it's a long process coming to retirement. Was there any one clinching moment or thought that you finally said, "Right, that's it"?
PETE SAMPRAS: Like I said, all year I had Wimbledon in the back of my mind and felt like once that event came around, you know, I might get myself going, get myself training and practicing. And once I started that process of starting to practice, after three days, I was done. I just didn't want to practice. I didn't want to train. I didn't want to do everything you have to do. I feel like I did it all. I think that's when it hit me.
Q. When exactly was that?
PETE SAMPRAS: It was a couple months before Wimbledon. I kind of made an effort to kind of "let's do some work here." Like I said, after three days, I just felt my heart wasn't into it. You know, it wasn't in my blood anymore. That was the start of the process of it was pretty close to being over. A few months later, I just felt like "It's time, it's time to announce it and move on."
Q. What will you miss the most?
PETE SAMPRAS: I'll miss playing. I'll miss competing. I'll miss going out in finals at Wimbledon or here, in front of 20,000 people, that rush, that excitement. I'll miss the competition. Just the joy of just playing the game that I will miss.
Q. I heard that the Sampras Tennis Academy has been scrapped. Do you have any plans in the future of an academy?
PETE SAMPRAS: I'm open to different ideas. As of right now, I'm not doing much.
Q. Champions of the past were strong rivals. When they retire, they became good friends. Do you see yourself in the future going out to dinner with Andre Agassi, for instance, and his family?
PETE SAMPRAS: You know, funny enough, I could. When you're competing against each other, you can't. When it's all said and done, I've got a lot of respect for Andre. I've never disliked Andre. He's one of the nicest guys out there, and my rival. Five, ten years down the road, I can see us having Christmas together. I don't know about Christmas, but I don't see any reasons why not (laughter).
Q. You tried hard to win the French Open. Borg never won here. Other great players have not won everything. Do you feel that's a hole, or are you happy with what you did?
PETE SAMPRAS: It's a disappointment, not winning in Paris. It's something I don't think about much. I'm not thinking about it, obviously, today. It's just disappointment. I would love to have won there. I feel like one year I had a chance there, but it didn't happen. You know, life goes on. It's one of those places that never really seemed to click. It's pretty disappointing. Something I don't worry about.
Q. If you could pick one match that you would say represents everything you wanted out of tennis, is there one that stands out that you'd like to bottle and preserve?
PETE SAMPRAS: I think playing Andre in the finals of Wimbledon, I think it was 2000, I played perfect tennis. I just remember from 3-All to the rest of the match, it's as good as I could play. I'll bottle that one up and save it. That was as good as I can play.
Q. What would be your happiest and saddest moments in your career?
PETE SAMPRAS: Saddest would be playing Bastl last year at Wimbledon. That was one of the biggest low points - maybe the biggest. I was really down in the dumps after that. I think two months later winning here was the highest. Pretty much night and day there.
Q. Do you fancy going to Wimbledon, being on Centre Court, and how will you feel?
PETE SAMPRAS: I don't know. It's a ways away. I would go back to Wimbledon one day. If it's next year, five years from now, I don't know. Again, that court and this court really has meant a lot to me. It was hard not being there this year. But I plan on going back one day.
Q. Are you leaving American tennis in good hands now? Michael is going to retire. Jim is retired. Andre won't be around too long.
PETE SAMPRAS: I think we're in good shape. Roddick has taken it to a new level now, seems like. James Blake and Mardy Fish, guys are starting to catch on a little bit. To duplicate what Andre and I did, Jim and Michael, it's going to be tough. I mean, there's a lot of majors there. But I think it's in pretty good shape.
Q. How are you different from the 19-year-old who sat here as the US Open champion?
PETE SAMPRAS: Not a lot different. That's one thing I'm proud of. I didn't change much over the years. I was true to myself. I didn't sell out for any -- you know, for the press or anybody. I was true to myself. Just a little more mature. A little more wise than I was back then. But as a person, still pretty much the same.
Q. Is it possible we will see you on the seniors tour in a few years?
PETE SAMPRAS: No, I don't plan on playing any senior tennis.
Q. If you could change one aspect of your career either in terms of strokes or training, any aspect of your game, what would you change?
PETE SAMPRAS: I mean, I really wouldn't change anything. I trained hard, I worked hard, I put everything out there. I prepared as best I could. Sometimes I won, sometimes I lost. I wouldn't change a thing.
Q. You would still go for all the No. 1's, make those pushes in the late fall?
PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah.
Q. You obviously saw the game change a lot in the years you played. Do you feel at all that it's changing in the wrong direction in terms of technology, racquets getting bigger, not a whole lot of serve and volley going on anymore? Are you worried about that at all?
PETE SAMPRAS: The serve and volley game is pretty much gone today. I do worry about it. Still have Federer and a couple guys here and there. I'm a little concerned. I think the best tennis is a serve and volleyer playing against a baseliner. You don't really see that much today.
Q. Racquets getting too big?
PETE SAMPRAS: There's some racquets that are very powerful. But, you know, it's something I don't have to think about anymore (smiling).
Q. Since we haven't seen you since your son was born, can you tell us what fatherhood has brought to you?
PETE SAMPRAS: I adore this little boy, I really do. He's starting to crawl now. I'm having to work a little more. I love being home with him and taking care of him, taking care of my wife. It has changed my life. It's made me pretty complete. Looking forward to seeing him grow up and being a good role model for him. Really it's been a happy time.
Q. How are your diaper-changing skills?
PETE SAMPRAS: I've become pretty good at it.
Q. You always let your game speak for you. Is there any final message you'd like to leave with your fans, people who followed you over the years?
PETE SAMPRAS: I mean, I've said a few things over the years, not a ton. You know, to sum it up in one sentence is hard to do. I just loved winning. I loved playing the game. Felt like I was pretty good at it. I mean, there's not any message. I didn't change much over the years through success. I respected my opponents, the umpires. I felt like I was pretty positive out there.
Q. Is there a message you're going to be mentioning tonight on court?
PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah. I mean, I'm going to say thanks, thanks for the fans and for the people that helped get me here, my family and friends. But I've always enjoyed playing New York. I just want to say thanks to them.
Q. What reaction have you had from some of your contemporaries to your decision?
PETE SAMPRAS: I haven't really talked to anyone really.
Q. Have you spoken to Andre much at all this year?
PETE SAMPRAS: No. A little bit about a month ago.
Q. What did he say about it?
PETE SAMPRAS: I wasn't yet retired. We were talking about this exhibition maybe in Vegas. I told him that I was pretty close to being done. We had kind of a private conversation about it.
Q. Do you think you'll be more appreciated now that you're retired? Sometimes athletes are not appreciated during their careers, especially someone who is a no-fuss kind of guy. Some people called you boring.
PETE SAMPRAS: (Smiling).
Q. Do you think now that it's all done, people will appreciate you more?
PETE SAMPRAS: Probably. Probably over time and history, they'll appreciate me more. But I feel and have felt appreciated over the past number of years. Early on, in my mid '20s, wasn't quite there. But I feel like as I started losing, I started getting more fans.
Q. Going back to that 19-year-old kid, if someone had told you then 13 years later you'd be sitting here at your retirement announcement, reflecting back on the body of work you accomplished, would you have thought them crazy?
PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah. At 19 I won The Open, but I wasn't sure what I wanted. I won't say I got lucky. I played two great weeks of tennis. When I lost to Edberg here in '92, I knew that's what I wanted. That loss made me change my career. It made me hate to lose. At that point it was good enough getting to the finals. I gave in in that match. Ever since that moment, I just became obsessed with being the best. It was night and day from '90 to '92. I just felt like I was a better competitor. I worked a little harder. I wanted it a little more. After that loss, it changed my career.
Q. Tiger Woods always talks about breaking Nicklaus' records. Did that ever get into your mind as a younger man?
PETE SAMPRAS: Never. When you're young, you're not sure what you want really. You say you want to be No. 1, win a major. You're just not sure until you're kind of put in that environment. I enjoy the environment. I enjoy being the best. I could deal with the pressure. I feel like I had the game to do it. But to sit here and say I planned on winning 14 majors when I was eight years old, you're crazy. I felt like when I was getting close, seven, eight, nine, ten majors, I felt like it was a possibility, I was still pretty young. But I didn't have that goal when I was a kid.
Q. We know it's all about the excitement you had for winning and being the best. The lifestyle of a No. 1 player, flying around the world, getting access to things that regular people wouldn't, meeting athletes that may have been role models to you, what are some of the thrills or exciting moments you had, whether on another continent or hanging out with Tiger Woods? What has tennis afforded you?
PETE SAMPRAS: Well, you know, play the great golf courses in the country (laughter). I can get into a lot of restaurants last minute. When I was traveling and playing, I didn't really do a whole lot. I was pretty much in the hotel, back to the courts, back to the hotel. It was just kind of the lifestyle. I'm a huge Pearl Jam fan, been on stage a few times, which is a huge thrill. I met a lot of great people. In this Tahoe event, I met Barkley for the first time. That was entertaining, doing some gambling with him. I met the best athletes - Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky. Those guys are legends. That's been fun meeting those guys.
Q. Can you talk about the role your wife has played the last few years in your journey?
PETE SAMPRAS: Well, she has been my rock through the whole marriage. At a time where I was struggling, my heart wasn't into it as much, I feel like I achieved a lot and sacrificed a lot. She got blamed for it, which is absolute bullshit. It wasn't easy to deal with. But she stuck with me and we got through it together. There are times where I felt like I did want to stop over the past couple years. One thing she told me was, "You know, I want you to stop on your terms, not what the press is saying, not any of that, just on your terms." I needed to be reminded of that. I think I'm going out on my terms.
Q. Regarding your years at Saddle Brook in Florida, would you like to share your good and bad memories of those years?
PETE SAMPRAS: I trained there and practiced. It was a good place to do some training.
Q. You're a fairly private person. How comfortable are you tonight with the public retirement?
PETE SAMPRAS: Well, I feel like I'm going back to my house. Going back on that court has always been pretty comfortable for me, having to play or speak. I'm not addressing Congress. I'm addressing fans of tennis and fans of myself. So I just want to go there and thank the people that helped me: family, friends, coaches and the fans, for being there, supporting the game, supporting myself. That's the plan.
Q. Your retirement is casting a long shadow over the tournament, the sport. What do you think are the good and bad things in the sport of tennis?
PETE SAMPRAS: Well, I think the game is still very strong. The men's game, you have some young guys coming up, doing well. Having Andre still playing is great for the game. On the ladies' side, the obvious ones aren't here. To be honest with you, for the past year, I've gotten as far away from the game as possible. I don't read any, I don't watch any. To shut it out has been nice. It's been so consuming to my life for so many years. It just felt good not to pay any attention to it. As time goes on, I will follow it and be part of it in some way. I just don't know right now.
Q. Who is here with you tonight?
PETE SAMPRAS: Everybody.
Q. You were always such an ultraconfident person, even the times when you weren't winning tournaments like you were before. You never expressed any doubts about your ability to come back and win Slams. Were there any real times when you thought you might not be able to go back and win another Slam again?
PETE SAMPRAS: I never had a doubt, I really didn't. I wasn't doing it. I wasn't winning Slams, but I felt like I still could. That's why I kept it going. That's why I continued to play after 13 majors. How I did it last year was that I still felt like I had the game, not week in and week out like I used to, but for two weeks I felt like I could still do it. I proved it to myself, which is the most important thing to me. Once I have nothing left to prove, that's where I'm at right now, so...
Q. At some point when you decide to get at least back into tennis in a peripheral way, could you do television commentary? If you decided that was something you could do, could you be critical enough to do it?
PETE SAMPRAS: I don't know if it's something that interests me. If you need me to be critical, sure, maybe. It's not something I'm really considering right now, to do any commentary. Maybe down the road I could. To be a commentator you need to be a little critical at certain times - in a nice way (smiling).
Q. Would you ever consider being Davis Cup coach? What was Pete Sampras' greatest quality as a person that allowed him to be such a great champion?
PETE SAMPRAS: Davis Cup right now doesn't interest me, being coach or captain. It's very political, I hear. I don't think I really have the energy for that. The qualities as a person, I just felt like I try to be a good person, be a great tennis player. I just appreciate my folks for the way they raised me (tearing up).
Q. Nobody's said this yet, but thank you for all you've done for us in the tennis industry. I know the fans will love you tonight.
PETE SAMPRAS: Thank you.
Q. Is the retirement how you envisioned it? You said you thought about retirement the last year or two. Is this the way you wanted to retire? Is this what you had in mind?
PETE SAMPRAS: You know, I honestly never really thought about how I wanted to go out; I really didn't. This all kind of happened in the past three or four weeks, coming to New York, being part of the ceremony. You know, most team sports guys play their season, they have a press conference and they're done. Tennis players, it's different. Everyone just kind of fades away. This is the way it happened. I didn't plan on it. I'm glad I'm in New York. It's a final good-bye for me. It's closure. Looking forward to a good ceremony tonight, being able to talk to you guys about it. You haven't talked to me in quite a while openly. Something I wanted to do.
Q. Question regarding Wimbledon.
PETE SAMPRAS: Would I go back there?
PETE SAMPRAS: I would go back there and have a cup of tea up top. I would love to go back to see it again. It's something I miss.
Q. Do you have any advice for a young kid who is starting to play tennis now?
PETE SAMPRAS: Well, something that I did when I was a youngster, I was more concerned about playing well than winning. I think parents and kids today are so worried about winning when they're 12, 13, 14. I wasn't worried about winning when I was young. It was more important being well and being a great pro. That's something I would emphasize to youngsters, improving, not winning everything.
Q. 32 years of age, very young, very gifted. When you finally made the decision, was it painful?
PETE SAMPRAS: It's not painful; it's emotional. It's coming to terms with something that is a passion of mine that I love to do, that's been my life. To say good-bye to it, to say I'm not going to play again, not going to be out here on this court, it's emotional. It's a closed chapter, but still part of me is out there. I'm also realistic in knowing that my time is done. I've done everything I can do. I'm at peace with stopping. It's time to move on.
RANDY WALKER: Thank you very much.
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