March 14, 2002
INDIAN WELLS, CALIFORNIA
MODERATOR: Pete improves his career record here to 30-11. His sixth quarterfinal in Indian Wells, third in a row here in the desert. Questions for Pete.
Q. Not easy guy for you to play, is it?
PETE SAMPRAS: He gives a lot of guys problems, including myself. He's very experienced out there. He's a smart player. You don't know really what's coming. He can serve and volley every now and again on the second serve. You think he's going to stay back. I mean, he's a magician. That's why he has that nickname. He's very, very quick, one of the quickest guys we have out here. Returns well. I thought I had him on the ropes there a little bit, and he came up with some good stuff on some breakpoints. Conditions weren't easy tonight - a little bit cool and a little bit breezy. I didn't serve all that great tonight, but he had a lot to do with that. He was returning very well. I just felt like my serve really wasn't quite there tonight. Hopefully I can get that a little bit better tomorrow.
Q. Was your back at all bothering you?
PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah, it's a little tight. These conditions, doing a lot of bending and scrapping at the net, he was making me work pretty hard. I don't know what the temperature was, but with the windchill, it must have been probably in the 50s. You're always going to have a few aches and pains because of the conditions.
Q. Is that why you missed so many volleys?
PETE SAMPRAS: Didn't really volley too well today. I missed a lot of easy ones. You know, just wasn't quite there. You know, I hit the ball pretty good, but I feel like I can always play better. Whenever I walk off a court, I'm tough on myself. I miss a few shots, a few volleys, I'm my toughest critic out there. You're right, I didn't really volley too well. I missed a lot of them. You know, I was able to scrap out this match. Competition does get tougher, so I hope I can raise my level a little bit in the next couple days.
Q. Would you characterize playing him kind of annoying, I don't mean his personality, but his game?
PETE SAMPRAS: He's very easy to get frustrated against because he doesn't play with a ton of power, but he gives you no pace, especially off that forehand side, he just kind of chips it, chips it. He comes in on my backhand, that ball stays pretty low. It's tough to pass. You're not sure what's coming from him. He has a lot of different options - he can stay back, come in, he's got great touch around the net, good wheels. He's a scrapper. He knows what he's doing out there. He's been playing this game for many years. You know, I played him a number of times, so he's pretty used to, you know, kind of my game a little bit. So, you know, he's a tough guy to play, no question. I can see why he's had a good year.
Q. What do you think about your next opponent?
PETE SAMPRAS: Well, Rainer is someone who is one of the most improved players we have on the tour. Obviously, he's had a great tournament. He's playing well, you know, serves very well, returns well, very quick around the court, one of the fittest guys we have on the tour. He's got great groundstrokes. You know, I practiced with him a little bit over the years. Seems like he's on the way up.
Q. You had one close match in Cincinnati, is that correct?
PETE SAMPRAS: We played in Cincinnati. I think that's when he was first starting out. I'm not too sure what the score was.
MODERATOR: It was '99.
Q. There was a double-fault on match point. Was that the last thing in the world you expected from him?
PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah. I didn't think he was going to go for it. Didn't seem like he double-faulted all match. He was serving upwind. I kind of stood over a little bit and stood in. I think he saw that I might do something with his second. He went for it and hit it into the net. The conditions, they're not easy out there with that wind. You know, it doesn't look like it maybe from where you're sitting, but down there, you know, the conditions of it being pretty cold, it was tough. It was tough playing out there.
Q. Fabrice is obviously sort of a drive-yourself-crazy kind of player. He was one of three in a row that had two-handed shots off of both wings. Would you like to see the powers that be ban two-handed?
PETE SAMPRAS: I don't think that's going to happen (smiling). I think it's pretty unique to see with Fabrice's game, he's a little limited with the two hands on both sides, but he makes up for it with his touch, with his quickness. Definitely has some advantages to have that two-handed backhand. He returns quite well, has that good chipper forehand - not too sure what to do with it. He's pretty crafty.
Q. More seriously, where do you think you would be in your career if Pete hadn't changed you to a one-handed backhand?
PETE SAMPRAS: That's a good question. Every now and again I think about it. I wouldn't be sitting here, I don't think, with having won Wimbledon as many times, let alone The Open. It's really hard to say. You know, I think I would have -- who knows. I don't know.
Q. Do you think you could have won at Wimbledon with a two-handed backhand?
PETE SAMPRAS: There's not many that have. You know, Andre is really the only guy. I mean, the game has gotten so quick. You know, Borg did it for a number of years, but that was different. Still, it was a great effort. You know, there's not too many great two-handers that can serve and volley well, that have the good one-hand volley. So you're a little bit vulnerable out there when you have the two-hand backhand. But it's really hard to say where I would be today.
Q. You kept changing racquets, like you had a racquet to serve and a racquet to return. Did you have some trouble with your strings?
PETE SAMPRAS: No. I was using a looser racquet. I just felt like in the second, it was so cold that I couldn't really generate much on my serve. My second serve, it just felt like I was working hard, swinging hard, it wasn't going anywhere. So I did something I never do, and I went to a looser racquet. That's a big step for me. Seemed like I got a little bit more kick off my serve, a little more power, started serving a little bit better. I just went back to my tight racquet on my return games, because I like that feel. On the service games, I went to the looser one. But at 5-3, I had the loose one, but I was playing downwind. I had a lot of different things going on in my mind (laughter). That's how we are out there, trust me. So I went to the tighter racquet. I'm getting broken. It's just interesting - dealing with conditions, you have to be more open-minded. I've never really been open over the years. Now it's okay to go looser when it's cold, you know, to get a little bit more pop on the serve.
Q. Can you overthink out there sometimes?
PETE SAMPRAS: Sometimes. Going downwind, should I use a tighter racquet or do I stick with this racquet a little bit looser, better for my serve? Sure, you play mind games with yourself. Playing with two new racquets for the last couple sets, kind of hard to figure it out. Tough when it's windy. You can definitely get your mind going a little bit.
Q. You hit a lob early in the match, if I recall. I don't remember a Sampras lob.
PETE SAMPRAS: I hit a couple good ones over the years.
Q. You have?
PETE SAMPRAS: A couple (smiling).
Q. You admit it?
PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah, I rarely do it.
Q. Do you think that's kind of wimpy on your part?
PETE SAMPRAS: Say again?
Q. Pete Sampras hitting a lob, is that kind of wimpy?
PETE SAMPRAS: Wimpy, no. It's hopefully smart - if it goes in. The one that I did hit, I was playing upwind, so it is a good shot. I missed it. It's tough hitting. Not too many one-handers have good backhand lobs. You know, it's a shot I rarely use, but it's a smart shot to get guys off the net. Fabrice, you know -- how can I say it nicely?
Q. Not too tall, vertically challenged. He's not going to win an Olympic high-jump.
PETE SAMPRAS: You said it.
Q. Even though you've been saying for a number of years you want to win this again, when you compare the way you're playing now to the last couple years, where would you come to place yourself?
PETE SAMPRAS: I think pretty similar. I think I played pretty well here last year. Got to the final. Lost a tough first set against Andre. I'm pretty much in the same area, I feel. Things are going along pretty smoothly. I feel like I can improve a little bit. Hopefully it will get better tomorrow. I'm not looking that far ahead, to the weekend. Just taking it one match at a time, trust me. I don't want to offend anyone in here.
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