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March 10, 2002

Pete Sampras


MODERATOR: Pete Sampras is here to do his pre-event press. He's our champion from 1994, 1995, won 11 Masters Series titles, 63 titles overall. I'll open it for questions.

Q. Is it good to see all things right and correct again?

PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah, regarding what (laughter)?

Q. So what's the story on that?

PETE SAMPRAS: On what? Oh, this (indicating). It's all been resolved. (Referring to the Nike swoosh on his shirt). It's been resolved. I'll be with Nike for the next four years.

Q. What kind of drills does Jose put you through that were unlike anything you've done before?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, we have only worked a little bit, just about three or four days since we started. A lot of baseline stuff, a lot of side to side. You know, yesterday we just did some drills, just a lot of returns. You know, we're just going to work on my baseline game, the movement, my position on the court. I'm trying not to press at certain times, just trying to play a little bit smarter out there. I'm going to do a lot of those drills throughout the year. We're just starting out here. I like it so far. Probably going to spend a lot more time on the court than I have been over the past couple years. You know, I do a lot of off-court training, running, all that stuff. I think we're going to make a big effort. His philosophy is to spend more time on the court. You know, that's how you get your legs in shape. We'll be practicing and doing drills, getting into it.

Q. His record in producing people who do well at Roland Garros is probably second to none. How much did that come into the thinking when you approached him?

PETE SAMPRAS: It was in the back of my mind. Working with Jose, it was not just a decision for the clay. I mean, sure, he has a lot of experience on it, has coached a number of players that have done well. But it wasn't my only reason to work with Jose. You know, it's the fact that he's local in Palm Springs, we can do some training, while I'm here in LA. We'll commute and share time in both places. Just spending more time on the court. Once Davis Cup is over, we're going to spend time on the clay, give it a good push. It's interesting to hear his philosophy on how I should be playing on the clay. But as of right now, we're not really talking about it. But my clay court game, doing well there, is going to help me on the grass, it's going to help me on the hard court. I'm looking to get better. You know, I'm going to put a lot of time on the court over the next, you know, number of years.

Q. What about your clay court program going into Paris this time?

PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah, I'm going to be playing in Rome, Hamburg and World Team Cup.

Q. Is he going to come with you?

PETE SAMPRAS: Yes, I think just about for all that.

Q. As someone who has been as successful as you have over the years, you don't win for a couple years, the question is, what's happened? When are you going to win? I don't know whether you've asked that of yourself. We've asked because you have had all those Grand Slams, you've been the No. 1 player.

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, you know, last year was a difficult year. I mean, no question. It could have been a year that, with a few breaks here and there, I could have won a major or two. That's the way I look at it. It didn't happen. It's woken me up to having to work a little harder. You hit a certain age, you do need to work a little harder and put more time on the court. But there's no doubt in my mind. I've never been insecure about my tennis. I know I've got the game. You know, I felt I came pretty close to doing well at The Open last year. Lleyton Hewitt played a great match. And I could have won The Open. A lot of things really didn't go my way last year. But, if anything, it's got me more motivated, more hungry to do well this year.

Q. I've heard this in so many sports, as you get older, the guys you face get younger. They're a step faster. You don't feel that at 21, a player perhaps has a step on you, and that's an advantage you used to have on somebody else?

PETE SAMPRAS: I don't think a step on me. It's more of a confidence. I mean, there's so many more young players coming through, and all these guys are good. The depth of the game is very strong. There's just a lot of really good young players ranked, you know, 20 to 50 that, you know, probably aren't as intimidated by me today as they were, say, five years ago. But, you know, with that being said, I still feel like I've got a big game, get it going at the right time, I should be in contention. But, yeah, I mean, it's just inevitable in all sports, when you hit a certain age. Guys are more equipped, better athletes. There's a lot more of them today than there were five years ago.

Q. Can you clarify the transition from Tom to wanting to work with Jose, give us more thinking around that.

PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah, well, Tom's a good friend. You know, Paul is a very good friend. You know, I feel like at this stage I needed someone a little more separate than being a good friend of mine, you know, wanted to be a little bit more uncomfortable out there. It was difficult. And I think I came to that conclusion in the last year, over the past month, you know, it was difficult as it was knowing what I needed to do deep down to tell, you know, two very good people in -- close people in my life that this wasn't working for me. It wasn't anything they did or didn't do. Just felt like I needed someone more separate from my profession and friendship. And I thought of Jose. We'll see what happens with that.

Q. Was it difficult making that decision, actually saying to the person concerned, "I want to go in a different direction"?

PETE SAMPRAS: Yes. It was very difficult telling Paul in the last year where I was in my tennis. And he understands. I mean, he knows. We've been together a long time. It's inevitable. Relationships, sporting relationships, you hit a certain point where it does get, you know, a little bit stale. To kind of freshen it up, to get a new voice, I think he understood. At times last year, he was probably feeling that. You know, we're still very close. He wants me to do well. There's no animosity. He's cheering for me out there. So, you know, it's a relationship that I'll have forever, which is more important in some ways, you know, than just playing tennis.

Q. You've held that No. 1 position longer than anybody. With Lleyton now at No. 1 in such a short period, if he was to come to you and ask for advice, sort of advice on being No. 1, what would you say to him?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, if his goal is to be No. 1, and certainly it was for me for many years, you know, I know -- it's a tough call, because Davis Cup is such a big part of his career, in his country. I felt throughout my years it was tough doing everything. It was tough to stay No. 1, tough to play Davis Cup, and contend for majors. You know, it's very easy to have a burn-out. That would be one area. Another area is just to enjoy it. You get up there, you are the man to beat. There's a lot of pressure on you. It takes time getting used to it. It took time for me. I got to a certain point where I felt like I belonged there; I felt very secure being up there. I think he's got a good head on his shoulders, he's got a good game, he's very competitive and is a great athlete. He's got the tools. It's more than just playing great tennis; it's a lifestyle that you have to lead. You know, I was willing to do that for a number of years. You know, it's not easy staying there. It's much more difficult staying there, you know, than getting there. He'll go through certain moments, but I believe great players always figure it out, and I'm sure he will.

Q. What are your thoughts on the way he's handled it so far?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, it's been a short time. You know, he got sick early in the year. Obviously, Australia was a tough start. He'll be fine. I mean, he's going to win a lot of matches. He's going to gut through a lot of tough matches. How long he'll be able, you know, to be up there is another question. I mean, I think he will be up there. No. 1, it is difficult to stay there. I will tell you that.

Q. What most inspires you now? You've had so much success. You really haven't got very much to prove to anybody. Your place in history is assured. There must be something still driving you on. Is it something more than just pride in performance?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, I love to play. I'm going to play this game, you know, for the majors. And to do well at the majors, you need to do well through the year. I'm tired of hearing that because you're 30, you know, you're washed up. I don't believe that's the case. I still feel physically fine. You know, I still love playing. You know, I'm going to keep on going. Even though I'm at my twilight, it could last five years. You know, I want to get back to winning majors and contending for those big tournaments. And I still have that deep down. That's why I've decided to make a few changes, because I want to get myself better, I want to give myself a better chance, you know, to get not necessarily back to No. 1, but winning majors or getting myself up there. You're right, it could all end tomorrow and I'd feel pretty good about what I've done. But I'm not content, and I still want to get better. Players are getting better, a lot better today, and I need to kind of raise my level. I know that. I think last year kind of opened me up to that. So deep down I still want it, and that's the main thing.

Q. Any extent to which you and Andre feed off one another?

PETE SAMPRAS: I think there's so much competition today. I mean, sure, we look at what everyone else is doing. I don't think much. You know, in some ways we inspire each other maybe. You know, we're at the same age. He's doing very well. In some way, it's kind of inspiring. But I think I've got my hands full with so many different guys out there, I can't just worry about Andre. But just because you're 30, 31, you can still contend against these guys. We've been doing a pretty good job of that.

Q. In reference to Andre, do you remember your 50th career title?

PETE SAMPRAS: No, I don't know where that was. I'm sure it was on the clay somewhere (smiling).

Q. Do you need a win someplace? We continue to reference the fact that you haven't won in two years, year and a half.

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, there's nothing that I need in the game; it's what I want. You know, I want to win tournaments. You know, I don't necessarily need, you know, tennis like I used to. You know, I still want to do well, win tournaments. But, you know, I still have it in me. It's not really on my mind too much as far as not winning a title. I mean, I don't think about it much. But if I went this year without doing it, yeah, I mean, I'd think about it. But I think last year was more not winning a title, but not winning a major. And that's the bar that I've set with myself. That's what kind of sat with me, Wimbledon, The Open, the other two. The titles, you know, I have plenty of titles, but I'd love to try to get one here in Palm Springs. It's been a while.

Q. You don't always like the desert, the conditions. How do they seem to you right now?

PETE SAMPRAS: It seems fine. The courts seem like they're playing a little bit slower this year. I was in Scottsdale, which I really don't enjoy, because there really is altitude. When you come here from there, five, six days, come here, it's a little bit easier. You play during the day, a hot day, it's going to go. Over the years, I've struggled. You know, last year I kind of broke through and won some good matches. This year, seems like it's playing a touch slower, which I like.

Q. Do you think playing slower benefits you?

PETE SAMPRAS: Absolutely.

Q. Commenting on not needing, but wanting, any thoughts in the back of your mind on how much longer, three, four years? Is it also a case that you haven't put a time frame on retirement because it could add pressure to you?

PETE SAMPRAS: No. I mean, there's no pressure involved. I've not put a time frame on it. Just see how I go, see how I feel. When the day comes, I wake up in the morning, I don't want to practice, I don't want to get better, I don't want to do it anymore, I will know. But, you know, that day is far from me. I wake up in the morning, go out to the practice courts, get into the gym, warm up. I still have that in me. You know, when the day comes where I don't want to do that anymore or I've had enough, I'll know. But if it's one year, two years, three years, I don't have a time frame.

Q. When you say that you still want to improve, what can you improve on?

PETE SAMPRAS: I guess not much, huh (laughter)? There's a lot to it. That was a sarcastic comment. Not necessarily things I'm changing in my game. I'm still playing the same way. But, you know, it's getting a little bit fitter. You know, it's getting -- you know, playing a little bit smarter out there. That's what I'm going to be working on with Jose. You know, being able to play against these young guys. You know, just trying to maintain that, I have to improve. I mean, everyone else is getting better and I need to get better myself. The difference in the last couple years is that when I get into holes, I'm not able to play my way out of it. You know, five years ago, I was able to kind of get out of it. You know, players today are just -- they're better than they were five years ago. That's the nature of all sports.

Q. You're not retired yet, but you look at Michael Jordan, do you sort of understand the love of the game, coming back? Have you watched what he's done this year? Have you been able to follow? Do you identify at all with that?

PETE SAMPRAS: Yes, to a certain point. I mean, but hands down he's the best basketball player of all time, won six championships. He's 39, I believe. That should be enough. It would be plenty for me.

Q. If you make it that far?

PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah. I don't think I'm going to be playing at 39. You know, it just tells you he still loves to play. If he's going to play, he wants to play at the highest level. He's gotten his body in shape. Obviously, he's hurt now. But you have to admire somebody that has that passion, loves to play. You know, in some way, you know, it's just kind of interesting where you are in your life at 38, 39, just to kind of want to keep doing it. For me, I couldn't do it. I wouldn't want to do it. I wouldn't just want to play just to play. I'd want to play for a championship.

Q. You if could accomplish one more really great thing in your tennis career, do you have anything in mind?

PETE SAMPRAS: If I could pick one tournament, it would be the French. I mean, we all know that's the one that has given me the most problems. You know, after Davis Cup, I'm going to spend some time down here in Palm Springs to kind of get my feet wet on the clay, do some work with Jose, see what he has to say about it, get over to Europe and give it a good shot. You know, that's the one that's gotten away a little bit. You know, there are no magic pills. Working with someone that's good on clay, he can tell me everything, work on everything, but it is up to me to go out there and execute. There are no magic potions out there.

Q. If you're going to spend all this extra practice time on the court, how is this going to affect your golf game?

PETE SAMPRAS: It's going to get worse. But that's all right. I got plenty of time to play golf when it's all said and done.

Q. When you're 39?

PETE SAMPRAS: When I'm 39, I can play golf (laughter).

Q. Have you talked about it with other past champions, Rafter, Becker, and could you understand the reasons for them to go?

PETE SAMPRAS: I can understand. You know, Pat had a serious injury that's tough to play with, the arm. Boris, I think physically he might have hit a point where it was tough playing three out of five. That's what I read. You know, it's what you want out of your life. I still want to play, I still want to win tournaments, get out there at Wimbledon and The Open to play for our Super Bowl. And I still have that in me. For those other guys, I can't speak for them. I can just only think they got to a certain point where maybe they were enjoying it, and they didn't want to put in the work anymore. That's just a guess. I would think that's probably what happened.

End of FastScripts….

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