September 8, 2001
NEW YORK CITY
THE MODERATOR: First question for Pete, please.
Q. What does the word "payback" mean?
PETE SAMPRAS: Well, it means getting back at someone. But it really didn't cross my mind today. I looked at the way he played last year, it was going to be tough for him to do it again. And I just set the tone early. I mean, that was a big part of the match, was I really set the tone, came in quite a bit, kind of kept him off guard a little bit. Served very well. Served big when I was down a little bit there in the second. Just played a better match than last year. He wasn't quite as on. And it was a good win.
Q. When it was over last year, were you shocked that somebody could do that, keep it up for three sets that way and do that to you?
PETE SAMPRAS: In a Slam final, yes. Slam finals, that's where you have the most pressure. But as a young guy, and your first one, you don't really -- you're not sure, you know, what it all means. I was pretty much blown off the court last year. I mean, he was on fire and, you know, I wasn't quite that fresh in the legs. You just have to accept it. It was one of those days where everything he did was he was on and I wasn't quite there. But in a Slam final, you don't expect to play in the zone. It's youth. It's not feeling the pressure. But you just have to accept it. Last year, I just said, "Too good."
Q. Is Lleyton the same kind of kid that Safin was last year?
PETE SAMPRAS: Well, yeah. He's a young guy that is a great player who's going to contend for majors for many, many years. Obviously, his game isn't quite as big as Safin when he's on. He doesn't have quite the 130 mile-an-hour serve. But he serves well for someone his size. What Lleyton has, he's got the quickness, he returns very well, he passes very well, loves a target. And that's my game. I am going to be coming in, and he likes playing that. It's important to stay aggressive but be patient at the same time. And we had a tight match here last year in the semis. He's got one more year of experience now. It could be his year. But I feel like I kind of got my game going and it should be a good one.
Q. You now have played 87 games without a break in serve.
PETE SAMPRAS: Shouldn't have told me that (laughter). Kiss of death.
Q. Do you recall serving better?
PETE SAMPRAS: At Wimbledon one year I think I just lost my serve twice. Easier surface to do it on. But actually, to hold serve as much as I did against Andre, who is the best returner of all time, to keep that going, you know, the serve and the volley, everything's kind of clicking at the right time, and just got to do one more day tomorrow.
Q. You've now beaten the three former champions all in a row. Does that give you the confidence? Are you amazed by that also? Was Andre the turning point?
PETE SAMPRAS: It's a tough draw, I think. Probably the toughest draw I've had in many years. I'm pleased. I'm not surprised. I mean, I know the game that I have and this is what I play for. But emotionally, I looked at Pat and Andre as finals. You know, and I can't tell you how big it was having two days off after Andre, just to emotionally and physically just kind of shut it down for a day, and then have Friday to kind of regroup for today. It was huge. It's obviously a tough turnaround here, playing Lleyton tomorrow at four. It's the Super Saturday CBS contract, you know (laughter). Got to pay for the prize money. Tonight's just a good night to kind of drink a lot of liquids, eat the right foods and recover as best I can.
Q. On the same subject, Lleyton Hewitt said that you all played the late match last year. He thought on Sunday that might have taken something out of you. Did you feel that last year?
PETE SAMPRAS: A little bit. It was a tough match against Lleyton. Pretty humid day. Not to take anything away from Safin and the way he played but, you know, it's a tough turnaround, to play a tough four-setter, come back the next day and expect to be fresh in the legs. Lleyton's going to be very fresh tomorrow. He's had a pretty easy day. Physically, I feel fine. But it didn't help last year. But I think no matter what I -- how well I would have fought against Safin, the way he was playing, I think would have been tough to beat him anyway.
Q. You were just talking about how young guys don't know when they're in the first final the pressure they're under. What does it mean now for you to be back here?
PETE SAMPRAS: It's a great feeling. You definitely appreciate it as you get a little bit older. I'm very pleased. I've gotten through a very tough draw. I've worked hard to get here. It would be nice to finish it off and try to win it. I know it's not going to be an easy match. Lleyton's going to make me work very hard. So it's been a good run. And I got hopefully one more match in me.
Q. Were you feeling a little queasy in the second set? Did the trainer have to give you anything?
PETE SAMPRAS: Nothing really. Just a little something that I had to take care of (smiling). Good answer, huh (laughing)?
Q. You say you haven't had this tough a draw. When did you ever have a tougher draw than this? Was it Australia that time?
PETE SAMPRAS: I remember at the French one year I played Bruguera in the second round and backed it up against maybe Todd Martin, played Courier. I don't remember. That was a tough draw. But this, I think, beats it all, having played three champions, three guys, especially Pat and Andre - I think we looked at those two guys as being the two guys to beat. And certainly Safin being the defending champion, he was going to be one of the threats. It's been a lot of hard work.
Q. You would think a great champion could put his focus together and play a great match in the zone in the final. Now you've said a couple times that it's very hard to be in the zone in the final.
PETE SAMPRAS: Yep.
Q. Could you explain just why.
PETE SAMPRAS: Well, you're dealing with nerves. You're dealing with playing a great opponent. It's just tough to get in that zone. It's only happened to me really a couple times. I mean, it's just dealing with a little bit of pressure, you're not quite as relaxed and loose. But it can happen. It's tough to get in the zone at all. You know, it happens once every couple months. You know, tomorrow, hopefully I can find that. It won't be easy, though.
Q. With the exception of last year's final, Marat said "It's up to Pete, you know, who wins the match." Last year, Marat said he could have beaten God on that day. He doesn't understand how he got through it. But was there a time in your career that it was that simple, it's up to you, whether you're winning or that person's losing? How do you compare that to now?
PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah, well I think last year was the first time I think it's ever happened that I couldn't do anything. And I feel like when I play most guys, if I'm playing well, I should come through. I think last year, no matter how well I played, because he possesses a very, very big game. Anyone that can serve 130 in the corners, there's not much you can do. The way he was returning and passing, I was a bit overwhelmed there. You know, Lleyton will give me a little bit more time to play, and a different type of player, but he's got a lot of strengths. He's got that competitiveness. He's got that quickness. Loves a target, like I said. So it should be a good clash.
Q. Did you ever get the feeling in the second set that it was coming back to Safin?
PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah, second set he was on fire. Really picked up his serve. You know, I was working a lot harder on my second set service games, down 15-30, 30-all points. He just picked it up. He just kind of was serving at love many games, and it's a lot of pressure to play under on your service games. Tiebreaker, surprised he missed that easy forehand. But it was a big part of the match, winning that second set.
Q. How long did it take you to come down after the win over Andre, both emotionally and physically?
PETE SAMPRAS: You enjoy it for about a half a day. You know, you just -- you know, I saw the match on USA and, you know, you relive it a little bit. You enjoy it. But come Thursday night, Friday morning, it's time to kind of refocus, reenergize yourself to get back for Saturday. But having that extra day, it really saved me.
Q. Does that concern you, that you don't have it for tomorrow at all?
PETE SAMPRAS: This is what we're dealt with. It was nice winning in straight sets. You know, that definitely helped. You know, playing a five-setter a day before a final would have been tough. But, I mean, I managed to get it done reasonably quick.
Q. What do you do to prevent a letdown tomorrow?
PETE SAMPRAS: As you can see, just with the way I am right now, I'm ready to get out of here, you know (laughter). Nothing personal, but you don't have time to let down now. It's one more match, and you let it all hang out and do the best you can. You know, tonight's a big night to kind of -- to enjoy it a little bit, getting to the finals. But you always look ahead. You look ahead to having a chance here to win another Slam, and it's a tough turnaround. But it is what it is. You know, nothing we can do about it but recover and get back ready.
Q. What do you think it says about Lleyton's mental toughness that he's been able to put aside this controversy over the past ten days and still get through to a final?
PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah, great effort, having to deal with some off-court stuff and to come through. He's a very, very tough young man. Mentally, he's about as strong as you're going to find in the game, and really fights hard. I'm not surprised that he's here. He's had a great, great match today. Beat Kafelnikov pretty easily. He's going to be feeling very fresh.
Q. Why do you think it's all come together for you here? What makes this happen?
PETE SAMPRAS: Well, playing well.
Q. But why?
PETE SAMPRAS: Well, why do you think? I mean, it's not like I just started playing last week.
Q. No, but it's built to this, right here, right now. Why has that happened?
PETE SAMPRAS: Well, it's, you know, believing that I still have my game. And I feel like, you know, playing these great players so early, emotionally, I looked at them like finals. And I was pumped up. I mean when I played Pat and Andre, now Marat, I was keyed up. This is what I play for, this is what I do all the training for, are for these moments. And that's where I'm at in my tennis.
Q. As much as you know you've still got your game, presumably there's a difference between your state of confidence and mental attitude and stuff today as opposed to two Saturdays ago. Can you characterize how differently you're feeling mentally?
PETE SAMPRAS: Well, second week of a Slam, that's historically when I kind of raise it a level. You know, I had to do it much earlier having played Pat, you know, on Sunday or Monday, was it? And I was forced into playing great players early. And maybe that's helped me out here. And, you know, you get into a certain rhythm. As you can see, it's starting to click here at the right time. You know, but that being said, you can't really rely on that tomorrow. It's a new day. Hopefully I can kind of get my game going and put some pressure on him and get through it.
Q. You've won more Grand Slams than anyone. On paper you've proven you're the best of all time. What's the motivation to keep going from here?
PETE SAMPRAS: These moments. These two weeks. The opportunity tomorrow. That's why I keep doing what I want to do. I still enjoy playing out there, the atmosphere and the crowd. It's a rush. And, you know, once it's over, it's over. You know, it could happen pretty quickly. But, you know, it's a great feeling walking out there in a final. That is the reason why I keep going.
Q. As a follow-up to that, how motivated are you by the fact that you want to keep your Grand Slam winning streak alive, eight years?
PETE SAMPRAS: I'm not really thinking about it. I'm not worried about it. When I was in the situation a number of years ago, I found myself throwing up on the court. I refuse to put that much pressure on myself to keep the streak alive. I just have an opportunity here to do it. If it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen. I could feel pretty good about what I've done. But, you know, I'm in a pretty good position here to possibly go all the way.
Q. Do you feel like your movement and conditioning today is about as good as it's ever been, despite the fact that you're 30?
PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah. It's good. It's moving well. And I'm telling you, having those two days off really helped, helped me mentally, physically I felt fresh in the legs. You know, I put a lot of time off the court, doing quite a bit of training, you know, for moments like this, to recover and have the same energy tomorrow.
Q. Last year when you sat in the chair after taking on Marat, one of the words you used more than any other was "steamrolled". If you would use one word to wrap up today, what would you use?
PETE SAMPRAS: I was just efficient. Played a clean match, you know. I played, you know, a good, solid, aggressive, really-stuck-to-my-game-plan type of match that, you know, got fortunate at times. But it was just a completely different situation than last year. I mean, last year he just zoned against me. And it's just too good. You just have to accept it. But I knew this match was a different year, different time. Defending champion's a little bit different. As a result, it went my way.
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