August 28, 2001
NEW YORK CITY
THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.
Q. Really high quality match. How important do you feel it was to get out? It was hot, you were working hard.
PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah, it was huge. It was nice to win in straight, I mean, because it was some tense moments. I knew at the level he was playing, he possesses one of the best second serves I think I've ever played on a court that's playing pretty quick. He was serving consistently in the 110s. I had a hard time catching up to it. I mean, I give him a lot of credit. He really made me work very hard. Served big. I don't know how many aces he hit. Seemed like he hit about 30. Good tennis. I mean, I was pretty happy the way I started off here. Played a very dangerous player early on. It was a good one to get through because I knew at the level he was playing, it could have been an upset. A couple points here and there in the breakers, you know, served like four or five straight aces in the breaker. I'm like, "There's nothing you can do except just hang in there." Got a few second serves, made him play, went on, hit a good passing shot on matchpoint and that was it.
Q. Only two double-faults on your serve today. Were you trying to be more careful? Were you very, very accurate with your second serve today?
PETE SAMPRAS: Pretty accurate. I was serving pretty hard. I feel like my second serve is one of the best in the game. I might as well use it. You know, was a good -- pretty good rhythm on my second. First serve I didn't really get too many in in the first couple sets, but I'm just as confident in my second. Put a little bit more spin, you know, served a couple doubles, which is a good sign for me. Usually, I'm hitting it that big, I can throw in a lot more. So it was a pretty good serving day.
Q. What are your thoughts about the crowd?
PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah, it was nice. Nice to have that support early on. Usually it's pretty low-key. But they saw I had a pretty tough opponent. The way he was playing, they wanted to, you know, see me win in straight, and so did I. Didn't want to be out there any longer than I had to. And it was nice to have that support.
Q. Do you think it was your opponent or anyone you would have been playing?
PETE SAMPRAS: Probably a little bit of both. He was making me work hard. But it's nice to have that support, have that crowd behind you, and you're starting to feel a little bit out there -- you have your hands full, it's nice to have that support. New York has provided that for me over the years.
Q. They're concerned about you, Pete, this crowd.
PETE SAMPRAS: Everyone's concerned about me (smiling).
Q. Are you concerned about you?
PETE SAMPRAS: Not as much as everyone else.
Q. Was it frustrating, the Hamlet Cup situation?
PETE SAMPRAS: No. I got what I needed to get out of the Hamlet Cup. I needed some matches. I haven't played a lot during the summer. I needed to go out there and compete a little bit. You know, did well, got to the final. Would have been nice to have won there. But I needed some practice matches leading up to this event. Same court, same balls. Couldn't ask for a better week leading up to this week. So tough final, but ....
Q. Was that your first Hamlet? You shied away from it in the past.
PETE SAMPRAS: I played in '90.
Q. Is your confidence level lower than it's been in the past few years when you come in here?
PETE SAMPRAS: No. I mean, I feel like I'm just as confident today as I was last year, the years before. The only difference this year is I've had Wimbledon in my bag, and this year, it hasn't happened. But I can't dwell on what hasn't happened. I got to dwell on what's gonna happen and I'm hoping to do well here and possibly win. A lot of good competition. It's not going to be an easy road, but, you know, when I've had sub-par years going into Wimbledon, I've always had that two weeks to kind of save my year. I was planning on that happening this year. Lost a tough five-set match and had to accept the defeat. It happened. You know, it was a tough loss. But I'm looking forward to playing here and playing -- giving myself a chance to do well here. Put myself in contention and maybe I could, you know, come through.
Q. Would it take a win at The Open to save your year?
PETE SAMPRAS: Definitely would help. There's no question. It would be nice to -- I think I've won a major every year for many years, and, you know, it's hard to keep up that pace for eight, nine years. It would be -- it would save my year, no question. If I didn't win here, it would be a disappointing year. But I'm not that worried about it. I feel like I've got many years left. All this retirement talk has gotten a little bit carried away. You know, I've got many, many years left. I'm going to contend for every Grand Slam for the rest of my career. So there's no reason to panic if I don't win this year's US Open. I could go out and win three next year, so... It can be done, even when you hit 30.
Q. Is it strange to come in here as an underdog, or is it maybe a fun feeling or a curious feeling? First time you've been regarded as a guy who's really down there.
PETE SAMPRAS: Well, I look at, you know, the pressure that there is on myself. It's not what everyone else is saying or thinking. You know, I expect myself to do well here, and I still feel like I'm one of the strong favorites. Just look at what I've done here over the years, final here last year, won here a few times. I didn't have the best of years, but it doesn't matter to me. It would be nice to come in here having done better at Wimbledon or won a Slam. But this is where I'm at. I did the best I can, and I wouldn't consider myself an underdog by any means. I haven't felt like that since I was 19 here.
Q. Anything in particular help you get over that Wimbledon disappointment?
PETE SAMPRAS: There's nothing that you can do. It's just accept, go home and be depressed (laughter). It took --.
Q. How long did that last?
PETE SAMPRAS: It was a good three, four days where I was really down, reflecting on the match, reflecting on the chances that I had. Being home the second week of Wimbledon, something that hasn't happened that often. So it was a very eerie feeling. But it's kind of a law of averages. I've won so many close matches at Wimbledon. This year, it didn't happen. You know, grass is a surface that comes down to a couple points. You need a little bit of luck on your side. This year didn't happen. I lost to a guy playing great. But you go home and you just kind of mope around for a while. It was a tough loss. You know, it's part of what we do as athletes. You're gonna have some highs and lows. Last year I had the biggest high of my life. This year I had a pretty low point. So this is the way it goes.
Q. In your mind, how many years do you have left?
PETE SAMPRAS: I don't know. Five, six, seven, at least.
Q. Jim Courier used to talk about being on top, the intimidation factor in the locker room. In your mind is that a real or imagined factor when you're not winning titles and your opponents smell the blood in the water, as it were? Is that a factor in their success or lack of success against you?
PETE SAMPRAS: In the locker room or just in general?
Q. Carrying it out on to the court, of course.
PETE SAMPRAS: Sure, it helps, you know, being ranked 1 or 2 or having won titles. I would much rather come in here having had a better year. But I think guys know who they're playing, and that aura will always be there. You know, it was hard being No. 1 for all those years. It was hard staying there. You know, something has to give at some point. And this year has been, kind of like after breaking the record and after doing just about everything in the game, you know, I was kind of finding that motivation again. But guys know who they're playing out there. Still feel like it's my ability against their ability, and I still feel like I can, you know, do well at every major for the rest of my career. So, you know, it's a different place in my tennis, where I'm at.
Q. For the people who are worried about you, you've talked about working on your fitness this year, is that something they console themselves with? Maybe you are fitter. You're stepping up a bit. Is that something that's in your back pocket?
PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah, definitely that's what's been frustrating this year is that I have been putting a lot of time on and off the court after losing the final last year to Safin and feeling a touch flat. I realized when you hit 29, 30, your body changes. Recovery isn't quite as good. I had a good heart to heart with Wayne Gretzky, who played until he was 35, 36. He said, "You need to work harder, lift heavier, run harder." I realize that's what I need to do. So I made a conscious effort after the final here to put a lot of time into my training. But I need to play matches. I mean, you can do all the training in the world, but there's no substitute for going out there and competing. That's what's been disappointing this year, is that I haven't got into a rhythm. But that's what's been most frustrating, is that I've put in a lot of time and haven't gotten quite the results.
Q. Did you call Gretzky? Did you run into him somewhere?
PETE SAMPRAS: Well, I know Wayne for years. I mean, not for years, but for the last couple years, both live in LA, we play a little bit of golf together. We just talked about it, you know, a few days after the final here. And, you know, it was good to hear it from someone that I have a lot of respect for, someone that played till he was 35 and played at a very high level. And he's a champion. So there's a lot of -- a lot came from that conversation.
Q. Do you find it ironic to have reached your high point, setting a record, and then from that point on, not winning a single title?
PETE SAMPRAS: Say again.
Q. Do you find it a little ironic that you would reach your peak by setting a record, then have to go through this long stretch without getting a single victory?
PETE SAMPRAS: Well, let's just put it this way: breaking the record all that, there's no question it takes a lot out of you emotionally. Where I go from that point last year, I'm just trying to add on to, you know, what I had as far as majors are concerned, give myself the best schedule to do well at the majors. You know, it's been a little bit frustrating, haven't gotten a title. But I've won plenty of titles to be pretty happy with what I've done. But there's no question that Wimbledon took a lot out of me this year and last year, from an emotional standpoint, and it's difficult to kind of keep it going. But you have no problem -- I have no problem getting motivated for the Slams.
Q. Fitness question, Pete. Do you feel a little bit fortunate, you look around and see other top players, Andre and Pat, they've had surgery. You haven't had the surgeries during your career.
PETE SAMPRAS: Oh, it's been pretty fortunate to not have surgery. But I've got the bad back, three years ago when I herniated my disk. I've had my share of injuries. That was a pretty serious one that knocked me out. I haven't had anything that's kept me out for that long. I've been pretty fortunate not to have a surgery.
Q. Follow-up to the crowd question. It seems that everywhere you go this year the crowds have been more supportive, really validating you. I was wondering if, in a weird way --?
PETE SAMPRAS: Sympathy (laughter).
Q. Do you think it almost took you not winning Wimbledon or not winning a Slam for people to appreciate just how hard it is, the string that you did put together?
PETE SAMPRAS: To some degree, that's probably accurate, that I'm not as dominant as I once was. I've lost a few matches this year. And, you know when you're 1 in the world and favored to win every match, I've played matches where I'm playing someone from Europe and I'm not getting any cheers on my side. They always like an underdog. I wouldn't call myself an underdog. But people, I think, have kind of grown to respect what I've done and what it takes to do what I do and to be as consistent as I've been. And, you know, I feel that, when I played today I felt the crowd was really supportive, and it was a nice feeling to feel that respect. That hasn't always, you know, been there when I was early on, playing in my 20s. But as you get a little bit older, when Connors did well here when he was 50 or whatever he was (laughter), 39, people get to know you a bit better, and that's what's happened.
Q. Are there other champions from other sports or from tennis generations past that you've convened with as well?
PETE SAMPRAS: No, not in tennis.
Q. Every great athlete, regardless of sport, has had to contemplate the end of their career at some point. Some decide they want to play as long as they can actually play. Some others say, "I have a level and I want to maintain." Have you thought about what that place is, where you want to stay?
PETE SAMPRAS: When I feel like I can't contend for the majors, when I feel like I am playing just to play, or that I'm not enjoying it, that will be my time. But that day is far from here. I feel like I'm still in contention for every major, except maybe the French is kind of the long shot these days. But I still enjoy playing. I still enjoy playing the young guys out here and seeing if I could keep it going for another couple more years.
Q. Speaking of the young guys, comparisons are being made this week between you and Andy Roddick. Do you see the similarities?
PETE SAMPRAS: Our games are a lot different. He's more -- I come in a little bit more. Andy stays back and cracks the groundies. I think our serve's pretty comparable. He serves a little bit harder than I do. His game is a little more comparable to say, like, Andre, who stays back a lot more. But he, as we've seen, has a lot of potential and really is going to be a threat here. Just a different player. I serve and volley a lot more than he does.
Q. Only you and Rafter are serve and volleyers among the men. No females. Is that something that's changing?
PETE SAMPRAS: Serve and volleyers?
PETE SAMPRAS: Well, that's the nature of the sport at this point. It's a lot of the young guys coming up are baseliners coming from Europe. A lot of guys breaking through today are playing on clay. And the young Americans, except for maybe Taylor, stay back. It's unfortunate. It would be nice to see a couple serve and volleyers, have that contrast playing a great baseliner. I think itt's the best tennis to watch. I don't have an explanation. Other than me and Rafter and a few other guys, it's pretty slim.
Q. Do you think your level of success and the other guys like your contemporaries, Chang and Agassi and Courier, have made for more pressure on the young Americans coming now?
PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah, there's some definite -- people are looking at who the next crop of young Americans are. It happened to myself and Jim and Andre when we came through as who's going to be the next champion after McEnroe and Connors. Now we're looking at Taylor Dent and Andy Roddick. Me and Andre, getting up there in age, not going to play for another ten more years, we're looking for another champion. That's why there's a lot of focus on Andy as being the main guy.
Q. As a SportsCenter kind of guy, what's a more awesome shot, Wayne's slap shot from inside the blue line or your running forehand on grass or hardcourt?
PETE SAMPRAS: It's hard to say. I like my jump overhead (laughter).
Q. I know you're years away from retirement. Have you thought about what you'd like to do after tennis is over? Law school?
PETE SAMPRAS: I don't know. I need to be busy doing something. I don't have anything specific to -- I don't know if I'll stay in tennis. I don't know what I'm going to do. I won't do anything for a while, just enjoy my time off, my retirement, whenever that comes. But, you know, when you have such a focus for so many years, it's a tough adjustment that all athletes struggle to find. But at this point, I don't know.
Q. Have you been invited to the Agassi nuptials?
PETE SAMPRAS: I haven't been home in weeks so I haven't gotten my mail (laughter). But I'd be a little surprised.
Q. You said your confidence is pretty much there, the conditioning is there, and lack of match play is somewhat tied to performance. What's going on inside of the lines that are preventing you from winning titles? Is it a few strokes that aren't working for you? What's happening there?
PETE SAMPRAS: Just having kind of -- I don't know. Just haven't won the last point. I think we tend to overanalyze a lot of things in this sport, and I'm not overanalyzing why I haven't won a title. I know what I can do out there. I've lost a couple tough finals this year. But, you know, there's no reason to get too carried away. You know, I know I've raised the bar so high, and when I don't win titles every couple months, I'm probably judged much tougher than anyone in the game. So it's a pretty high standard to live up to. But, yet again, like I said, it's been a little disappointing, but it is what it is at this point. I feel like I've got a decent shot here to possibly do it.
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