March 17, 2001
INDIAN WELLS, CALIFORNIA
MODERATOR: Pete tomorrow will attempt to win his third title here in Indian Wells, and his 12th career Tennis Masters Series title. In his head-to-head meetings, he's 17-12 against Agassi and 4-2 against Hewitt.
Q.. Was it difficult to get started again after your tough match yesterday?
PETE SAMPRAS: It was a little bit. I got off to a slow start. I lost my first two service games, just felt a touch flat. But once I kind of got through that stiffness, that I felt a little bit this morning, you play another match. I don't think we both played all that well today. We both were missing a little bit. It wasn't a very good serving day for me. Kind of hung in there and scrapped and clawed, down 5-2, 4-1, first and second set, you know, I fought hard to get back into the sets, ended up winning the match. I feel like I need to play at a much better level tomorrow to beat either Hewitt or Andre. It was a good one to get through, but I felt -- I just felt a touch off, especially on my serve.
Q.. You took a couple of months off to get married. Has marriage affected your game?
PETE SAMPRAS: Not really.
Q.. You haven't played Andre in a while. It's been over a year now. Just talk about that potential match-up, and talk about Lleyton.
PETE SAMPRAS: Andre obviously possesses the best return in the game. He's playing great. He's very fit, very focused. I'm going to have my hands full against either Lleyton or Andre. Andre certainly has a little more firepower, and he's confident and playing great. Definitely not an easy match for both of us. You know, we match up as a pretty good contrast when we clash. Tomorrow, if he reaches the final, will be some good tennis.
Q.. Given how well he's been playing as of late, do you feel a little bit like an underdog, which would be an unfamiliar position for you?
PETE SAMPRAS: Not really. I feel like, you know, I'm still the strong favorite, one of the strong favorites, each week I play. But you look at our years. He's obviously been a little bit more consistent and has played better. I don't look at it as an underdog going into it. I feel just as much pressure playing Andre tomorrow or playing him five years ago. There's not a huge difference.
Q.. How about Lleyton?
PETE SAMPRAS: Well, Lleyton, you know, he's an unbelievable competitor that will fight, scratch, do whatever he can to win. He's one of the best movers in the game. He moves the ball very well around the court, possesses a pretty good first serve. You know, he fights hard. He's like Michael Chang but with a better serve. He's someone that we look at the future of the game, I mean, he's one of the guys. I think we all know that he's only 20 and he'll just get bigger physically, more experience as he plays more big matches. Certainly he's got all the tools.
Q.. He had two good wins over you last year. Does that play in the back of your mind at all going into the match?
PETE SAMPRAS: No, not really. Lleyton, you know, it's like playing a little bit like Michael Chang. He's not someone that is going to overpower you like an Andre, but he won't miss much. He returns well, he moves well. He's given me some problems, especially at Lisbon, Queen's. You know, it's a matter of finding my game at the right times tomorrow, if I play him. We'll see.
Q.. Andre was talking about how your game has improved over the years, said you were definitely a better player now. Your serve was better both in terms of pace, power, you know when to turn it on, when to play safe, when to be dangerous. Could you comment on how your game has changed?
PETE SAMPRAS: Well, when I first broke out on the tour, I played Andre, I was very inconsistent. You know, I still have those moments in matches. You know, I think I've improved in a lot of areas, especially my serve. My second serve, I'm hitting with pretty good pace. As you get older, you just learn a little bit more. You know, it's been a steady improvement on both of our parts. He says he's a better player now than he was six years ago. I feel like I'm pretty much at the same level. We'll see. You know, you have to improve. Guys are getting a little bit better, a little bit younger. You just have -- you need to add some things to your game to keep up.
Q.. You showed again today what many people said, you have the ability to turn it up at the key moments. How does that process work? Is that a dialogue you have with yourself?
PETE SAMPRAS: Well, there's certain moments in a match, in a set, that you just push a little bit harder. You know, you play a 4-3 game different than a 1-All game. You still want to try to win every point, but there's certain points that you feel, "I have him now; time to put the clamps on him." Today I didn't really feel like I was on top of him all that match. You know, once you get to a Love-30, 15-30, it's the time where you tighten up a little bit. You put the pressure on him. I did that today. There's certain points after you win a tight first set to raise that level, and I didn't do it today. I slipped off, went down a break in the second. Just a little bit careless. It's just experience, knowing when to turn it on.
Q.. The Australian semi has been labeled by a lot of people a classic. After it occurred, you weren't sure about that. Have you watched it at all? What do you think about it now?
PETE SAMPRAS: Everyone talks about it being a classic. It was a classic from the standpoint of how close it was. I didn't think -- it wasn't the best of tennis. I think we played better matches in the past. I remember that year in Australia, the courts were really quick. I mean, he won the match. I'm not taking anything away from the way he played. It wasn't the best tennis I think we've ever played. It was close, especially that fourth set tiebreaker when it went to like 8-6 or something. In the past, I think we have played, as far as a level, a lot higher.
Q.. Was the level of the match you played here when you beat him in '95, '96, was that better?
PETE SAMPRAS: It was a long time ago (smiling).
Q.. Straight sets.
PETE SAMPRAS: I look at some of our indoor matches that I played against Andre as some pretty good match-ups, a couple Paris Indoors matches we played; The Championships, ATP Championships, we've had pretty good battles; US Open, a couple finals there. Australia, I remember it was a little bit breezy that day. I remember the court was very fast. I was serving bombs. It was more dramatic more than it was great tennis. I didn't think we both played that great. When we do play great at the same time, it's some of the best ever.
Q.. We see that as a priceless match. You feel slightly the other way. If you had to pinpoint the one match that you think you and Andre have played which was the beat all, end all, which one would that be?
PETE SAMPRAS: That's really hard to say one match. You know, I can't think of one right now. From my standpoint, I mean, that final a couple years ago at Wimbledon was the best tennis I've ever played, and he forced me to do that. You know, we've had some memorable moments. US Open finals in '95, I believe, we both played quite well. I'm trying to think of where else we played. It's a good match-up. No question it should be some good tennis.
Q.. Do you remember the first time you ever played him?
PETE SAMPRAS: In the pros?
PETE SAMPRAS: I got embarrassed by him on the clay in Rome. This is when I was -- it was 2-1. I wasn't very good. He pretty much embarrassed me.
Q.. Do you remember the first time you played him as a kid?
PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah. It was in Northridge at a junior event, 10s or 12s, I'm not sure which one. He came in from Vegas, his whole family came down. I think he beat me there. It's amazing where we've started and where we're at now. It's pretty amazing. Our careers have been pretty damn successful.
Q.. Your first impression of somebody? I'm sure he had the long hair then.
PETE SAMPRAS: I didn't remember much of what he looked like. It was so long ago, it was like '87 or '8. I don't have a strong memory of it. Just knowing that, you know, he was more from the Bollettieri, Courier era, and I didn't play him too much in the juniors because he was in Florida; I was in LA playing against Michael Chang. It wasn't until the pros when we actually started playing a lot.
Q.. Were you still hitting with two hands, your backhand, the first time you played him?
PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah.
Q.. So he couldn't exploit that?
PETE SAMPRAS: Not at that time (laughter). He beat me, so I guess he did.
Q.. Five or so years ago you were asked if there was one thing you could have that Andre has, what would it be? Interestingly enough, you said, "A jet plane." Andre is a smart guy, so he doesn't have the plane anymore. Seriously, if there was one quality that Andre has that you could get, what would that be?
PETE SAMPRAS: As a player?
Q.. Yes. Or a person.
PETE SAMPRAS: As a player, it's hard to answer. He's got some of the best returns ever. I'd love to have his return of serve. You can't have your cake and eat it. You can't have my serve and return the way he does. I mean, that's one thing he possesses over me, is the return.
Q.. You've also seen him evolve as a person. Is there anything you admire in term -- any traits you'd like?
PETE SAMPRAS: When he was at a point where he was ranked 120, he went to the challenger circuit, just kind of started over. I mean, you respect someone that was able to put it all together, get his life in order to play great tennis, and he's done so.
Q.. In saying about not being comfortable here, irrespective of what happens tomorrow in the final, do you think the monkey will be off your back by reaching the final, or do you have to win it?
PETE SAMPRAS: It would be great to win it. I got a lot of good matches under my belt this year, which I haven't had all year. Yeah, I mean, it's been a struggle. This is the first time I made the weekend in over five years. You know, it's still always a struggle each match I play here, just to find my game. As much as I love serving, serving in these conditions isn't always easy for me because the ball does go a little bit faster. I wish I had it a little bit heavier out there. It helps out in some areas. You know, the monkey might be off my back for a little bit. Hopefully I'll get through tomorrow.
Q.. How much longer do you think you're going to play?
PETE SAMPRAS: I see myself at least another five years.
Q.. Do you see a slight advantage for either you or Andre, you or Lleyton, with the conditions here?
PETE SAMPRAS: Someone that plays well in these conditions is someone who hits the ball pretty flat with short back-swings. They both have that. My swings are pretty long; play with a lot of spin. It can go a little bit more. Those guys swing the racquet with nylon, a little easier to keep it in the court. They have the short swings and the good backhands. It's a good shot out here.
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