March 12, 2001
INDIAN WELLS, CALIFORNIA
MODERATOR: Pete moves into the second round, will play the winner of Fabrice Santoro or Andrea Gaudenzi. First question.
Q. Is that as good an opening match as you wanted?
PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah, felt like I've been struggling a little bit over the past couple weeks. You know, today felt like I got my game going, I was serving well. You know, I've struggled playing here the past couple years. You know , I've been here since Friday to get used to the elements. The ball does go a little bit more here than, say, Miami. So, you know, it was a pretty solid effort. I hit the ball pretty well. I feel like I've got some room to improve a little bit. Hopefully, as the week goes on, I get some confidence and get some more matches under my belt.
Q. Can you pinpoint any reasons why you were having that struggle for that few weeks?
PETE SAMPRAS: Just, you know, the Woodruff match in Memphis, I served for the set. Lost it 7-6. He played great. Ilie, you know, I had my chances again. When you don't play a lot of matches, there's kind of a tendency to be a little bit spotty with your game. When you win, you get into a certain rhythm. You know, you force it a little bit. It's nice to get off to a good start and get a match under my belt. Feel like I played pretty well.
Q. Is there a chance you would change your schedule to get some more matches going? Would you change up the schedule you've laid out for yourself this year, to add some more?
PETE SAMPRAS: Well, you know, I took a wildcard in Memphis to play a little bit more. Australia didn't really go all that well, so I felt like I needed to play. I took a wildcard there. When you lose first round a couple weeks in a row, you're not going to play a lot. These weeks are big weeks - here, next week - all the top players, Grand Slam field. You want to be playing your best. You know, all you can do when you haven't played a lot of matches is practice hard, practice, you know, with purpose. That's what I've tried to do. Usually that works out in playing pretty well like I did today.
Q. Ever come here this early before?
PETE SAMPRAS: No. I mean, usually I get here over the weekend. I got here on Thursday night, and just hit a couple times a day, you know, playing against the best players in the world, go out and practice hard, try to get a sort of match atmosphere when you're out there playing, just try hard, try to win your sets. You know, it's just a little bit different than practicing at UCLA, just that dryness, it goes through the air pretty good here. So it takes a little time to adjust.
Q. Who were you warming up with?
PETE SAMPRAS: I hit with Rosset and I was hitting with -- who else was I hitting with? Max Mirnyi, I played with. You know, guys that hit the ball big. Just go out there and, you know, practice hard. I mean, that's all you can do when you haven't played many matches.
Q. That's a whole rhythm that you're not accustom to, losing early. You get to come to the next place and acclimate.
PETE SAMPRAS: When you win matches and you go into tournaments in a rhythm, you get a certain confidence. When you haven't played many matches, it's just -- it's kind of a struggle. I just realized I need to get back on the practice court, get back into practicing a little bit harder, a little bit more, realizing that there's nothing that can really replace playing matches, being in that match atmosphere, get the nerves a little bit more. When you're not used to that, you can play a little bit spotty. But today was a good start. Hopefully I can get my game into a rhythm starting Wednesday when I play again.
Q. Was Gus devastated to see you and Andre go out first round?
PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah, it was a tough day for him and the tournament. It's a tough match to lose. I want to help out not only the tournament, but more importantly my brother, have a good week of the crowds. Andre losing that day, too, was kind of a double whammy. You know, it's a big reason I went there, because my brother works there. But didn't happen.
Q. The year before you went out the same day, too.
PETE SAMPRAS: Yup. I mean, it's a perfect preparation to play here, to play in Scottsdale, because there is a little altitude, the ball goes a little bit more. You get used to that. You come here. It's a perfect four-hour drive. It's perfect preparation.
Q. Over the years you can't have lost three matches in a row very often. Was it any real concern to you?
PETE SAMPRAS: It wasn't really much of a concern. I would have loved to have played a little bit better coming into here, but it wasn't to be. All I could try to do was try to play my way out of it. Like I say, start practicing a little bit more, a little bit harder, just get into a rhythm, you know, get into a match rhythm. When you don't play many matches, like I said, there's a tendency to play a little bit spotty. That happened in Scottsdale, it happened in Memphis.
Q. Do you remember how long it had been since you lost three straight?
GREG SHARKO: '97.
PETE SAMPRAS: '97 (laughter). Not that far ago.
Q. They changed the last couple of years with these big events where you don't have a first round bye. Do you like that?
PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah. I've never really liked having byes. You're playing someone that has played a match, is used to the elements. You know, it can also be an advantage of only playing five matches a week getting to the final. Here you're playing six, seven days. That takes its toll. But I've never liked byes. It's nice to have it if you win your match. You know, it's nice that everyone starts at the same place.
Q. Do you find the going is getting tougher out there on the court these days? If you look at the stat of three losses in a row, Wimbledon was a highlight certainly last year, but are you now finding it a bit tougher with your opponents?
PETE SAMPRAS: Not necessarily. The game has gotten stronger over the past five years. There are no easy matches. You look at some of the first-round matches here, there are no easy matches. The players are younger and getting better and stronger and more confident. But I still feel like when I get my game going, I'm still one of the favorites each week I play. It's just a question of getting my game going. I mean, that's the way I play. I've got the serve. I play kind of aggressive. If I'm there, I don't mind playing anybody. But, you know, from the No. 1 to No. 6 seed, they're all dangerous, so you've got to be careful.
Q. Is there a kind of mind adjustment? Here you're 29, you talk about all the players are younger. In society we think of that as young.
PETE SAMPRAS: Very young - not necessarily in tennis years. Most guys at 29, 30, have historically stopped. But you look at the great players in other sports, Jordan, Gretzky, played till they're 35, 36. I could do that. I mean, I don't know. I'll see where I'm at over the years. It's still young. 29, 30 this year. I've got a lot of good years left in me.
Q. You still feel very motivated to continue to come to tournaments?
PETE SAMPRAS: Sure. You know, I still love playing. I love competing. I love the challenge of the young guys coming up. You know, you still have that motivation and that drive to be the best.
Q. There was a time three, four years ago when it looked like your body wasn't going to let you get that far.
PETE SAMPRAS: I think what woke me up a little bit was when I hurt my back a couple years ago at The Open. That was an eye opener for me to be a little bit more conscious of my body, doing the proper things, the preparations. Up until that point, you can get away with it when you're 20, but when you hit 29, 30, your body changes a little bit. When I hurt my back, it was like, oh, that was pretty serious. Kind of opened my eyes to being a little bit more disciplined with my conditioning and my health.
Q. You're healthier than you've been in years?
PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah.
Q. Did you tweak your ankle a bit at the end?
PETE SAMPRAS: I just landed -- I got a piece of skin coming off my heel. Just ripped it off (laughter).
Q. Does it bother or amuse you that if someone says, "Pete is on the decline, he's going out," does that sort of talk bother you at all?
PETE SAMPRAS: As you get older, you're not winning as much, playing as much. It's only normal to hear that. Talking a little bit to Wayne Gretzky over the course of time, he hit 29, 30, people were saying he was washed up. If anything, it made him more motivated. If anything, it's made me more motivated to be in the top of the game or somewhere near it. When the Slams come around, it's the time where I've usually shined. That's my goal this year.
Q. Are you going to focus on a couple more Slam wins, you definitely see that in your future?
PETE SAMPRAS: Sure. I mean, I still feel like I can contend and win The Majors. Still the same philosophy for me, try to do well at all the Slams. In order to do well at all the Slams, you need to do well through the year, here, next week. You build an aura, you build a confidence, the guys are a little scared of you. That helps you at the majors. You can't turn it on at the majors, "Let's peak here." It's a process you need to prepare for. But, you know, I'm just trying to add on to the 13 that I have. But I still have a lot of pride out there and want to do well at all the Tennis Masters Series, and each week when I'm playing.
Q. Do you have a plan for the French this year?
PETE SAMPRAS: I'm probably going to play a little bit more this year on clay than last year. You know, I've tried every different formula for the French. It's yet to work. You know, just got to go out there and play. I can't worry so much about how I'm going to play, this and that. It's just a question of playing well there. I know I can, and I have. Let's see if I can get it going.
Q. At the ESPYs, you seemed to choke up a bit, a few tears at Wimbledon. Are you getting more emotional now because you're looking back and seeing things, or are you just showing it more?
PETE SAMPRAS: Well, whenever I see that tape, you go up there, it brings me back to that place where I was last year with my folks in Wimbledon. I can't but help still feel it today. It's a reflection of the career, what I've done. There are times where I haven't appreciated it enough. Going week to week to week, you don't think much of what you're becoming. It was an honor to win that award. To win it was definitely -- you know, just seeing the whole tape of the end of it, definitely always hits me.
Q. How does your approach and confidence affect you when facing a tournament like the French as opposed to Wimbledon where you've dominated?
PETE SAMPRAS: I mean, the biggest difference is the surface. You know, Wimbledon, you know, I think I have an unbelievable fear factor to other guys. I mean, they know that I'm going to be tough to beat. That helps. At the French, it's like, "Got Pete on clay, I can beat him here." You look at the clay court competition, you look, all the players are playing today, they can all play well on clay. It's just a tough surface, you know. It's just kind of -- gives me problems. There's moving, there's a lot of good players on clay. I have yet to break through. I felt like that one year I was destined to win there when I got to the semi. You know, hopefully this year will be the year.
Q. In the past when you've been coming into this tournament, you've made comment about this one is a tough one for you. Your record in recent years hasn't been that great. Now when you're coming here, you're arriving here, do you think, "Oh, no, Indian Wells again"?
PETE SAMPRAS: There's certain places that you play well. I've won here a couple times, '94, '95. I know I can play well here. But just the last couple years I've struggled a little bit. I lost a tough match to Enqvist here in the quarters. I'm definitely a threat here. Hopefully this year I can break through and win here again. I'm not too concerned or panicked about why I can't play well here. I just need to go out there and get my game going. Today was a good start for that.
Q. Talking about Pete and Andre, you keep winning Slams, he made a remarkable resurgence. Nothing against this group of players, but what happens when you guys are gone?
PETE SAMPRAS: In America?
PETE SAMPRAS: I think we have some good young American players coming in. Roddick and Mardy Fish.
Q. Even in terms of popularity, not necessarily American players --?
PETE SAMPRAS: You look at the future of the game. There are a couple guys that stand out, Safin and Kuerten. You have a Russian player and a Brazilian. They're very popular in their own countries and around Europe. I don't think in the US they're quite to the stature of myself and Andre because we are American, we've been around for ten years. But the game will always be strong. We need some good young Americans to really kind of carry the torch when Andre and I are done. It's tough. I mean, it goes in cycles. It might be a number of years before you see a group like myself and Chang and Courier and Andre. Many years.
Q. America in the past has gotten behind or cared about players like Laver, Borg, Lendl. Who do you see on the world stage that might capture the attention, good enough and has that transcendent personality that people will care about?
PETE SAMPRAS: I think Kuerten has the flair, he's a really laid-back guy, plays great tennis. People really warm up to him. Safin, who is a big, strong Russian fellow, has a funny personality. Who else is there?
PETE SAMPRAS: Hewitt is kind of feisty. You have different personalities in different games. Hewitt is like Michael Chang, kind of will never die out there. You're going to see those guys in the weekends of Slams. That is really what sells the game. What we'll do in this country, I don't know. Time will tell, see where the game goes. But we have a couple young Americans breaking into the Top 30, possibly into the Top 10. There's a lot of competition.
Q. Do you see anyone else besides Mardy and Andy?
PETE SAMPRAS: I hit some with Taylor Dent in LA. He has a big game. I mean, really he's still young and is going to get better and better. He's got a good future. It's really hard to say on where each guy's career is going to go. I haven't seen Roddick play, but I've heard he has a big game. We'll see. There's going to be kind of an added pressure on those guys to see who are the next young Americans. Being from this country, I mean, the media and the public, they want your players No. 1, No. 2, winning Slams. We're almost a little bit spoiled in that way. Those guys are going to have a good future.
Q. Has that worked to the detriment of like Jan-Michael and Justin maybe, that pressure?
PETE SAMPRAS: I'm sure they talk about it and hear about it, about the young Americans. "Are you guys going to be the guys when Andre and Pete are done?" I dealt with that when American tennis was struggling. Andre made his big move, Courier, myself, Chang. We all had each other to get better. When Courier got to be No. 1, I was like, "Wow, I can do that." When you have that friendly competition, it definitely helps. I'm sure Justin and Jan-Michael and those young guys are going to use each other as far as a place to measure where they're at. It can only help them out.
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