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September 10, 2000

Pete Sampras

U.S. OPEN CHAMPIONSHIP, Flushing Meadows, New York

MODERATOR: Questions for Pete.

Q. Was there a helpless feeling?

PETE SAMPRAS: At one point, there was. I mean, I was trying everything against Marat. I mean, trying to chip-and-charge, stay back a little bit. Whatever I tried, he had the answers, he really did. I give him all the credit because he returned my serve and passed me just about as well as anyone. You know, I wasn't on top of my game, but I think he had a lot to do with it. I mean, he was serving huge. Really never had any impression on his service games. As a result, he was able to be pretty free on his return games. Hit a couple good passes to break me in the first and kind of steamrolled from there. You know, he was on. With his game, as big as he hits the ball, when he's on, he's very, very tough to beat.

Q. Right near the end, the last ten minutes or so, it looked like there was a shot for something to happen for you. What was going on?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, I finally got a couple second serves to look at. Once I saw some of those, I got into a bit of a rhythm. But he was serving huge. I mean, anytime you can serve that big, that consistently, there's not much I can do. You know, I wasn't hitting the ball that great. It was a little bit breezy down there. I had a couple chances. You know, he came up with two big serves on break points. You know, he came out, you know, just played great. He played a great match, he really did. I mean, he did everything as well as you can do it.

Q. Did you feel you were off rhythm or was it Safin who put you off your rhythm?

PETE SAMPRAS: No, I felt fine throughout the first set. You know, he hit a great return to break me at 5-4. Boom, with his serve, one break is the set. You know, even though I lost the first, I still felt I was playing fine. Then I kind of lost a little bit of rhythm on my serve, just kind of dug myself a hole in the second. It just kind of steamrolled into the third. Before I knew it, I was down two sets and a break. That's a tough hole to get out of. But I felt fine. I mean, I wasn't at my best, but I think Marat had a lot to do with that.

Q. Were you shocked that he didn't succumb to any kind of pressure of being in this kind of situation?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, like I said on the court, it reminded me of when I was 19 years old and steamrolled over Andre. I was steamrolled today by him. The only time he showed any nerves was the last game. But he hardly missed. I mean, he really -- I don't know how many errors he hit, but it seemed like he hardly missed a shot. You know, certainly if it's closer, one set all, maybe he'll miss a little bit. But he got off to a good lead and he grew with confidence. But he hardly missed a shot.

Q. How are you physically today? You saw the trainer.

PETE SAMPRAS: Fine. Just fine. I mean, it gets tougher, the older you get, to go back-to-back. But I felt fine. No problems with my body.

Q. Did you sense early on, you held serve the first game, looked sharp, was there a decline after that at all?

PETE SAMPRAS: Just broke me at 4-All, I believe. You know, if it gets close, maybe he misses a couple shots, he broke me there, he grew with confidence. You know, it was a little bit breezy down there so it helped out his serve a little bit. He hardly missed. I mean, I was hoping, in this big match, that he might come out a little bit tight, miss a couple shots here or there. But he really didn't. You know, it will be a little bit more difficult next year for him. But the way he's playing, he's the future of the game. I think he's a good credit to the game because he's a nice guy and will represent the sport of tennis very well.

Q. Did you suddenly feel old out there?

PETE SAMPRAS: I didn't feel old. I felt like I was standing next to a big dude (laughter). I was talking to Trabert. He goes, "He's a big man." I said, "Yeah, he's got a big game."

Q. When was the last time somebody played like that against you?

PETE SAMPRAS: I played Novak at the Davis Cup. He kind of steamrolled me and played great. It hasn't happened very often that I've been on a barrage of shots like that. I'm usually the one that's doing that. It's a bit of a humbling feeling to have someone play that well for that long.

Q. He has more of a complete game than you did at 19?

PETE SAMPRAS: I mean, he's just more powerful, I think. He serves harder than I did at 19. Our games were different. I was more of a slasher coming in, serve-and-volleying more. You know, I think with Lleyton, they're the future of the game. Doesn't have very many holes. Moves well for a big guy. Got some great gets today. I mean, he's going to be a threat here. He's going to be a threat at the French, at Australia. The grass might be a struggle. But he's going to win many majors.

Q. You talk about the time you were 19, you said it on court, here today. Do you see some intimations of the change of guards?

PETE SAMPRAS: Not quite yet. Not quite yet.

Q. Why not?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, I still feel like, you know, I lost to a young guy that's got a good future, that got hot today. You know, the next time I play him, if it's here next year or down the road, I mean, I'll be surprised if he can play like that for that long. But I don't want to say changing of the guard. Obviously, it's a huge win for him. But I'll be back.

Q. The crowd is shouting, "Let's go, Pete." I'm sure you heard it. Were you thinking, "When am I going to turn this around?" What did the crowd do for you?

PETE SAMPRAS: The crowd, they were great. They were pulling for me to get going, get a break, and maybe show some life. Any time I had a chance, he came up with some big serves. I had Love-30 that one game in the third. They were just waiting to explode. I was doing the best I could to give them something to cheer about. But he had all the answers. I mean, I tried everything. He had a barrage of shots that I haven't seen in many, many years.

Q. Who do you feel is the best player in the world right now with the results up to this day, separate from the Tour's Champions Race?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, the way he played today, I mean, he's one of them. I don't know what the Race is at. I mean, I'm happy with my year and the Grand Slam results that I've had, what happened six weeks ago. Australia, I did okay there. It's hard to say one guy had the best year. It's going to come down to Lisbon. But I feel like I've had a really good year.

Q. How is it all going to change for him? You won a Slam at 19. It obviously changes your life. What's going to change for him?

PETE SAMPRAS: Just expectations from the people in tennis, the media, and coming back next year defending champion. It's different. He's going to be a marked man for the next year. Guys are going to be wanting to beat him even more now. But he'll handle it fine because his game is good. He'll back it up fine. You know, things will change, but I think he's got a good head on his shoulders. He'll handle it very well.

Q. All the passing shots going by you, did you think about changing strategy radically?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, I just felt at times I did try to stay back, I wasn't hitting the ball that cleanly from the back court. He wasn't missing. He was moving me around, making me do a lot more work. The times I did chip-and-charge, I was coming in on some good stuff. Match point, I hit a great approach. You know, he hit a great pass. That was kind of the icing on the cake for him as far as the match went, that match point.

Q. Were you surprised with his speed?

PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah. I played him in Toronto. I felt his movement was okay, but he came up with some -- one drop volley I had, he hit one great cross-court. He moved well. He's a big guy. He covers a lot of court.

Q. Does what happened to you today give you a greater appreciation for what you inflict on other guys when you're playing well?

PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah. I can be pretty good sometimes (laughter). Like I've said, it hasn't happened to me that often that I've gotten kind of carved wax like that. But it's happened. I didn't really expect him to -- I knew he was going to play well, but I didn't think he was going to play that well that long. I figured he would get a little bit nervous. He came out swinging away, served huge. You know, the guy's got one of the biggest serves in the game, he really does. I mean, couldn't read it. Just has got a lot of power.

Q. Pete, are you able to handle this a little better now because of where you are in your career? You've already broken the records. You seem pretty calm about it, pretty okay with it.

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, when you go out and you get outplayed, I'm disappointed, but if I lost 6 in the third, had match points, I'd be in a different mood. But I've just got to accept it. I lost to a better player on the day. That's the way it goes. You know, this year will be a great year for me because of the record and breaking that. Being in the final, nothing to be ashamed of. I know I say I want to win all these, which I do. But, you know, compared to where I was last year, you know, I feel good about some of the wins I had. I mean, I could have lost to Krajicek easily. But when you get to the final, you want to take that next step and put your name on the trophy. That's disappointing. But there are days you just don't have it. Accept the loss to a better player.

Q. You don't really seem all that devastated. There's some consolation knowing the guy played so well.

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, I mean, I'm just getting off the court. I'm disappointed, but I'm not going to break my racquets, I'm not going to lose it emotionally. It was just a tough loss. There's not much I can really do. I mean, I've just got to accept it. You know, got some important dates in the future this year, getting married, which is obviously a big step in my life.

Q. You said last week that you didn't see a men's player out there ready to dominate, become No. 1 for many years. Do you still feel that way? Could Safin do it?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, he could if he wants to do it. I mean, it's a decision that you have to make on your life and how much you want to be on top of the game, deal with the pressures. But he's one of them. I mean, the way he played today and played these two weeks, you know, he can be No. 1 for many, many years. Because of his game, he can play well on the clay, obviously; on the fast hard court; grass, he can do pretty well, I think. I mean, he can really be dominant because of his power.

Q. You mentioned the No. 1 spot will probably go down to the wire in Lisbon. Does it interest you, because you're now No. 1 in the Race, does it interest you chasing that or is your mind moving to the next Slam, the Australian?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, I haven't -- I'm sure over the next two, three, four weeks, I'll think about the rest of the year and try to have some icing on the cake, finish No. 1, which would be great. Right now, it's hard really to put it into words. But I'd like to finish No. 1. I mean, if I don't, it doesn't -- it would be disappointing, but I got what I wanted this year, you know, that was the record and Wimbledon, which was nice.

Q. It's been five years since you lost in a Grand Slam final. Was it strange to have the sensation again after so long?

PETE SAMPRAS: It's weird at the ceremony. I usually hold up the big trophy (smiling).

Q. When you were 19 and won here, you had a fearlessness of youth. You said at certain times you didn't know what you were doing then. Do you think he's going to experience that?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, I think whatever he was doing, he was doing it great. I mean, he's much more of a developed player than I was at 19. You know, he's done well at the French. He's been around, in the Top 10. I came from nowhere pretty much. You know, his game is just more developed than I was. I think he'll do very well.

Q. How are you going to handle him next time you meet? Are you going to hope he's just not a hundred percent?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, he'll be a hundred percent. I just hope he doesn't play that well. But even if he does, I mean, I let him -- I kind of gave him the lead a little bit, wasn't hitting the ball that well from the back court, didn't put enough pressure on his service games. You know, I'll try some different things. But I didn't have the answers today.

Q. You said you tried some things with him, like chip and coming. You mentioned these guys hit a different type of game. The fascination with you is that you've held on with all these sluggers. Do you see yourself as the last of the Mohicans, chip and coming game?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, the game, it's changed a little bit. You look at the young guys coming up, they're all pretty much baseliners. There aren't too many natural serve-and-volleyers, guys that come in a lot. But there's still a lot of power. Marat is serving 130. You know, the future of the game is more baseline, I think. I mean, the only -- you've only got myself and really Rafter, a couple other guys that are natural serve-and-volleyers. You know, don't be surprised in five years, you'll be seeing two baseliners playing the finals of Wimbledon one year.

Q. You said that the loss to Edberg really bothered you because you didn't give it everything you had. Could a loss ever bother you like that again?

PETE SAMPRAS: No, no. That was just a loss that kind of woke me up a little bit to what I wanted from the game. I gave in a little bit in the match. That changed my career mentally, how much I really wanted to be the best player in the world and win majors. That definitely was a turning point.

Q. So then what will this loss do? How do you think you'll look at it?

PETE SAMPRAS: I mean, it won't have the same effect it did in '92. I can honestly sit here and say I just got outplayed. I mean, I just lost to a guy that was on. There's not much I can really say. I'll be back next year and hopefully have another chance to play him.

Q. Can you describe what happened on that return winner that he broke you the first time. You really looked flat footed. I wouldn't say any of us are used to seeing you look like that.

PETE SAMPRAS: I hit 125 up the middle. He hit it back just as hard. I thought it was a let. I thought I heard the beep go off. It wasn't a let. Just kind of a sign of how the day was going to go. You know, he hit a great return. He leaned that way and picked off a great shot.

Q. Prior to today, Safin's vulnerability, for lack of a better word, was his mental game. Now that he's cruised through the finals, against you as well, do you think that changes the way people are going to look at him from now on?

PETE SAMPRAS: Oh, yeah. I mean, beating me the way he did, I mean, he's going to have an aura about him for the rest of the year and beyond. Being so dominant, playing so great in such a big match. But things will be different for him. Once you win that Grand Slam, you know, the pressure definitely is inflated a little bit. We all have experienced it. I think he'll handle it fine. But I'm sure he'll go through his lulls over his career. I think all in all, he's going to be in contention for Grand Slams forever.

Q. You have another record to break at The Masters, since you're tied with Ivan Lendl with five wins. Which one will be your schedule until The Masters?

PETE SAMPRAS: I've got Paris and Stuttgart, Lyon.

Q. In making a comment about the serve that you thought was a let, you said that was a sign of the way the day will go. Some days just roll that way?

PETE SAMPRAS: It was just an expression. I mean, it's just the way -- yeah, it was just the way kind of the day went. I hit a big serve that he came back and hit a great return. Felt like he was seeing the ball well and he was on, definitely on.

Q. In the past two days, you've played the two players who many people feel are the future of the game. Do you think Marat is a lot farther ahead than Lleyton? How would you assess the two of them for the coming year or two?

PETE SAMPRAS: Just two different players. I mean, Marat is a lot more powerful. Lleyton has the quickness and the heart. It's two contrasting kind of personalities and styles. But, you know, it will be an interesting match if those guys ever play.

Q. Do you think they'll be the Pete and Andre of the future?

PETE SAMPRAS: It's hard to say. There are other guys that could, you know, threaten them. But, you know, Pete and Andre was pretty special when we had it. You know, it will be a long time before you see two Americans kind of doing what we did for those years.

End of FastScripts….

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