September 9, 2000
Flushing Meadows, New York
MODERATOR: Questions for Pete.
Q. On the point before match point, you hit that overhead. Any thought of letting that ball drop, maybe thinking it was out, not taking it in the air? You hit it deep.
PETE SAMPRAS: Well, the wind was going my direction. When he hit it, I thought it was going long, but the wind kept it up. If I would have let it drop, I think it would have landed in, about a foot in. I didn't want to feel like hitting an overhead that far behind the court. It was a split-second reaction to give it a swing. It's an odd shot because I was ready to kind of let it go. All of a sudden my racquet was there. I decided to hit it, and pulled it off.
Q. How bad were you hurt?
PETE SAMPRAS: I'm fine. A little sore.
Q. Do you feel you delayed the future of men's tennis for a little while?
PETE SAMPRAS: For another day (smiling). We're looking at two young guys that are going to be around for many, many years. Lleyton has a good future. He's such a young guy that he's just going to get better and better as he gets older. He's going to get stronger. He's got the tools. Safin is someone that has got a much bigger game, serves huge. I lost a tough match against him in Toronto. You know, he's also the future. But I'm still able to hold my own, and hopefully I can do it tomorrow.
Q. Over the years, have you come across many people that move across the court quicker than Lleyton?
PETE SAMPRAS: I always felt that Michael Chang was probably the best mover. I think Lleyton is in the same league as Chang. Has unbelievable footwork, I mean really does. He really forces me into errors because I'm going for too much, returns great. But I think he and Michael are the two best movers I've ever played.
Q. I don't mean to keep aging you at this US Open, but does it seem like ten years to you since you came here at 19?
PETE SAMPRAS: Ten years, and a lot less hair (laughter). Be looking like Bud soon.
Q. Is it less or more exciting than ten years ago to be in the final?
PETE SAMPRAS: Ten years ago when I was here, I was so overwhelmed, came out here, had nothing to lose, had fun, I really didn't know what I was doing. I just played a couple great matches and next thing I knew, I won The Open. My game wasn't that good. I just had two hot weeks. After that, it took me six, eight months to really back it up. I really struggled. But ten years I've been through a lot of wars out there, a lot of battles, I've won a lot of big matches. You know, I've done a lot more in the game than I ever thought I would. When I won here at 19, I didn't know where my tennis was going to go from that point. It just evolved into something, you know, pretty special.
Q. Do you feel there's actually less pressure on you now, having got the record at Wimbledon?
PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah, a little bit, sure. I mean, Wimbledon was a great opportunity for me to break the record. The fact that I've done it, I feel a little less pressure. But I still want to win here; still have that pressure, but it's a little bit different. I feel like I'm just going to try to add on to what I have already at 13. This is why I play the game, for moments like today, tomorrow. So I'm looking forward to a good final. It's been a good run.
Q. How does that affect the mental approach when you face a guy who was in his first semifinal and now a guy who is in his first final?
PETE SAMPRAS: I don't think the mental approach is different. I mean, the fact that Lleyton is in his first semi or Marat is in his first final, it doesn't really faze me. These guys have proven themselves to be top players. Marat, it's his first final. He could come out and have nothing to lose and play great. So I don't read too much into those type of stats. You know, experience does help a little bit. It might have got me through my match today. But tomorrow's a whole new today.
Q. Compare yourself at age 19 to Marat at age 20.
PETE SAMPRAS: Well, just, you know, different games. You know, I served and volleyed a lot more. But Marat possesses a huge first serve, big second serve. Much different player. Stays back. Has a great backhand. Competes well. Hits the ball big off both sides. Me, I was more of a slasher and shot-maker. Marat is more of a baseliner, counter-puncher, but has a lot of power.
Q. You were meeting with the President just now. What did he say to you?
PETE SAMPRAS: Just congratulated me. Talked about the match a little bit. He's had a long week. I've had a long week (laughter). We both are working hard. Just a privilege to meet him and spend a couple minutes with him.
Q. What is it like playing in front of the President?
PETE SAMPRAS: Well, it's my court, you know. That's where I'm comfortable. I wouldn't want to give a speech to him. You know, I knew he was coming today. Then before the match, the media, it was a little distracting in the beginning. I think people settled down and we played some tennis. It was nice that he's here. It's good for tennis that he took some time off to make his appearance.
Q. Were you aware that the fans were throwing things up to get his autograph?
PETE SAMPRAS: No, I was not aware of that.
Q. A year ago you were here when you withdrew with your injury, a year and two weeks ago. You were teary-eyed. You said, "I guess in six months, maybe a year, I'll figure out why this happened. There has to be a reason." A year later, have you figured out what that was?
PETE SAMPRAS: Well, I met my fiancee that time off that I had. If I didn't hurt my back, I wouldn't be getting married soon. I look at that as a reason. You know, just to appreciate my years playing, just to appreciate your health. You know, being in the final, you know, means more to me this year more than any other year because of where I was last year at this time. You know, a little adversity like I had this year, you know, last year at this time was a way good for me just to kind of wake me up to my conditioning and my health and be a little bit more aware of it. It was an eye-opener for me.
Q. I remember once you said that many athletes have been invited to the White House and talked to Clinton and so on. You were kind of complaining. After you won in Russia, the Davis Cup, you said, "We didn't get the same kind of honor." Did you have it afterwards? Did you meet him afterwards before today or never?
PETE SAMPRAS: I met him on a golf course in LA after Wimbledon of last year for the first time.
Q. So he invited you?
PETE SAMPRAS: No, I don't believe so.
Q. Talking of playing in front of people, it meant a huge amount for you to play in front of your parents at the Wimbledon final. Are you tempted to ask them to come tomorrow?
PETE SAMPRAS: I mentioned it to them; they've declined. I tortured them enough in the final in Wimbledon. They'll be going for their walk, I'm sure, come 4:00.
Q. Do you think Lleyton has a better chance at any one Grand Slam than others?
PETE SAMPRAS: I think this one's good for him. I think the Rebound Ace is good for him. Grass, he might be tough on the grass, even on the clay. Lleyton likes a pretty quick court. I think this court is pretty ideal for him. You just look at all great players adapt to different surfaces. I look at Lleyton as someone that's going to get better and better.
Q. One thing he said today when you two were lined up to go on the court, he was standing a few yards behind you, he said it was a very impressive figure to look at the back of Pete Sampras as you're coming out for a semifinal. Do you always make a point of going out first or was that something you wanted to do today?
PETE SAMPRAS: No, no. Not really. I mean, I just walked out, so no.
Q. Lleyton had a couple of set points in the first tiebreaker. Can you talk about how that might have changed the momentum of the match?
PETE SAMPRAS: Well, I was pretty lucky to get out of it. I had four set points, a couple breakpoints. He missed the forehand at 6-5, a shot he doesn't really miss much. He wins the first set, you know, he just gains confidence. I just wasn't really finding my game in the first set. As I got the first set, my confidence grew, serving picked up a little bit. Just a huge part of the match. I played five, six tiebreakers this week. I think I've won them all.
Q. Not that you've thought about it that much, but how are you going to come out against Safin? What will you have to do different?
PETE SAMPRAS: I'm not going to do anything different. I'm going to come in a lot. Safin possesses a big serve. I need to get that back. You know, he's a powerful player. If you let him play, you give him high shots to the forehand or backhand, he'll crack it. I need to be a little bit more aggressive. With Lleyton, I can get away with a little bit. Safin will punish you much more. My goal is to hold onto serve like I did today and hopefully get a couple chances to break him and convert.
Q. Did you watch any of his match against Todd today?
PETE SAMPRAS: A little bit.
Q. Playing him recently in Toronto, do you think that helps you a lot, being comfortable with his style?
PETE SAMPRAS: I don't think so. He knows what I'm going to do; I know what he's going to do. I lost a tough match. I had two match points. You know, he believes he can beat me, so that's a big bonus for him. It is a final of a major. He hasn't played many of them. He's going to come out not intimidated by the situation. He's going to go out and he's going to play fine. It's going to be a close match. We'll see.
Q. The back last year, the hip flexor in Australia. Will it at all be astonishing to you if you walk away from this year with two Slams, considering where you started?
PETE SAMPRAS: Well, when you have raised the bar to winning Grand Slams each year, you expect it. Getting through some tough injuries and getting through Wimbledon, you know, sure, it gets a little tougher when you get older and whatever. But I'm not that surprised. I mean, I expect a lot out of myself, to win majors, put myself in position to win them. I've done that this week.
Q. Billie Jean was talking about Connors and how she didn't think he had many what if's when he was 45 or 50; how Borg was going to have some what if's just because he walked away as early as he did. Is one of the reasons why you're still driving as hard for majors is that in 10 years or 15, that you don't want to ever walk away with major regrets about what you did, what you accomplished?
PETE SAMPRAS: Oh, yeah. I mean, I've been asked that many times. I mean, my goals have always been the major tournaments. You know, I got the rest of my life to look back on my tennis. You know, I always pride myself on doing the right thing, preparing well, working hard, gearing my schedule to moments like this weekend. At 29, I feel like I've got a lot of good years left in me to really contend for major tournaments. That's what drives me and that's what keeps me going. You know, I don't want to have any regrets when I look back on my tennis, all the talent that I had, I kind of wasted it away. I wanted to take advantage of it. You know, I enjoy the occasion. I enjoy going out there tomorrow and having a packed house, the whole country watching. It's a rush. It's certainly a feeling that I've grown to love.
Q. Against Krajicek, you lost the first set and you were in trouble in the second set. You asked for the support of the crowd. Are you going to do the same tomorrow if you are in trouble?
PETE SAMPRAS: Oh, yeah. I need all the help I can get, sure.
Q. It helped you a lot?
PETE SAMPRAS: Sure. It's definitely a boost.
Q. What you're saying about some good years left in you, do you think sometimes we, the media, look at you as an older tennis player?
PETE SAMPRAS: 29 is still pretty young. I mean, you know, you look at someone like a Jordan or Gretzky, played till they're 35, I think. It's a different sport, team sport. Tennis players historically are done at 29, 30. I feel like I've got the game that I can play for as long as I want because of my serve. 29 is still pretty young, I believe. I mean, you can still do well in majors. Look at what Connors did for many years. He won majors at 30, 31. Look at Andre, what he's done. So it can be done. It's not that old (laughter).
Q. Along the line of looking back and regrets, are you sort of amused looking at 1991, when you actually seemed relieved to lose your championship?
PETE SAMPRAS: Well, it was one of the regrets of something I've said to the press, when I lost to Jim. Obviously at that point in my career, I didn't know what I wanted, I didn't like the pressure, I didn't like coming back and trying to defend a title. It's not easy, and I didn't handle it well. But something evolved over the next couple years to really find that passion to win majors. You know, just a different competitor mentally, how bad I really wanted it. Losing that '92 final to Edberg really woke me up to what I wanted from the game. I didn't like that feeling of giving in in that match. Only one person gets on that trophy. That definitely changed my career.
Q. Did the USTA at all come back to you when Andre pulled out of the Olympics and ask if you were interested again?
PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah, they mentioned it to Paul. Like I've told them all year, I've just decided not to play.
Q. Did the President ask you for any advice on double-faults?
PETE SAMPRAS: No.
Q. Or foreign policy?
PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah (laughter). Lower taxes.
Q. This tournament started with a promotion of new young players. How much motivation did you derive from saying, "I'm not done yet, they're going to have to take it from me"?
PETE SAMPRAS: I didn't look at it as extra motivation. The motivation for me is to try to hold up that cup. You know, I admire the tour trying to get the young guys more exposure, especially the guys from Europe. But I didn't look at it as I'm making any point. I'm just trying to, you know, do well here and try to win here. I'm not looking at it as any certain, you know, get me going because these guys are young and they're getting all the attention. Stuff like that really doesn't faze me.
Q. Do you think it's fair that the US Open continually asks athletes to perform in a semifinal one day, a final the next day, when we're trying to exhibit the best in tennis?
PETE SAMPRAS: Well, I've always -- the USTA really is a little bit more concerned about making a few extra bucks than the players. Now it's 6:30 and I have to get ready for a 4:00 match. You want to be at your best. A day off does help. You look at the other Slams. You have a day off on Saturday, which is nice, to get ready, to get the body ready. But it is what it is. Super Saturday is a great day for tennis. You look at it, it's good for the game, but it's certainly not great for the players. Maybe we can wrap this thing up and I can get ready for tomorrow.
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