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September 6, 2000

Pete Sampras

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

MODERATOR: Questions for Pete.

Q. 2-6 in the tiebreak, by how much does that volley clear the net?

PETE SAMPRAS: Which one?

Q. The one off your shoe tops.

PETE SAMPRAS: It's all kind of a blur. I just remember the backhand pass, kind of just escaped. I thought it was gone in the second. Richard was outplaying me for the whole match, you know. I got a little bit fortunate there in the tiebreaker.

Q. Set point in the tiebreak, just guess right on his first serve and whack it?

PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah, just guessed right. He was hitting that serve up the middle well. I was having a hard time picking it up. I figured he was going to go there on the big point. Stuck my racquet out, and, boom, there it was.

Q. Did you think about Wimbledon, same situation like Rafter?

PETE SAMPRAS: I was thinking about it a lot after the second set. Such a similar match, losing the second set. With the tiebreak, the whole match changed within a couple minutes. Like a carbon copy to the Wimbledon final. Then kind of raised my level a little bit. Richard got maybe a touch down on himself. I started playing a little bit better. But it was so similar in the tiebreaker. Got through it. You know, Richard's got such a big game, you only have a couple chances. It could change within a couple minutes, and it did tonight.

Q. Did you draw from the Wimbledon finals or was it a coincidence?

PETE SAMPRAS: It's a coincidence. You know, being done with the match, yeah, but going through it, you know, I thought it was finished. I thought I was going to be down two-sets-to-Love. The way he was playing, I was struggling a little bit, it was going to be a tough battle for me to come back. I thought I was gone.

Q. Does it seem sometimes or feel sometimes that you can will yourself not to lose a match, refuse to lose?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, in a match like tonight, you're fortunate. You know, my will was there and I was fighting. I was just getting outplayed. There's nothing I could do. I was playing against someone that was playing a little bit better than I was and doing everything a little bit better. You know, my will is always there, especially in a big match like today. You know, I was prepared for a little luck today.

Q. You're down 2-6. You said he was outplaying you. Did you think, "We're going to go five today" or "My game is just not here"?

PETE SAMPRAS: I didn't think I was done. I thought I was -- it was going to be a tough battle for me to come back, I really did. Just the way he was serving, holding on the serve so easily, I was having a hard time getting a hold of his serve. He was making me work a lot harder, just outplaying me for the first couple sets. You know, being down two-sets-to-Love, it would have been a tough hole to get out of.

Q. In the tiebreak, did you consciously slow down your first serve to give yourself a chance to get to the net a little bit?

PETE SAMPRAS: On the 6-5 point, yeah, I took a little bit off of it. That was a sign of just playing a little bit high percentage. Other than that, that was pretty much the only serve I took a little bit off of. You don't want to be hitting too many second serves against Richard. I fought hard to get back into that position, I'd hate to give it away with a double or something. I took a little bit off of it and played a top point.

Q. Your thoughts on Lleyton and the semifinals?

PETE SAMPRAS: Last time I played Lleyton, he gave me a lesson at the Queen's Club. Saturday's going to be a different match, much bigger match. He's playing great. You know, he possesses some of the best footwork and one of the best movers we have in the game. He's improved his serve and he's popping in some aces. He's a feisty young guy that's not going to give me any free points. It's a lot like playing Michael Chang as far as their games. You know, at least I'll have a little bit more time, whereas playing Richard it will be a completely different match.

Q. Are you surprised at how far he's progressed, how quickly he's risen?

PETE SAMPRAS: I mean, no. Look at his year. He's had a great year. He's won titles, he's beaten top players. You know, I think we know he's one of the guys that's going to be the future of the game. I mean, he's going to be for as long as he wants to because he's got that mind and that heart to be in the top. And his game is getting more powerful with his serve.

Q. Considering his quickness and his eyes, are you going to have to serve better than you did tonight?

PETE SAMPRAS: If anything, I feel less pressure to hold serve. Against Richard, I feel the pressure to hold serve because if I make one mistake, that's the set. That's what happened in the first set. With Lleyton, you know, he might return a little bit better, but at least I'll have some time to, you know, get into the match and get a rhythm, kind of dictate a little bit. So, you know, I still want to hold serve as much as I can. If I get down a break, it's not necessarily the set like it was tonight. I have some time to get back into it.

Q. (Inaudible) Krajicek's serve?

PETE SAMPRAS: His first serve, you can't do much about it, just try to block it and get it back. Second serve, that was giving me the problems. I was having a hard time putting the pressure on him, making him play. The court's playing pretty quick. You know, I think the strategic thing I tried was just chipping it back, keeping it low, taking a little bit off of it, just make him play a little bit. You know, I've always looked at it as: You're only as good as your second serve. He possesses one of the best ones in the world. That's why he gives me problems.

Q. You got 67 percent of your first serves in, which was pretty high, eight aces. Were you conscious of trying to make sure you didn't give him too many cracks at second serves?

PETE SAMPRAS: Yes. Just trying to -- you know, I hit a lot of second serves, you know, he was handling them pretty easily with the backhand. When Richard is hitting his backhand well and passing well, I'm in trouble. That's what he was doing. You know, I started to serve a little bit smarter, going into the body, taking a little bit off of it. He's a big guy, he likes it out wide. Using the body serve was something Paul told me before I went out. I used it on some big points.

Q. How do you think you'll look back on that tiebreaker and what turned it around? When you have a chance to think about it, how do you think you'll look back on it?

PETE SAMPRAS: The tiebreaker?

Q. Yes.

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, I kind of look at it as similar to what happened to Rafter, being down in that match, thinking that it was pretty much a couple nails left in the coffin. From that point, it's all just reaction, and hopefully hitting a couple good shots. Serving at 6-3, the way he was serving, you know, you just pray. Definitely my prayers were answered.

Q. Was he hurt badly by that tiebreaker?

PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah. Well, yeah. I picked it up. I felt, "I'm back in the match."

Q. Can you see him turn the other way?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, not -- no. I mean, he was still, you know, bringing in the heat. If anything, I just picked it up a little bit.

Q. Are you saying it helped you more than it hurt him?

PETE SAMPRAS: Oh, yeah, yeah. I mean, it's a little bit of both. I look at just my confidence rose and I just felt like I was in a much better position than if I would have lost the second set.

Q. What were you saying to yourself going to the chair after the tiebreaker?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, I don't remember. I'm always talking to myself.

Q. You made the comment the other day with 13 Slams under your belt, anything beyond this is a bonus. How comfortable are you with your place in tennis history?

PETE SAMPRAS: I'm very comfortable (smiling). I have no complaints.

Q. What do you think that place is?

PETE SAMPRAS: It's up to you guys really. I'm not going to sit here and claim I'm the best ever. I feel like I'm one of them. Certainly the critics will always say unless I win the French or get over that hurdle. But winning the French or not winning the French, if my career ended next year or five years, whatever, I didn't win the French, I feel pretty good about what I've done. I've done a lot more than I ever thought I would in the game. You know, at this point I'm just trying to add on to what I have already. I have a chance this weekend.

Q. The first four rounds you had tough matches against guys not ranked particularly high. When you came into this match, did you have any question in your mind about just what your level was?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, I just figured it was a tough match. Last time I played Richard in a big match, he took pretty good care of me. You know, he's at a different level than Calleri, Lee, serves big, possesses a huge game. I had to be on my toes. You know, Richard, his game matches up pretty well against me. Today I got a bit fortunate in the second set and went on from there to win.

Q. In the second set tiebreak, when he was serving for the set, was one of your winners a miss-hit?

PETE SAMPRAS: On the set point?

Q. I think maybe 6-4.

PETE SAMPRAS: I don't remember. I really don't. I just remember -- I don't know what happened that point. I remember the backhand pass I hit. It was a miss-hit on the set point off the forehand, but I don't remember the point you're talking about.

Q. He just said he thought he should have gone backhand on his serve to your backhand. He thought maybe you miss-hit it, went over his head.

PETE SAMPRAS: Oh, yeah, that was a miss-hit (laughter). That was definitely a miss-hit. Lobbed, kind of. Kind of shanked it in there. I can think my Wilson ProStaff. You can get away with that with that racquet?

Q. 6.0?

PETE SAMPRAS: No, a normal one.

Q. When you were in that second set tiebreak and down so many points, did you ever think the match would end as quickly as it did?

PETE SAMPRAS: After I won the second set?

Q. When you were down 6-2, whatever it was.

PETE SAMPRAS: I thought I was gone. I thought I was gone. Being down two sets to love, I wasn't going to quit, but I just felt it's a big hole to get out of.

Q. Have you ever dug yourself out of a hole that deep?

PETE SAMPRAS: Being down two sets?

Q. Being down 6-2.

PETE SAMPRAS: No. Usually I lose them. I can't remember. Playing someone like Krajicek, with his serve, you know, mini break is a set point for him.

Q. A lot of athletes say when they've been around and achieved, the thing that goes first is not the legs or the eyes, it's the will to win, the concentration. Where does your motivation come from?

PETE SAMPRAS: The motivation are the Slams. I mean, that's where I'm at in my tennis. You know, when you taste winning Slams throughout the year, you just want to keep on tasting them. I never forget what Jack Nicklaus said when he was winning majors, that's what motivated him. At this point in my career, that's where I'm at. You know, you'd like to win every title you play, but you look back at the year and you look at what you did at the majors, and that's kind of what keeps me going, motivated, try to add on to what I have already, feel good about my career, look back and not have any regrets on things that I should have done. When it's over, it's over. At the time, since I'm reasonably young and healthy, got the game, I might as well take advantage of it and try to make it 14.

Q. Is it harder to screw yourself down tight than it used to be?

PETE SAMPRAS: Is it harder to screw myself?

Q. Tighten down concentration? You say you reserve yourself for the big tournaments. Is it harder to do that than it was?

PETE SAMPRAS: No. I mean, I look at the majors as what we play for. I have no problem getting going, getting motivated, having that will to win.

Q. You don't find your mind drifting any more than when you were 23?

PETE SAMPRAS: No. I mean, I can only repeat myself so many times how important the Slams are to me. Go out and try to win every match I play. But when you play majors, this is our Super Bowl. This is what we all play for. You know, you can't get much bigger than this.

Q. You haven't been healthy or played as well in this stadium. Here you are in the semis, seem pretty healthy.

PETE SAMPRAS: I feel good. Body's holding up well. I have two days off. My back feels good. Everything feels like it's all in one piece.

Q. Your thoughts about possibly winning an Open in this stadium, which you haven't done?

PETE SAMPRAS: I'd love to. I've had some tough losses, one against Rafter, one against Korda. Hopefully this week that will change and I can break through and win here. It's not going to be easy. I'm playing a tough young guy on Saturday.

Q. A lot of players won't admit, "I thought I was done." Does that kind of work for you, not being afraid to admit?

PETE SAMPRAS: I'm just being honest with how I felt when I was down 6-2, 6-3 in the breaker with him serving. You can sense how the match is going. I just felt I was going to lose the second set. I'm honest with that. Didn't like my chances. But I was still going to keep on fighting and hopefully get a break and maybe get the crowd into it, and who knows what might have happened. Pull a Todd Martin or something. Fortunately I got the second and won. Being down two sets against someone that was playing that well was a tough battle.

End of FastScripts….

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