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March 16, 2000

Pete Sampras


MIKI SINGH: Questions for Pete.

Q. Surviving the odd day at work?

PETE SAMPRAS: Successfully surviving. Yeah, I'm still struggling a little bit with my range; have been the last couple days. But I'm getting through these matches, which is nice. Just hope I can play a little bit better because each match gets more difficult. I'm competing well, moving well. I just need to find my range a little bit better.

Q. Seem to be finding it better in the third set, having survived the second.

PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah. I felt much better in the third, just kind of found my range and my rhythm. As I mention every year I play here, the ball does go a little bit. You just need to handle it. I string my racquets really tight. It's still not where I want it to be, but I'm getting through the matches, I'm winning them. You can't rely on it every match, as they get more difficult. But the third set, I finally got my game going a little bit.

Q. What did you tell yourself you had to do after the first set to change?

PETE SAMPRAS: Exorcise the desert demons, that's my goal. I've struggled here. Just try to stay positive. You know the ball's going to go a little bit. I still have the best serve-and-volley in the game, and use that. Hopefully get a good rips at some forehands and hopefully get a break. That's what happened. As soon as I won that second, I was a little bit more confident. In the third, kind of clicked a little bit, which was nice because I didn't really feel like I was playing all that well. But Byron was making me work. He's a tough guy to play. He's got a serve that's difficult to come in on. You know, I got through it, which was good.

Q. Do you think the fact that you talk about the demons, which means you know they're there, that's half the battle which will enable you to get rid of them now?

PETE SAMPRAS: I'm just trying to stay positive out there. You know, I do struggle here; I have over the last couple of years. You know, I still have to tell myself who I am and that still I'm going to be tough to break. It's just a matter of getting my game going a little bit on the return of serve, hopefully just finding a way to fenagle a break here and there and win these matches.

Q. Certainly at the start today and yesterday perhaps, is it the fact that you're still thinking about the desert or the fact that you really have not had enough match practice to be back in the form you want anyway?

PETE SAMPRAS: I don't think it's the match practice. I think it is the conditions. It's not mental; it's there. I mean, everyone has been dealing with it all week. The conditions are pretty quick. You've just got to deal with it and be positive. I don't like them. You know, I'd much rather have it a little bit slower, maybe a clay court or something down there would be nice (laughter).

Q. Would you like to repeat what you've just said?

PETE SAMPRAS: Sure, with heavy balls.

Q. You had some tough matches in the early rounds here. Do you want to talk about how the quality of play on the tour has improved, even over the last five years, from when you started?

PETE SAMPRAS: If you just look at the upsets this week, the upsets over the past number of years, it just tells you the game is very, very deep. If you just look at the Grand Slam winners, the guys that have come through and won Grand Slams, the guys that are in the Top 5, Top 10, you know, there's not much difference between the Top 10 and the rest of the guys, where 20 years ago, you know, Borg, Lendl, Connors, McEnroe, they were clearly a lot better than everyone else, where now the difference isn't much.

Q. What about seven years ago?

PETE SAMPRAS: Even seven years ago. I mean, I just see in the last three, four years, the game has gotten much stronger. There are no easy matches. There are no easy draws. Everyone can play. If you don't come ready to play, you're going to lose. You've seen that this week.

Q. Do you see that as an exciting challenge for yourself or would you rather it would be like it was seven years ago?

PETE SAMPRAS: You look at it as a challenge. Challenges are something that I definitely need at this point. Like I said, I need challenges. The game is strong today. You want to go out and play against the best players in the world. It's always difficult. Even seven years ago when I was 21, it was hard. Now I think it's more difficult to win Slams and to stay on top because everyone's very hungry and getting younger, and I'm getting older.

Q. Is one of the characteristics of that broader depth strategy on the players' part or fitness?

PETE SAMPRAS: I think it's power. If you look at the athletes today, over the past number of years, a lot of the Europeans are getting better and better. I think that's why it's gotten closer. The top guys aren't quite as dominating as they used to be. I just think guys are hitting the ball big. Guys are serving hard. If you don't come ready to play, you're not going to win. I don't care if you're 1 or 2 in the world, it doesn't matter. I mean, guys are hungry and want to beat the guys that are on the top of the game.

Q. You talk about your serve-and-volley and how you think it's still the best in the game. Earlier in this tournament Henman said that the serve-and-volley is kind of going extinct, you're really the only true serve-and-volley player still left in this tournament. Can you talk about what's happened to the serve-and-volley, why players are having more trouble doing it effectively?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, I think, like I said, the guys that are doing well in the game are a lot of Europeans. There aren't too many natural serve-and-volleyers in the game. I don't know why. The game has changed over the past 15, 20 years. Guys are staying back, hitting big forehands. Other than myself and maybe Pat Rafter, Philippoussis, everyone is pretty much staying back, and Henman. I don't know why. A lot of the Europeans, clay-courters are doing well on the faster surfaces. As far as the ranking, it's much higher.

Q. You had a hard time with your back last year. How did this change to how you look at your career now? Do you appreciate more now what you're doing?

PETE SAMPRAS: Absolutely. My back, I've had injuries over the years, but the back was a serious injury, when you deal with a disc. Certainly all the time off I've had over the past six months has given me a time to reflect a little bit on my career up to this point, and looking at the next three or four years. There was some sort of positive as far as the back injury was concerned, a new appreciation for how much I enjoy playing, how much I miss playing, and how important your health is, to the point where I want a pretty good schedule, my exercises, being a little more disciplined with my body.

Q. Do you think it took something off from your opponents because they don't fear you that much anymore, psychological advantage you had being so dominant, you lost a bit of that? Do you feel this?

PETE SAMPRAS: Not really. I feel going into Hannover last year, I didn't play for three months, and did well there. I know even though I haven't played much, I can still play at the top level. I don't think guys enjoy playing me. That dominance, as far as looking at the ranking, I'm not No. 1, but I still feel like each week I play, I'm the man to beat.

Q. To stay with the changes in today's game, what area of your tennis is the one you work on most? Is it the off-court conditioning?

PETE SAMPRAS: Probably more off-court. I don't practice every day. I mean, my rhythm will always be there, I just need to hit a couple days and I'm back to where I want to be, just playing matches, trying to get my body in match shape, doing a lot of things off the court, conditioning, getting into the weight room. The older you get, my body is going to change. Try to be a bit more disciplined with that over the course of the next three or four years. But I'll never worry about my tennis. You know, my tennis is the least of my concerns. As long as I'm in match shape and I'm healthy, I'll be fine.

Q. Any new rituals?

PETE SAMPRAS: Just doing my back exercises, you know, trying to keep that strong, more discipline on, you know, my conditioning and being a bit more disciplined with my stretching. When you have injuries, when you're younger, you can get away with things. The older you get, you need to be a little bit more careful with what you're doing.

Q. Going back two questions ago, you talked about why they're not serving and volleying as much. Would you say volleying skills are not as good today? On the defensive side, the returns of serves with bigger racquets are dangerous.

PETE SAMPRAS: Yes. The racquets are helping the returners.

Q. On the defense?


Q. On the offense, they're not volleying as well.

PETE SAMPRAS: A lot of guys really don't need to volley. A lot of guys have big enough serves and big enough groundies where they don't need to have the hands that you might see. I agree with you.

Q. In Australia the court was fast. You had a serve-and-volley, which you usually don't do that much, correct?

PETE SAMPRAS: No, I do serve-and-volley.

Q. But you served and volleyed every time.


Q. You served and volleyed maybe 50 percent, 60 percent.

PETE SAMPRAS: I serve-and-volley on all first serves, and a majority of second. Depends on who I'm playing.

Q. You were coming in on first and second serves in Australia.

PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah, because it was that quick. I felt like I had to do that.

Q. Doing a great job. How you feeling?

PETE SAMPRAS: Feeling fine, thanks.

Q. The fact that you managed to get through these last two matches, both down a set, especially against Wayne, 4-2 down in the breaker, is that telling you something about motivation at an event like this which, although big, is not a Slam?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, I still have a lot of pride out there. I don't like losing. I don't enjoy losing. If it's playing here or playing in Scottsdale, anywhere in the world, I still want to win. Even though I'm not playing well, mentally stay positive, try to do whatever you can to win these matches. Sure it is the first Masters Series tournament, and you want to get off to a good start. I think doing well at these tournaments, the tournament in Miami, will help me out on the clay. You need every advantage you can get as far as confidence and winning matches.

Q. In terms of the clay, have you fixed your schedule now in the buildup to Paris?

PETE SAMPRAS: Pretty much. It's not concrete. I'm playing Dusseldorf and Hamburg, trying to figure out what I'm going to do before then. I don't know about Rome. I'm for sure not playing Monte-Carlo. I might play something in the States at some point.

Q. Do you think that your desert demons are because of the dry climate here in the desert, you're noticing that may be the problem?

PETE SAMPRAS: No, I know that's what it is. The demons are at the other stadium (laughter).

Q. You've been talking about taking care of your body. I've been told you were being dressed off the court by Armani. Is that an exclusive deal or just they lend you dinner jackets for your charity events?

PETE SAMPRAS: They do dress me and they gave me some -- don't quote me on "dress me." They've given me clothes to wear, but I don't have any contract with them. I mean, they've been nice enough to give me some stuff. I've been wearing it.

Q. How does that make you feel? Is it a special feeling?

PETE SAMPRAS: Is it a special feeling?

Q. Yes.

PETE SAMPRAS: They make beautiful clothes, I mean, beautiful, nice clothes. It feels -- they're -- yeah (laughter).

Q. Back to tennis. Is the advantage of possibly playing a clay-courter event in the States just so you can be in the States? It's a different type of clay, Hard True.

PETE SAMPRAS: It's still the same movement. You know, the draws won't be quite as difficult. Maybe I can win some matches and get my body in the shape I want it to be in. It's almost like you need to go into the French in match shape, but having won some matches. I've tried everything to do well at the French. I've played playing a lot on clay, I've tried playing not quite so much. The best I've ever done at the French was when I didn't play anything. I was obviously riding on the emotional situation with Tim. I just need to play well at the French. That's all I need. The surface isn't that slow. The movement is a little bit different. I just need to mentally get through it and exorcise the demons.

Q. When you say you're changing your approach, taking care more of your body, does that indicate you're looking towards a finite time on the tour? Is there a retirement in your future?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, eventually (laughter). It's not going to happen anytime soon. I love playing, I love competing. As long as I'm in contention for Majors, I can stay on top of the game, I'll play for as long as I can. I'm not putting an age on it, I really am not. I'm turning 29 this year. Certainly with my body and my game, I can play this game for as long as I want to.

Q. Queen's this year, usual wait and leave it to the last minute to decide?


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