August 31, 1999
Flushing Meadows, New York
USTA: Questions, please.
Q. What's the scoop, Pete?
PETE SAMPRAS: I'm sorry?
Q. Tell us what happened.
PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah, well, I was hitting on Sunday with Kuerten, and, you know, went for
a shot. I felt my back -- I felt my back go a little bit. I walked off the court and saw
the doctor immediately. You know, I got some treatment on it. It was basically for the
past 48 hours struggling with just getting around my hotel room. And last night, I did a
few tests, CAT scan and an MRI, and it showed I have a herniated disc, which will
obviously have to pull out of this event and be out for quite some time. That's pretty
much how these last three days have gone.
Q. How much pain are you in? Are you in discomfort sitting there?
PETE SAMPRAS: Well, no. I'm fine sitting. Anytime I bend, bend over, I'm very limited.
It's really very sore, and that's it.
Q. How hard is it for you to pull out of this event, to have something wrong with you
PETE SAMPRAS: Well, it's very hard to pull out of the event. I was looking forward to
having the opportunity to play here. I love playing the US Open. The way that I've been
playing the last two months, I liked my chances here. But it's happened, and it's kind of
a fluke thing. I've never had this situation before where I've played aand pulled my back
like this. But I believe, you know, everything happens for a reason. These last couple
days, I've been trying to figure out, you know, that reason. I'm sure it will be very
clear to me in six months' time or a year's time, you know, why this has happened. But
right now, I'm obviously very overwhelmed, and I really wanted to have the chance to play
here. I'm not saying I was going to win here or whatever, but, you know, to break the
all-time record was a dream that I had, to do it here in New York. But, you know, it just
goes to show how important your health is. Without my health, I can't play.
Q. Do you have any uncertainty that you will still get the chance to break the all-time
PETE SAMPRAS: Well, I'm going to have many US Opens ahead of me, and many Grand Slam
opportunities ahead of me. As hard as this is right now, I'm sure a month from now, or six
months from now, I'll have another chance. But as competitive as I am, I was hoping to do
it here. It's obviously not going to happen. But, you know, I'll get through it. I know I
will. I'll get through this, and look forward to next year. Hopefully one day I can do it,
but it's not like I'm sitting here, you know, 32, 33, I feel like I've got a few good
years in me, providing I stay healthy. This is definitely a setback.
Q. Are you under the impression you're going to require surgery?
PETE SAMPRAS: No.
Q. What type of treatment, have they explained to you at all?
PETE SAMPRAS: Well, rest is the main thing, and giving little stress to my back as
possible. Not doing anything. I see myself for the next couple weeks just getting
treatment twice a day and not doing anything. I can't do anything.
Q. How do you feel about Kuerten and do you blame him?
PETE SAMPRAS: No.
Q. You said you'd be out quite some time. Is there a time frame on that?
PETE SAMPRAS: Well, the doctor can probably answer that better. You know, I'm
definitely -- we're looking at a good month where I'm not really going to play. I don't
know what the rest of the year really -- what I have in store for the rest of the year.
You know, I'm sure he can give you more of a definite answer.
Q. You said you were trying to find some reason for this problem. What do you think
that could be?
PETE SAMPRAS: Well, I was talking about a reason more in my life versus anything else.
I mean, like I said, there's a reason, you know, that I believe this has happened. Like I
said, I don't know what that reason is today, but in four months' time or six months' time
or a year from now, I'm going to, you know, figure it out, it's going to make sense to me.
It's a setback. I mean, it's definitely tough. The last three days have been hell, just
feeling like I could -- the worrying about not playing and the stress, then finally
getting some tests done on it was really the last straw that said, "That's it, it's
Q. Once you got that diagnosis that it was a herniated disc, there was no question you
were not going to play?
PETE SAMPRAS: Once I heard that, I was out.
Q. On Sunday night, Monday morning, did you still think there was a small chance?
PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah, Sunday night and Monday, I felt that I had some back spasms, it was
something I could get a Wednesday start and kind of work it through, you know, just do
whatever I can to play. Dr. Hainline made a good call in doing an MRI just to make sure we
cover everything, and we did that. Obviously, you know, the news wasn't what I was hoping
for. It was a little bit more serious than I thought. But, you know, once you do something
to your back and a disc, it's dangerous, and I don't want this to be an ongoing problem
over my career. It's best to take care of this now. Like I said, I'm going to have many US
Opens ahead of me, and it's hard to say, but I'm looking forward to coming back.
Q. Can Dr. Hainline give us his assessment?
DR. BRIAN HAINLINE: I'm sorry?
Q. Could you tell us your assessment?
DR. BRIAN HAINLINE: Well, I think Pete has summarized it pretty well. I think the
salient features are that he's never had a back problem before, and this was his first
episode of a back problem. We were fortunate in being able to diagnose the herniated disc
very early, before it became anything serious. In fact, when we look at the MRI, his discs
look very healthy. There's a very, very focal tear right in the center. It's not pressing
on any nerves. It's so focal, it's relatively small, that we would expect him to recover
fully from this. It's just being prudent to allow him to rest because when something is
early and small like this, there's a risk that the tear can enlarge, and then you're set
up for back problems that become more chronic.
Q. Can you describe where in the back it is?
DR. BRIAN HAINLINE: It's at what we call the L-5, S-1 level. It's between the fifth
lumbar vertebrae and the sacrum.
Q. Is this the kind of injury that results in cumulative stress, or it goes from one
month to the next?
DR. BRIAN HAINLINE: I don't think we would call it cumulative stress. It's something
that happened, and we can try to analyze it biomechanically and from our points of view
and not get a wholly satisfactory answer.
Q. Is this the kind of injury that also radiates down the leg? Do you feel the pain
down the leg? Is it close to a rupture?
DR. BRIAN HAINLINE: If the disc ruptures and it starts going off to the side, it will
then press on a nerve, and then you have what's called sciatica, or pain radiating down
the leg. This is very small. It's right in the center. It's not pressing on a nerve. It's
just pressing on a pain-sensitive ligament. We expect it would stay like that. As Pete had
said, it's really about a month of rest and then the proper rehabilitation, then it should
Q. What kind of rehabilitation would he require?
DR. BRIAN HAINLINE: It's first rest, and then working with a good spine therapist. It's
learning the proper exercises to strengthen the back in a certain way. Ultimately, to do
what we call stabilization, to learn how to stabilize the spine to help prevent something
like this happening in the future.
Q. The initial indication we had Sunday was that this was a mild back strain, that it
shouldn't be a problem. Do you have cause to believe that something happened between then
and last night's test to further aggravate it, or was it just more serious than you
DR. BRIAN HAINLINE: I think that common things are common. In the tennis tournament, we
might see 20 back strains. Pete had initial back pain. It was relatively well-localized.
There wasn't anything else. There wasn't a compelling reason to think it was a disc
herniation, although we talked about that possibility. It's that he really didn't recover
over a period of 24 hours, was having trouble bending, that we went the next step.
Q. Was this a move you made on the court extremely unusual? Did you hear a pop? Was it
a forehand, backhand?
PETE SAMPRAS: It was on a return of serve. I didn't hear anything, but I felt something
go. I felt my back just got, you know, it was stabbed by a knife. I immediately stopped. I
was plenty warmed up. I hit for a half hour. I just started playing some points. You know,
I went for this backhand return, and I felt it. It scared me. There's no question it
scared me. I just walked off the court. That's where I'm at.
Q. Over your career you've had many physical setbacks. Emotionally, how does this
compare with the others?
PETE SAMPRAS: Well, this is, up to this point, will be the most difficult for a number
of reasons: because of the buildup playing here, the way I've been playing the past couple
months. I felt good coming in here. You know, I've had some nagging injuries, muscles that
I can play through, through adrenaline or whatever. But this one was past the point of
being able to play. I'm sure these next, you know, two weeks will be tough emotionally
because I want to be here. I've been part of the US Open for every year of my career. I'm
going to miss it. There's no question I'm going to miss playing here. But I'll be fine.
I've got my family to support me when I go back home. I'm looking forward to seeing them,
just getting through.
Q. Do you see yourself spending the next weeks, months at home? Do you have any plan
yet as to what you're going to be doing?
PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah. I'm just going to go home and take care of my back.
Q. Home to California?
PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah. I'll just do whatever the doctors want me to do to get this thing
better because it doesn't feel good. You know, I'm very limited in what I can do. Just
moving around my hotel room, I've just been struggling with that. Just get treatment twice
a day, you know, taking care of it. That's not fun, you know. It's not how I want to spend
my time off. This is the position I'm in.
Q. There's a tremendous amount of injuries right now, especially amongst the men. Do
you feel the schedule is just too much or this age of power tennis is possibly going to be
shortening careers, as opposed to 20 years ago?
PETE SAMPRAS: Well, it's really hard for me to say, to comment on that right at the
moment. For me, I've only played ten tournaments this year, so I haven't overplayed. You
know, injuries are part of sports. You play a lot, you know, for many, many years you're
going to have some different injuries. I can honestly say that this injury was more of a
fluke than anything. It wasn't from overplaying. It wasn't from overstress. It was just a
bad move at the wrong time. That's what happened. I mean, I've had some things over the
years, but, you know, my schedule is really important to me these next few years, how much
I want to play. But, you know, injuries is part of sports.
Q. Sometimes with athletes, back injuries are attributed to issues of flexibility or
conditioning. Despite the fact that you're playing so well, are you content with that
PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah. The way I've been playing and moving these last two months, some of
the best tennis I've played ever. You know, conditioning-wise, I'm as fit now as I've ever
been. It's just a bad move, you know. I did something, and my body wasn't ready for it,
and it went. I knew it when I did it, that this was a little bit more serious than I
thought. Like I said, it just wasn't chronic stiffness. I felt it on one particular move.
When that happens, you get a little worried. I was planning on playing. I woke up Monday
morning -- Monday I was, "Okay, let's get rid of this stiffness and I'll be
fine." All credit to Dr. Hainline here. He recommended an MRI just to cover
everything. It was the right call, because he saw something, which obviously was not good
news for me.
Q. Doctor, given this injury and that you have a superior athlete who is going to get
the best possible rehabilitation therapy, what would be the most optimistic forecast for
Pete to be back on the court playing competitive tennis?
DR. BRIAN HAINLINE: I think one can be very optimistic. Again, this injury was caught
quite early. It's very focal. He should be able to heal. He should be back playing full
force, if all goes well, in one to two months. Again, because it was caught early, it
wasn't a complete rupture of the disc, so the long-term consequences on the back are
actually reasonably good, that the rest of the disc looked fine. This disc itself looks
fine, except for one small area. To be able to return as he had been, without any
limitations from his back, I think one can express that with confidence.
Q. When you say rest, is bed rest the most optimum thing or not bed rest? Actually
being in bed, not moving around?
DR. BRIAN HAINLINE: No. Actually, rest really would mean not to be working out at a
competitive level, and even for the first couple of weeks, just walking, not doing any
lifting or excessive bending. But not staying around in bed. You really want to keep the
back muscles working, as well.
Q. Could you repeat the medical phrase you used in reference to Pete's injury and spell
DR. BRIAN HAINLINE: Well, there's a small disc, d-i-s-c (laughter), herniation at L-5,
S-1. Usually we write that as a L-5, S-1.
Q. Doctor, if this injury were to reoccur, would you recommend that that would be it
from a professional standpoint in terms of the kind of athletic performance required at
DR. BRIAN HAINLINE: I think any time there's an injury, you assess the nature of the
injury, and you put that in context of the person you're working with. If it were to
reoccur at a microscopic or minor level such that it is right now, there would be no
reason not to continue to work with this. Maybe to rethink the rehabilitation program. If
it were to be something else, then you might think that way. But really, and in all
honesty, that's not even our forecast because this is so early. Again, just emphasizing
the spine really looks good on the imaging studies. I think some of what we're doing is
because Pete's in pain, and you can't play tennis in pain and expect to do well. Some of
it is being very reasonable and preventive because there is still such a good chance that
he should be able to compete at a high level, and this should not prevent him from doing
Q. You won four titles here, but you also have had incidents of injury and illness
against Corretja, Yzaga, Rafter last year, and then now. Do you feel a little bit unlucky?
PETE SAMPRAS: No, I don't feel unlucky. I don't feel like that at all. I feel I'm very
disappointed. I was looking forward to an opportunity to play the tennis I've been playing
these past couple months. But I've been fortunate with some of the matches I've won here
over the years. Sure, it is unlucky, but it's nothing to do with being in New York City or
playing the US Open. I couldn't think of a worse time for this to happen, on the Sunday
before a major tournament. But it's happened. Listen, I'm going to be very bummed out this
next week, next couple weeks. Each day I'll get up in the morning, and it will get a
little bit easier. I'll look forward to this tournament finally being over and moving on
and learning from this, you know, figuring out how I can prevent it or just kind of going
from there. But I plan on being back. There's no question. I'll be back here.
Q. Do you think you'll watch any of it on TV?
PETE SAMPRAS: I'm going to try not to.
Q. Will you go to the clinic?
PETE SAMPRAS: No. I'm figuring that out now.
Q. Have you talked to any of the other players in the draw?
PETE SAMPRAS: Andre called me this morning, talked to him for a little while. He feels
bad for me. Very classy thing to do on his part.
Q. He already knew when he called you?
PETE SAMPRAS: I knew last night. I'm sorry, what was your question?
Q. When he called you this morning, he already knew?
PETE SAMPRAS: Do you think he was calling me to tell me he won last night (laughter)?
No, I'm sure he knew.
Q. Do you feel any more or less pain, or was it the same from the time the injury
happened Sunday until you woke up yesterday?
PETE SAMPRAS: It's been pretty much the same from Sunday night to right now. I just
feel very limited, can't really bend. You know, I was hoping by Sunday -- Sunday night I
was hoping by today it would start feeling better, I could hit some balls and play on
Wednesday. Obviously it's much more serious than I thought.
Q. If you had been able to play and you had been able to win, break the record here,
there's talk that would make you less inclined to go to Australia and play. Do you think
you're more inclined to go and play the Australian Open now?
PETE SAMPRAS: I haven't thought that far ahead, what I'm going to do next year, what
I'm doing for the rest of this year. But, sure, not going there this year didn't help my
tennis for the first three or four months. I'm going to figure it out. I'll figure it out
over the next couple months. If I go down there, I'd like to go down there, what
tournaments in Europe I want to play. My first and main concern is to try to take care of
my back. Once I take care of that, I can kind of move ahead and make a good schedule.
Q. In Indianapolis, was your back hurting then?
PETE SAMPRAS: No.
Q. Did you withdraw in that match?
PETE SAMPRAS: I hurt my hip.
Q. You had back problems in Bercy last year and this year in Barcelona. Any
PETE SAMPRAS: That was different. That was more muscular spasm, which you just got to
play through. That's more of a chronic problem that I've had every now and again. You
know, this situation, doing it on a particular move, which scared me, and getting some
tests done yesterday which showed a little tear is enough for me, you know, to take a
break and get this thing better. I've never had disc problems. I've never had serious back
problems like this one. I've had chronic stuff. If it was chronic, I'd play tomorrow. But
it seems a little bit more serious than that.
Q. The hip problem has disappeared?
PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah.
Q. What sort of medication are you on?
PETE SAMPRAS: Well, last couple days, I've been on Naprosyn, you know, a thousand
milligrams, 1,500 milligrams a day, just trying to knock it out. Hasn't really helped, you
know. Doesn't feel like it's getting much better. I'm sure these next couple weeks, I'll
treat this very aggressively.
Q. Doctor, could you comment on the question before, is there a problem of the schedule
with being tennis more powerful than possibly a decade ago?
PETE SAMPRAS: You don't want to answer that. He's not a tennis expert, but you can
answer it if you want (laughter).
DR. BRIAN HAINLINE: I've never played the schedule. I think two things have happened.
In addition to perhaps there being more play, the trainers are working so much more
progressively with the players. I don't think there are data that demonstrate that the
injury rate is different than it was 10 or 20 years ago. There are more players playing at
a top level, highly-competitive level. I think the whole health care system has evolved
with that. I don't think there is an answer right now. You know, that question has been
looked at. The data just doesn't support any hypothesis at present.
Q. You said you had trouble moving around your hotel room. What specifically couldn't
PETE SAMPRAS: Whatever. I mean, I felt it in trying to fall asleep. Every time I moved
a different direction, I was feeling it. Moving around, picking up things, just doing the
day-to-day stuff people do. You know, you need your back to do whatever you need to do. I
just was struggling these last couple days just with whatever. I couldn't imagine picking
up a racquet and trying to play. That's something I know I'm not ready to do quite yet.
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