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August 31, 1999

Brian Hainline

Pete Sampras

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 like that?

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 record?

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?


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?


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 over."

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?


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 heal completely.

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 originally thought?

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 side?

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 it?

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 this level?

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 so.

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?


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 connections?

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?


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 you do?

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.

End of FastScriptsâ?¦.

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