March 23, 1999
KEY BISCAYNE, FLORIDA
MIKI SINGH: Questions for Pete.
Q. Why does he give you so much trouble?
PETE SAMPRAS: Well, his serve, to begin with. When he gets his serve going, there's not much you can do. The key for me when I played Richard is his second serve, if I'm able to get it down to his feet. He was hitting the kick serve out to my backhand, gave me some problems. For the first set and a half, middle of the second set I started to feel a little better out there, returning a little bit better. But it's tough playing Richard. He puts a lot of pressure on your service games. I was down a set and a break before I knew it. I got off to a bad start. But he seems to be very confident against me. He just comes out swinging away. I got a little lucky in the second set breaker. Up 4-1, hit five straight first serves right on the line. I had my chances. From the first set, the whole tone of the match, that bad start I think cost me, it really cost me at the end there. It's disappointing, but I lost to a better player today.
Q. What is your status in this Schwartz, IMG war?
PETE SAMPRAS: What do you mean, where am I?
Q. Are you with him? Are you with them?
PETE SAMPRAS: Well, it will be settled somehow, sometime. I'll keep you posted.
Q. You're neutral on the subject, is that it?
PETE SAMPRAS: Jeff is the man.
Q. Do you find Richard just about as tricky an opponent as there is at the moment?
PETE SAMPRAS: Well, yeah. For me, he's got my number for the time being. I lost a tough match against him the end of last year in Stuttgart 6 in the third. Our games are so similar. He seems to be very confident against me. The guys that give me problems over the years are the guys that serve big. He definitely had one of the bigger serves in the game. His return has gotten better over the years, made me play a lot more than I made him play. But that being said, even though I feel I didn't play great, I still had chances. I could have won that second set somehow in that tiebreaker. I got a little unlucky. It's frustrating because I felt like I was playing well all week.
Q. Is there anybody who gets closer to the net for the first volley than he?
PETE SAMPRAS: Well, Edberg was probably the best of all time at that.
PETE SAMPRAS: Currently, yeah. He moves as well as anyone, for as big as he is. He serves so big that he's not hitting a lot of low volleys. But he's got great length on both sides because he's 6'6". When his serve comes down, it's coming down from a crane. He covers the net well. But all that being said, the key against him is returning his serve, especially his second serve. If I can make him play, hopefully I can break him down a little bit. But from the first set, that was really the key, not making him play enough. When he's up 15-Love, 30-Love, he's going to hit his aces. It's just a question of getting him in a little hole. I didn't seem to put enough pressure on him today.
Q. Now that he's had his knee fixed, do you think he could join the crowd chasing No. 1?
PETE SAMPRAS: If he wants to. He's more than -- he's got the game. It's just a matter if he has the heart and the mind to be the best player in the world. He's got the tools. But the tools can only take you so far. He's got to want to be there. The way he plays against me, you know, he's one of the better players I've played throughout my career. But Richard can have his great days; he can have his bad days. The last couple of times I've played him, he's been on. A couple wins against me here and there. You need to be consistent throughout the whole year. Like I said, he's got the game.
Q. If you would have been back in your groove, would that have been closer today?
PETE SAMPRAS: I feel my groove has been there today. I felt pretty good once I got through Courier and Bjorkman. I haven't played a serve and volleyer in quite some time. Playing Krajicek is different than playing Costa. It was a different type of match, but a match I don't mind playing. I just didn't feel like, you know, I was in quite control of the match. He was serving me well, mixing it up. Even though I lost the first set, I still felt there's another set to win here. I had my chance in the. That 4-2 double-fault in the tiebreaker cost me. He made five first serves in a row. I feel like I had a couple of chances I didn't convert.
Q. Do you find his attitude has changed in the past couple of years, on court?
PETE SAMPRAS: I can't really comment. I don't know. He seems very positive. To me he doesn't seem that he gets down on himself. I think that's his reputation over the years. He kind of mopes every now and again. He doesn't do much moping against me.
Q. You now go into a completely different phase of the Tour, the clay court season, different game. Different kind of training, perhaps?
PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah.
Q. How do you get ready for that? Do you have a difficult time personally getting out of a serve-volley mode, into a clay-court mode?
PETE SAMPRAS: Well, it's a whole 'nother animal the next month and a half. I'm going to take a little break after this and immediately get on the track and into the weight room, trying to get in the best shape possible to play these long points. The key for me on clay is movement. It's not so much the speed of the court; it's the movement up at net and the balance. I plan on being on clay for quite some time. My first hit is going to be on clay, play Monte-Carlo, Rome, World Team Cup. I'll have my fair share of matches. The way I feel right now, I had a great opportunity to win here. I really thought I was playing pretty well. But as soon as I get over this, I have another goal that I'm trying to achieve, and that's to try to win the French. I'm going to do whatever I can, as far as conditions, as far as my preparation, to do well there.
Q. Where will you train before you go to Europe?
PETE SAMPRAS: Could be Florida. Could be Florida, could be LA. Anyplace there's a clay court.
Q. With all due respect to Krajicek, is this place some sort of a jinx for you? You've won seven Grand Slam events since the last time you won a Lipton, which seems odd.
PETE SAMPRAS: Hopefully I don't win Lipton very often (laughter). Just kidding. I like the conditions here. I've won here twice before, I believe. When I've won here, I think I've won Palm Springs, too. If you do well at Palm Springs, you come in here with some momentum. I felt like I was kind of starting over here. It's disappointing because this is one of our bigger events, other than the Grand Slams. To come up short is disappointing, but there comes a point I have to accept that I lost to a guy that played a little bit better than I did. But it's a tournament I was gearing up to do well.
Q. Would you consider yourself at this point to the point of being obsessed with winning the French, like Ivan was with Wimbledon, or not that strong?
PETE SAMPRAS: Well, I don't think it's quite to that extreme. I mean, Ivan changed his schedule, changed his racquet, changed everything to try to win that one tournament. He came very close. That's not really my personality, to be that extreme. But I have to give myself the best chance possible. If it's going to have to be an obsession, then I'm going to do whatever it takes. I can't go into the French thinking -- I just need to play. I can't worry about if I don't win here, whatever. I just need to go out and play and hopefully get the breaks. Who is to say, in a couple years I'll build a clay court at my house, but I doubt it.
Q. I never really remember seeing you choke.
PETE SAMPRAS: I've choked, believe me.
Q. In the tiebreaker, you have the double-fault. When you were serving, you hit a first serve 94 miles an hour. Seems like you held something up. You won the point. Then the next point you had a makable volley. Just floated long. I'm wondering what you felt during those points.
PETE SAMPRAS: The point I was down match point, I was serving into the sun. Kind of tossed it around the sun, hit a kick serve. Ended up winning the point. Sure, with match point, there's pressure. But the next point, that's what cost me. I felt the ball was flying on me a little bit out there. I caught a backhand a little late. I don't know if you can call it a choke. It just got a little tight. 6-All in the tiebreaker, I'd be lying to you if I said I didn't feel it. Everyone feels it out there. You hit five straight first serves about 120. If I could have had a couple of second serve looks, I could have made him play and maybe could have won the second set, and I'd still be playing.
Q. You're usually about an 80% effective volleyer; 57% today. Do you feel like you're missing certain balls today?
PETE SAMPRAS: I'm not serving great. My first serve percentage didn't feel that high. I was hitting a lot of second serves. He was putting a lot of pressure on me. My timing, rhythm on my serve just didn't feel great today. Partly it was because of the sun. I didn't particularly just play that well in all aspects. Kind of hung in there mentally in the second set. I can definitely play sharper. There's no question that I'm not quite at the level I was end of last year where I was playing great. There's a lot of big tournaments coming up over these next three months that I'm looking for.
Q. The point off the lob in the first set, made two gets. Did you feel you left him too much on the volley?
PETE SAMPRAS: Which one?
Q. You had a volley, ran it down. You hit a low volley, he lobbed you.
PETE SAMPRAS: That was the second set break.
Q. Third game of the second set.
PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah, that was a big point. The big point was the first break, when he hit the unbelievable forehand cross-court. That's too good. I hit a good volley. The point you're talking about, you know, he scrapped that point and got it. That was the break. But I broke him right back, I believe, somewhere around in there. It's a game of inches out there. Richard serves so big, you only have a couple of chances. I didn't get him today.
Q. Is Monte-Carlo your next start then?
PETE SAMPRAS: Yes.
Q. What would it take for you to play Davis Cup again?
PETE SAMPRAS: A lot of things. A better schedule for me. That's the reason why I don't play. You look at the finals of Davis Cup, it's in December. That's so late in the year. If you're going to get ready for Australia, you have no time off. That's one thing I'm going to give myself over the next couple of years, not just a couple of weeks, but a couple of months to be fresh. Unfortunately, Davis Cup, another reason, it isn't quite like The Ryder Cup is here in this country. The schedule is really the main reason. If they changed the schedule, changed the format, I'd love to play. I don't particularly enjoy the criticism that I get. My goals are obviously to try to finish No. 1 and win a Grand Slam. I feel like I can't do everything. I can't play Davis Cup. I can't be No. 1. It's too much tennis for me. The goals are very simple for me: trying to win a major, trying to finish No. 1. I've been part of two Davis Cup wins. Sure, it's a great feeling, it really is. There's some good memories over in Russia when we won over there. Unfortunately, it doesn't carry a lot of weight in this country.
Q. Did you put as a goal to win the Grand Slam, the four major tournaments, in the same year? I'm asking that because you didn't go to Australia, you explained why. I said in a question put to the journalists, the only player that could win still a Grand Slam in these days is you, but you didn't go to Australia. Imagine you win Roland Garros and then Wimbledon and US Open, perhaps you will regret not to come to Australia.
PETE SAMPRAS: You got it all figured out for me (laughter). If I win the French, I might just quit.
PETE SAMPRAS: No (laughter). I needed the break. I needed to take some time off. A Grand Slam these days, I'm not sure how realistic that goal is to achieve. I'm not saying it's impossible, but in today's day and age, with how strong these guys are, doing all four is a tough, tough feat. I'm not ruling it out. There's no question.
Q. Having taken that break, have you found it more difficult to get back than you might have expected? Has it come as a bigger effort?
PETE SAMPRAS: Not a bigger effort. It's when you don't play many matches, you're not quite as confident, you don't get into a rhythm out there. It showed a little bit in Palm Springs. This week I felt like I worked my way into some pretty good tennis. Like I said, after taking so much time off, you don't expect to be in the form like I was in Europe last year. I knew that. I knew I might struggle a little bit this time of year. But I needed the break. It's a decision I won't regret. I feel like if I would have went down there, it would have set me back quite a bit.
Q. How far a dividing line is it between playing too much and losing your form because you haven't played enough?
PETE SAMPRAS: That's a good point. Sure, you have the break. Your tennis might struggle a bit because you haven't played many matches. All these guys have been playing this whole year. There are some pros and cons. I knew once I decided not to go down, it would take me a little while to get back into form. That being said, I made the right decision. I really felt I needed to take this break. But the year is still very fresh, still very young. Like I said, these next four months, leading up to the next three Majors, that's really the meat of the season. I'm not saying this tournament wasn't big. It was a great opportunity for me to separate the guys, the guys ranked 2, 3 and 4 with the ranking. But this definitely hurts.
Q. Guys 2, 3 and 4 are like Moya, Rafter, they don't have your record, but they're up there. They seem to manage to play the Davis Cup with today's schedule. Why do you think it works for them?
PETE SAMPRAS: Well, those guys, Davis Cup is more of a priority. I've been on top of this game for most of my career. I know what it takes to stay on top, not just for six months or a year, but for many years. Playing Davis Cup takes its toll. When the day comes where I feel like being No. 1 isn't quite a priority, I will play Davis Cup. But for right now, I feel like I can't do both. Those guys have only been at the top of the game the past couple of years. It feels like I've been around for a lot longer. That's the main reason.
Q. Yesterday Gully said he came and saw you in LA, tried to talk you around. Did he come close?
PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah, he had some good points. But he understands how I feel about it. It's tough because Tom is a good friend. It's not easy telling a good friend that you're not supporting what he's doing. Ultimately, you have to do what you've got to do for your career. I feel, like I said, if I play Davis Cup, I feel like I'm going to burn myself out. If I were to go over to London right now, play, come back for two weeks, then you get the second round right after Wimbledon, it never ends. He made some good points. He understands I don't play because of the schedule. I'd like to play. I mean, I would love to have this week off, play Davis Cup, have the week off after, like the way it was 15 years ago, where McEnroe played all the time, was because he could. He had enough weeks in the year where he only played 12, 13 tournaments. In order to stay on top of this game, you have to play 20, 25 events. That's the unfortunate part about it.
Q. What message do you have for the American team taking on the British?
PETE SAMPRAS: They have a tough task taking on two big guys, Tim and Greg. I wish them the best of luck. I'm sure they don't want to hear that from me.
Q. From wherever you're watching it or staying in touch with it, you'll be rooting for them?
PETE SAMPRAS: Sure. I want to see the half Canadian, half British team win (laughter).
Q. Everybody knows how preposterous the schedule is. You're not the only one in the Top 10 that feels that way. What are you going to do about it? Are you going to take your own time off as you see fit? Why don't you get 10 or 15 guys together and get into Mark Miles' office?
PETE SAMPRAS: To get the Top 10 guys in the same room is an achievement. To agree on anything is impossible. Everyone's got their own agenda. There's a lot of bread, a lot of money to be made at the end of the year over in Europe. I've told Mark and the ATP about the off-season. I made my point not going down to Australia. But to get the Top 10 guys, it's impossible in tennis. To get them in the same room, it's a miracle. A lot of guys complain, but maybe not enough. I really don't know. For me over these next couple years, I'm just not going to play. I either won't play a lot in Europe or I won't play Australia. That's the unfortunate part.
Q. Do you feel now you have to play at an even higher level than you had to in the past in order to stay on top? How confident or sure are you of yourself that you can get back to that?
PETE SAMPRAS: I'm confident I can. These guys have been good for my whole career. Going through Becker, Edberg, Stich, those guys, to the current guys. I don't see the game today quite as dominant on top. It just seems much deeper. First round and the finals, each match is tough. But I feel like I'm going to do fine this year. I really do. I've got to look forward to these next three, four months, gearing up for the clay, then Wimbledon, eventually the US Open to try to have another good year.
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