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March 22, 1999

Pete Sampras

MIKI SINGH: With Pete's win today, he's back at No. 1 for week No. 263, starting next week, overall. Up next will be Richard Krajicek tomorrow at 1 o'clock. First question.

PETE SAMPRAS: So make it quick (laughter).

Q. You don't like to give that up? Looks like the people who take No. 1 from you, they never make it long. Rios last year and now Moya. It's always like a hit-and-run.

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, yeah. I mean, it's nice to get back the ranking. I said it once, I'll say it a thousand times, it doesn't matter so much what you're ranked this time of year - sure, it's nice - but the way the ranking system works today, it really comes down to December. Don't get me wrong. I'm pleased, but I'm more concerned about my match tomorrow. I'm playing a tough opponent, Krajicek. The ranking is the ranking. It doesn't mean so much to me right now as it could, you know, in December when it matters.

Q. But you're a guy that likes history books. If you break the record this year with the rankings ending, it's going to stand forever, isn't it?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, as far as the ranking, the record, last year was the big year. Doing it for six straight years, no one's ever done that before. I think you're talking more about the weeks.

Q. Yes.

PETE SAMPRAS: That doesn't mean as much to me as six years in a row. Sure, it would be nice. That's something I don't think about much. I really don't. If I do it, great. There's a good chance I can do it. I'm going to play this game for a couple more years, at least. But it's a record that isn't quite like finishing the year No. 1 six straight years. I look at what you finish the year, that's really the priority for me.

Q. Richard Krajicek is maybe the only guy who beat you more times than you beat him. Last time in Stuttgart was a pretty tight match that I think hurt you a lot losing at that time. Can you talk about tomorrow?

PETE SAMPRAS: Sure. Playing Richard, he serves so big. He seems very calm when he plays me. He just seems to get the right point at the right time. Last year was a tough loss, 6 in the third. We both serve and volley so well, there's not a lot of breaks. The times I've lost to Richard has been on grass or indoor. Tomorrow's a little bit different. It's going to be a little bit warmer, it's going to have some sun, some wind. Hopefully that can work to my advantage.

Q. When you've taken a break, it seems to take you obviously a couple tournaments until you get into it. Do you kind of have the first couple tournaments back, you figure, "Whatever happens happens, I'll just try to get as many matches as possible" attitude?

PETE SAMPRAS: I knew once I took a long break, it was going to take me a little while to get me back to the form I wanted to be. I struggled a little bit the last couple weeks. Winning some tight matches this week gives you confidence. I'm practicing well. I'm hitting the ball fine. It's just when you get in the match situation, you know, you're a little bit tense. But once you get into a rhythm and your game is in sync, and it seems to be in sync this week, I feel like I'm pretty dangerous. But tomorrow is the true test.

Q. Did you sense much of a change from going out of the game to coming back? I know it was only a short spell. Did you sense any change of the guard at all?


Q. Very much what it was when you left?

PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah. I mean, I knew not going down to Australia, there was a good chance I was going to lose the ranking. I was prepared that was going to happen. There's going to be a lot of guys that are going to touch it this year, Rafter, Kafelnikov will touch it eventually. That just tells you that the ranking isn't really the priority in February or March. If it was, I would have gone down to Australia. I would have played over in Europe and played some of these tournaments. It was more important for me to take a break. But coming back, the game hasn't changed. It's still the same guys, just a different year.

Q. I know we saw you on TV playing golf. Other than what, were you just relaxing?

PETE SAMPRAS: I played a couple golf tournaments, went to Hawaii for a vacation, which is something I haven't done in about ten years. Just had some fun. Woke up and did a little training. You know, it was nice not having a responsibility, not having to practice, not having to hit any balls. I put so much into the last year, especially at the end. I really needed to take a break. Went on vacation, you know, hung out in LA, had some fun, because I deserve it. It was a good achievement last year. It was something that was well worth taking that break.

Q. Would you like to see a situation develop in the calendar where there were more opportunities for that?

PETE SAMPRAS: Absolutely. Absolutely. The way the schedule is, it's just so long. You play in Hannover. If you're in the Davis Cup final, you're playing in December. You have two, three weeks off, get ready for Australia. To me, that's the reason why you see a lot of guys stopping so early. 29, 30, guys are pretty much done. If I want to play this game well for many years, I feel like I need to take a break. You look at all the other guys in the other sports, Jordan, Gretzky, they're 35, playing at a high level because they had breaks. That's something I'm going to give myself over the next couple years. We'll see what happens this year, if I'll play as much in Europe, if I go to Australia next year. I'll have to play it by ear on that. I think it's something that's very important.

Q. In a perfect world, the tennis year would end when and start again when?

PETE SAMPRAS: In a perfect world, it would be great if it could start in Australia in February, a month later would be great, or have the year finish earlier, in October or something. I'm different. I'm not an old 27. But guys 21, 22, want to play every week of the year. For me, taking that time off is vital. There are just too many weeks of tennis, I feel. To have the year a little bit shorter would be great. It would really help out this sport.

Q. You're somebody who says Grand Slam titles are important to you. But it sounds like you're thinking you would possibly forego another trip to Australia if the end product worked out this year?

PETE SAMPRAS: That just depends. Like I said, I'm going to play that by ear, see how this year goes. Who knows if I'll play all the weeks in Europe again. I'd love to go back down there. We'll see how I am mentally and physically at the end of this year. Kind of a double-edged sword. If I'm going to get ready for Australia, I feel like maybe I should play the US Open, play a couple tournaments in Europe, call it a year. In that case, good chance I'll lose the No. 1 ranking. It's a tough ballgame. The way this ranking system is, you have to play 20, 22 tournaments. That's a lot of tennis for someone to play, especially if you've been doing it for ten years.

Q. Do you see the ranking change next year making any difference in that?

PETE SAMPRAS: Oh, I don't know. I don't know where I'm going to be with the ranking, how important No. 1 will be over the next couple years. Grand Slams, I've always said, are going to keep me in the game; it's not the No. 1 ranking. In order to stay on top, you need to play a lot, you need to be consumed with the sport. I have been for most of my career. But there comes a point where, you know, it's still a major goal, but am I going to spend seven weeks in Europe like I did last year? I mean, you know, it's tough. I mean, it's tough. It's hard to say. I wish I could sit here and finish the year No. 1 every year for the next five years, if I'm willing to play 25 tournaments. But I'm not willing to do that. I'm not going to burn myself out here.

Q. There's only a couple of the top seeds left here. Are you surprised by all the upsets, the Moya today?

PETE SAMPRAS: The game is very strong. Like I said before, the difference between the Top 5 guys and the rest of the guys, there really is no difference. All these guys ranked 15 to 50 are hungry, they're playing well, they come out swinging away. You're going to see a lot of upsets. You've seen a lot more of the last couple years. 10, 15 years ago you had the same four guys in the slams, semis and finals. Now it's anybody's ballgame.

Q. There's talk about in the year 2000 a potential break of three weeks between the French and Wimbledon, i.e., another grass court week. Do you think that would benefit The Championships and tennis as a whole?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, it would help the players. I feel for a guy like me it could be a chance to go home and come back, which is nice, or else I'm over there for two months. The French and Wimbledon will always be important. If you put a week in between -- it would be great for the players to have that extra week.

Q. I'm wondering, I think Wimbledon wants it because they think it will just generate even more interest in grass court tennis. They're worried that they might lose that kind of position they have as the great championship.

PETE SAMPRAS: I don't think Wimbledon has anything to worry about, I really don't. It might bring the grass court game back a little bit, but it's still only a month, maybe five weeks in the year 2000. Wimbledon is Wimbledon. It still has the characteristics of one of the biggest events we have. An extra week, I don't know if that really makes a big difference.

Q. Were you happy to be playing on stadium today?

PETE SAMPRAS: I was very happy. Strange things can happen when you're out on the grandstand. You get used to a certain court, they change it. I wasn't too comfortable with that schedule. Fortunately, the matches went pretty quick on stadium so I was able to get out there.

Q. Do you think it was strange that Moya had to play on the grandstand?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, it's up to that scheduling committee. It seems like they have a couple amateurs working it. But tomorrow, I'm scheduled on the stadium. I think I earned it.

Q. Germany, the clay season, you're only going to Dusseldorf?


Q. We are doing a daily instructional at this point of the day. Please help me with this. For a recreational player, what would you tell someone?

PETE SAMPRAS: Lob short and go to the pool (laughter). Seriously?

Q. Yes.

PETE SAMPRAS: Tip on what? On my volleys, tennis?

Q. Fine, volley, tennis.

PETE SAMPRAS: Watch the ball, bend your knees, keep the racquet head up, put a little slice on it, keep it in the court, get in position with your feet.

Q. And pray?

PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah, pray for rain.

End of FastScripts....

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