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ATP Tour World Championship

November 23, 1998

Pete Sampras

Hannover, Germany

Q. Are you ready?

PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah. I had a good break after Stockholm. Mentally and physically I was at the end of my rope. It was good to get home, relax a little bit. Good to rest three or four days. It was good to kind of recharge the batteries. Monday, Tuesday, I started hitting some balls, started getting focused on this week.

Q. Pressure on, the pressure off?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, it's pressure on both of us, Marcelo and I. I've done it for five years; he has yet to do it. There's pressure each way. But, sure, I mean, I feel I put a lot of emphasis on the past couple months. That's why I played so many weeks, to try to finish No. 1. You know, we'll just go out and play, not worry about the pressure. I've been in this situation before with expectations pretty high. Just go out and play.

Q. Good to get back to this weather?

PETE SAMPRAS: I haven't spent too much time outside (laughter). It's a little nippy.

Q. Is this as big, bigger than a Slam now? No. 1 in the balance. Different?

PETE SAMPRAS: It's different. I mean, it's big, but it's different than a Slam. I mean, you know, walking into a Slam I'm probably more nervous for that much than any match of the year. The record is something I've talked about and people have asked me about. It's just different, you know. It's rare that you have in your hands a record that you can maybe break forever. Certainly this week, I know that. But I can't worry about it. I can't dwell on it too much. Just go out and play the tennis I can play. Really hope I can do it.

Q. Does it matter as much that it's Pete Sampras, an American tennis player, a US tennis player, doing this, or Pete Sampras a tennis player? How much nation is involved in this? Connors' record, another American. Have you thought at all about that?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, there hasn't been too much American media over for the past six weeks. Historically, there isn't pretty much American media after the US Open. Seems like it kind of stops. Doesn't have quite the same impact. I don't know why. It's a record that is really, really hard to achieve. It doesn't have quite the Mark McGwire status, if you know what I mean. That's the way it goes. It's unfortunate.

Q. Would you say that Jimmy Connors was one of your idols when you were young or not?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, I won't say an idol. I probably looked up to the way he approached the game. He was a great player, was very intense, played this game for a lot of years, had the longevity that is the true mark of a champion. But I never said I wanted to be like Jimmy. Our personalities are so different, the way we kind of approach our tennis. Everyone knows I looked up to the old Aussies or whatever. But Connors was someone that I watched regularly, playing the Slam final against Lendl at The Open, were some memories that I cherished. He's still playing this game, which is amazing.

Q. I remember the year after you won the US Open, when you lost, you said you had taken your monkey off because of the pressure of winning the US Open. Connors had some comment which was not too nice to you, saying, "I don't understand a player would like to lose, happy to lose, not think about the US Open." Do you still remember that?

PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah. I didn't really say much. But I remember it, sure. Jimmy, as much respect as I have for him, hearing some of his comments, not only about me, but players in general, no personality. After hearing quote after quote for years about it, you kind of get tired of it. You know, he seemed to not really give compliments too often. That's Jimmy. I mean, that's the way he is. That's fine. I've always respected his tennis more than anything.

Q. And do you think he probably has changed his mind in the sense that then you had won only one Slam, and now you have won 11?

PETE SAMPRAS: More than him, huh?

Q. Yes.

PETE SAMPRAS: It's ironic.

Q. This is another kind of revenge?

PETE SAMPRAS: No, I don't look at it as revenge. I have nothing personal with Jimmy. I'm sure he's not rooting for me here. You know, I mean, it's something that I never, ever felt would happen. I mean, I didn't know about the record until last year at this time when I tied it. But, you know, it's definitely one of the achievements in tennis that I feel will never be touched.

Q. Probably you didn't like neither Connors nor McEnroe, not as a tennis player, but let's say idols to imitate, as a man to imitate. Which one less between the two?

PETE SAMPRAS: I mean, I like them both. They're a lot more emotional on the court, show their emotions. I get along with John, because John is around doing commentary. I've never had any personal problems with those guys. I just approach the game, I act a little bit differently on the court than they did, which is fine, a little bit more the Edberg, Borg type of mentality, and they were not, which is fine. Everyone is a little bit different.

Q. Do you have it in your mind being an American, given the fact that there's football, people worry about the basketball, whether they're going to play or not, have you put it in perspective, the fact you're going for the record and there really isn't that much attention?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, it's unfortunate because, you know, seems like the way the American media look at tennis, after the US Open, the year is over for them. I mean, there's not too much America attention, American media over in Europe this time of year. You think with this record up for grabs this week, it's a great story that we have here, you'd hope that there would be some guys over here. It's unfortunate, you know. There's no basketball being played right now. There's not a lot happening in America as far as sports are concerned. But it's just kind of the way it goes. I can't worry about it too much. It's kind of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Q. If No. 1 does happen, does this mark sort of a watershed in your career or is it back to business as usual, aiming at the Slams, aiming at No. 1?

PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah, I mean, absolutely. I note the importance of this week. I know the importance of this record. But in the whole grand scheme of things, the Grand Slam record is something that I put above everything. Once this year is over, if I don't do it, you can't complain about a year when you win Wimbledon. It would be the icing on the cake, it would be an unbelievable record if I could do it. I'll take some time off and get ready for Australia. An opportunity to win another major. That's kind of my state of mind. I'm not putting so much pressure on myself if I don't do this, that I'm not going to be able to recover. I'll be fine. I'll be disappointed, but you have an opportunity in a couple months' time in Australia.

Q. The question that nobody else cares, unfortunately, but who is going to win the Davis Cup between Italy and Sweden? Who do you pick and why? I have to ask everyone, unfortunately.

PETE SAMPRAS: I think you have to look at the Swedes as being the favorites. Playing Italy on clay, with the crowd there, it's anyone's ballgame. But Italy's got some work ahead of them. Johansson is playing well. Who is going to play, I don't know. I see the Swedes winning.

Q. 3-2, 4-1, 5-Love?

PETE SAMPRAS: I don't know. It's really hard to say who is going to win that. I think Sweden will probably end up winning.

Q. Will you watch it on TV?

PETE SAMPRAS: I don't think it will be on TV. It won't, will it?

Q. No.

PETE SAMPRAS: Some Italian satellite.

Q. Along those lines, back to a question I was hounding you about at the Davis Cup final last year. Why is this individual accomplishment, if it happens, bigger than a collective or team accomplishment like the Davis Cup?

PETE SAMPRAS: It's just different, you know. I've been a part of a couple winning teams, I won a couple times. The impact in the States, really there isn't much of one. You don't feel like the Ryder Cup when they win it, you know it's a big deal.

Q. Not getting excited about No. 1 either.

PETE SAMPRAS: They get excited about four times a year. I think when it comes down to Wimbledon, US Open, people pay attention. The media pays attention. Other than that, it seems like unless there's a rivalry going on, unless there's some sort of controversy going on in the game, it's tough to sell. That's unfortunate because with me and Andre and Michael and Jim and Todd, American tennis is pretty strong.

Q. You already saw Milwaukee, part of what the landscape looked like, it wasn't pretty.

PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah, I know. We have some good players. But if we have Grand Slam winners in ten years' time, five years' time, it looks pretty thin.

Q. How do you like the draw?

PETE SAMPRAS: The draw seemed fine. I mean, everyone that's here deserves to be here, has had a great year, everyone's playing well. Moya, who beat me here last year, Kafelnikov, guys I played a bunch of times. You know, I'm kind of worried about my tennis. I feel like if I'm on and I'm playing well, there are times when I don't mind playing anybody.

Q. What about the playing conditions this year? Did they change anything?

PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah. Last year it was on cement, asphalt, this year it's on wood, which if anything might be just a touch quicker than last year, but not much.

Q. Do you enjoy it?

PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah, yeah, I like it. It's just like Stuttgart which I played pretty well there. It's a fair court. You can stay back or come in. It's going to be good tennis.

Q. You won this tournament four times, but never winning all matches. This year you intend to be very focused on winning all the matches in your group for No. 1?

PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah, yeah. I mean, each point matters. I don't make it a habit losing a match. I'm not trying to. That's just the way it's worked out.

Q. (Inaudible) concentration?

PETE SAMPRAS: I think last year when I lost to Moya, I felt flat. I just kind of flew in a couple days ago. Just the way it's worked out that I've been fortunate enough to get into the semifinals losing a match. This year, each match is very important, like it is every year.

Q. Is there anyone you'd like to play against in the final, for instance Andre Agassi?

PETE SAMPRAS: That's a hypothetical. I mean, I'm not really looking that far ahead. Just trying to get through my match tomorrow, Wednesday, just go from there. You can't look ahead like that. That's a kiss of death.

Q. Would you like to play against him this week, against Andre?

PETE SAMPRAS: I'm not going to play him unless we both get to the semis. It's always a great match-up when we play. When he's on and he's got his mind into the game, I mean, he's as tough as probably anyone I've played in my career. From an American standpoint, it's a great rivalry, it really adds a little bit to the game. We'll see what happens this week.

Q. Just before the draw, during the ceremony in the room, Mr. Tiriac was saying that the rules of tennis had to be changed. Do you agree with that or not? Do you think they have some change to do?

PETE SAMPRAS: What kind of rules?

Q. I think they're thinking about the ad, no ad system, let.

PETE SAMPRAS: I don't buy any of that, I really don't.

Q. Shorten the matches.


Q. Americans are mad about statistics, now you can become No. 1 six years in a row. What does it mean for you, this statistic?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, it's very important. After the US Open, I realized I needed to play a little bit more. I played six straight weeks, which I haven't done much in my career. Tells you how important it is to me.

Q. You had some injuries in the last week. How are you now?

PETE SAMPRAS: I feel great.

Q. Who do you think are your strongest opponents in this tournament?

PETE SAMPRAS: Anyone that's here has had a great year and is capable of winning, you know. Just go down the list, anyone can win this. Makes it pretty exciting. Seems like it's pretty open. Whoever gets hot at the right time is going to be the winner.

Q. Are you happy that Krajicek is not here?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, in some ways. A guy who has his game going on the court like this, with a serve that big. There's not too many big servers in the competition.

Q. Is it an advantage for you?

PETE SAMPRAS: I don't think it's an advantage. Look at the guys I'm playing against, great returners, which is the most important shot in tennis. Serving will only get you so far.

Q. Last night, Jacco Eltingh finished his career being No. 1 in the world in doubles. Can you ever imagine doing something like that yourself?

PETE SAMPRAS: In doubles?

Q. In singles, finishing your career, being No. 1.

PETE SAMPRAS: You know, I don't even know. I haven't given it much thought, how I would stop. Do you leave on top? It's something that I haven't given much thought to.

Q. How do you have to rate this performance, considering the fact that not all the top players are playing doubles?

PETE SAMPRAS: Say again?

Q. Becoming No. 1 in doubles, becoming world champion in doubles, how do you have to rate this performance, considering the fact there are not so many top players?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, that is the way the game is. A lot of the top guys aren't playing doubles. He was a very good singles player, concentrated mainly on doubles. It's not surprising.

Q. (Inaudible)?

PETE SAMPRAS: It was vital. I was kind of at the end of my rope. I took four or five days off, kind of chilled out, let mind and body rest a little bit. Come Monday, Tuesday, I started practicing, whatever. It was a long trip.

Q. The No. 1 challenge gives the tournament pressure. Do you feel that or not?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, I've been able in my career to block it out. There's pressure every time you play, but you play Grand Slams, Slam finals, that's pressure. This week there will be pressure, but I've always been able to kind of tone it out and play. I've always had confidence that I can do that.

Q. In '94, you beat Marcelo Rios. How do you feel that he has changed to this week in Hannover?

PETE SAMPRAS: What do you mean?

Q. His play and his behavior out of the court.

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, playing him many years ago, he was so young, it was hard to say where his game was going to go. He's gotten a little bit stronger. He's filled out a little bit. He just had a great year. He's won a couple Super 9's. It's not that surprising. I mean, he had some talent back then. He's definitely worked on some things. It's not surprising where he is in the game.

Q. It will be good to beat him at the final game?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, that's a long road until that happens. We'll see what happens this week.

Q. Your first round in Stockholm, did that prove to be a good thing, has that given you a few extra days off to recharge yourself?

PETE SAMPRAS: You can look at it that way or you can look at it as an opportunity to maybe win there and come in here with a nice lead. But, it was nice to get home. I was there for six weeks. It's nice to have a few days off just to relax a little bit, then to get mentally focused for this week. You know, I'll tell you after this week.

Q. Just how worn out are you guys at this stage in the season? How difficult is it to get yourself motivated for what is the biggest event?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, the motivation isn't a problem. Mentally and physically, I feel quite strong at the moment. There's a lot at stake this week. There's no problem with the motivation. It has been a long year. I've had some injuries over the past couple months because I played a lot. Everyone is in the same boat. Everyone at this point is a little bit tired.

Q. British sports fans, they only tend to look at Wimbledon. How would you explain to them the importance of this tournament?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, you got the No. 1 ranking up for grabs, which is very big, I mean. It's not easy to do. Marcelo is trying to do it for the first time. I'm trying to do it more than anyone else has done it. That should just tell you how important it is.

Q. It is pretty good for our sport back home to have a British contender here.

PETE SAMPRAS: Absolutely. Tim, if he can get his game going on this court, he's had a great year, he's definitely capable of winning here. But there's a lot of great players here.

Q. You've been coming here for a number of years. What do you think of the tournament?

PETE SAMPRAS: It seems very good to me. They treat the players great. Each player has their own driver and chaperon, facility is very nice, locker room, food, they've done extremely well. It's a pleasure being here.

Q. How are you feeling coming into this week? You had a week off which must have been good for you physically. Are you feeling as fresh as you would have liked to have been?

PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah, I feel very fresh. It was nice to get home, like I said, kind of get the mind off this whole race. It was pretty consuming with the race for a while. Nice to kind of relax, play a little golf, hang out. You know, the beginning of this week, time to start focusing on this coming week, start practicing. I couldn't ask better for the way I'm feeling. I've rebounded from the six weeks pretty well.

Q. How difficult to come back, having gone home, how hard is it to come back and get yourself going again?

PETE SAMPRAS: It was nice having that week and a half in some ways. Losing Stockholm might have helped in some ways to give me a couple extra days to relax or whatever. I needed it. I felt irritable playing there. It was nice having that week just to relax and not think about what I'm going here for six weeks. But now that I'm here and I'm focused, getting into my rhythm, playing the tournament, the impact on how important this No. 1 ranking is, I'm definitely keyed up.

Q. How are you keeping yourself motivated for No. 1 now? Is that foremost in your mind?

PETE SAMPRAS: At the moment it is. That's what's keeping me going this year, the past six weeks, and this week. When the year is over, if I do it or don't do it, I'll have an opportunity in Australia, have a chance to win a major, which in my mind is the biggest thing in the game. As much as the ranking is important this week, winning the Grand Slam record is something that will be above and beyond anything I could ever do in the game. That's kind of my frame of mind.

Q. How do you feel about the group that you're in?

PETE SAMPRAS: I think each group is very even. I play Moya, who played well against me, beat me here last year. It's very strong. There's no question that each player here has had a great year. I maybe look at Henman as the other guy who serves really big and can be dangerous. The other guys are baseliners. The court is playing reasonably quick. We'll see.

Q. When you did you pick up the racquet again?


Q. You say you just chilled out. Can you sort of put tennis completely out of your mind?

PETE SAMPRAS: Not completely out of your mind. As best I could. Like I said, I was quite consumed with the whole ranking thing. It was nice to get my mind off of it, play a little golf, hang out a little bit, with my family, girlfriend, stuff like that. It was good. I needed it. I had a little break.

Q. How many days was the racquet actually put away for?

PETE SAMPRAS: I lost on Wednesday.

Q. Got home?

PETE SAMPRAS: Thursday. Started hitting on Monday. It was a good four days.

Q. Was that enough?

PETE SAMPRAS: I had no choice. I had no choice because I needed to hit the ball Monday, Tuesday, leaving on Friday. I'm putting a lot into this.

Q. Every player on the top for so long has taken a long break, two months. Have you ever thought about stepping out for a while and taking your time and coming back?

PETE SAMPRAS: It's very it's a very attractive thing. You know, yeah, it would be nice to have a couple months off. I'm hoping there's a point in my career, if I ever break the Grand Slam, that I wouldn't go down to Australia. That would guarantee at least a good two months. But as competitive as I am, I like to play, I like to stay on top. The way the ranking system works, I need to play more to stay on top. This next couple years, it's going to be nice to see how my schedule works, what my goals are.

Q. How long can you keep going actually? How long can you go on?

PETE SAMPRAS: There are times through the year you are a little bit tired. Last couple months was a bit of a stretch for me. I love to play and I love competing. Having a goal, trying to achieve it, achieving it, that's what it's all about. There comes a point in my tennis where I need to have some time off. It's kind of the nature of the tennis circuit: never really ends.

Q. Never really ends?


Q. What's the overall goal that keeps you going?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, what keeps me playing is the Grand Slams. It's always kept me going.

Q. Can you talk about your charity?

PETE SAMPRAS: It's named Aces for Charity. The majority of the money goes to Tim and Tom Gullikson Foundation for cancer, and some of it goes to Vitas Gerulaitis' foundation, breast cancer. These are all things that have affected me. Through Nike, Wilson, myself, we've been able to raise quite a bit of money over the last year.

Q. What about Yevgeny?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, I played Yevgeny a bunch of times. Fortunately, my record is pretty good against him. He's got a very complete game. He serves quite big, has good groundstrokes, returns well. Last year, when my game gets going like it did in the final, I feel like I'm pretty tough to beat. I certainly hope that's the case when I play him.

Q. Moya, is a revenge for you here?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, a lot's happened in a year. You don't really look at what happened last year as revenge. You know, if anything, he's confident that he can beat me. Played quite well here last year. He plays primarily well on the clay, but he's transformed into a good overall player.

Q. (Inaudible)?

PETE SAMPRAS: The way he played against me in Australia, I wasn't surprised. I figured he had a good chance of being in the Top 10, a good chance he'd make Hannover, so I wasn't surprised. He kind of tore me apart a little bit down there in Australia. He's had a consistent year, played quite well. He deserves it.

Q. Maybe I'm wrong, but I have the feeling that after you and Andre, Michael Chang, that American tennis will be in trouble. Has that worried you? Do you have any explanation for that?

PETE SAMPRAS: Explanation? I think each country kind of goes in cycles. Look at Sweden, Spain, it comes and goes. Unfortunately, after the group you just mentioned, it is looking a little bit thin. It's unfortunate, you know. I think I've got enough going on with what I'm trying to do to really worry about it. I'm sure the USTA and some of the coaches are starting to think about the future of American tennis.

Q. Did you speak with Connors about the record?


Q. What is your opinion about the better player of the century? Connors? Borg? It's different times?

PETE SAMPRAS: It is difficult to compare the game today to 30 years ago, with the racquets, technology. Our guys today are 6'2", 6'3", can serve very big. It's just a different game. But I'm sure if Rod Laver played today with a good racquet, the racquets of today, he'd be just fine. It's really hard to compare. It's hard to name one guy who is the best ever, it really is. It's so hard to look at tennis today versus tennis in the '50s or the '60s. It's something that will always be discussed.

Q. When you were a kid, did you have a big idol?

PETE SAMPRAS: I mean, I always looked up to the old Aussies, saw these guys a little bit on tapes, Rosewall, Laver. I enjoyed watching them. Pretty classical serve and volley tennis, the way they were as people, humble, down-to-earth. I just admired those guys. I'm not saying I didn't enjoy watching Connors and watching McEnroe. It was unique. I was 13, 14 years old, seeing tapes of these guys.

Q. What do you think of the tournament?

PETE SAMPRAS: You're spoiled from the hotel to everything that goes along the way. The crowd support here is phenomenal, 15,000 people, whatever it is, into the match, very enthusiastic. German people know tennis, no doubt about that. When you have the people into it and the atmosphere, it's really good, it can only help out the tennis. Over the years, I've really enjoyed it.

Q. So you would be disappointed that it's leaving?

PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah, yeah. My memories of Hannover have been quite good, playing here a couple years ago, playing Boris a couple years ago, that was the ultimate. When you have a situation like that, you always remember it. It will be disappointing. The people support it. If they take it away, it's unfortunate.

Q. You have tapes from your old games that you watch from time to time?

PETE SAMPRAS: From time to time. Not much.

Q. But you keep them?

PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah. For when I'm retired and gray.

Q. If you're allowed to change one or two things on the Tour right now, what would that be?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, I would try to shorten the year a little bit. I mean, one thing that I would be in favor for. That's me. I'm at a stage in my career that it would be good for me. Guys in their early 20s want to play a lot of tennis. There's a lot of money to be made out there. It's a lot of tennis. That would be one thing I'd try to change.

Q. How do you feel being back in Hannover?

PETE SAMPRAS: It feels good. I've enjoyed the tournament and the facility. It's very well run. You always enjoy coming back to a place that you played well. So we'll see.

Q. What do you expect from this year?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, maybe I'm expecting, like I do every week, expecting to win here.

Q. You said once you are living for tennis, you live every day for tennis. What will do you without tennis? Your career could end someday.

PETE SAMPRAS: I don't believe I ever said that I live every day for tennis. It's what I do. I take it very seriously. When it's over, I'm sure I'll find something that keeps me interested and being productive, whatever. But it will end soon. I certainly hope I can find something that I enjoy.

Q. What kind of status does a tennis star have in this world, as example for the young people? What do you think?

PETE SAMPRAS: It's important to be a good role model. Young kids are looking up to myself. You represent yourself well, something I've always tried to do.

Q. If you could be one other player here and you weren't Pete Sampras, which one would you like to be?

PETE SAMPRAS: David Higdon.

End of FastScripts….

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