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October 29, 1998

Pete Sampras

Stuttgart, Germany

Q. Pete, two good matches under your belt. Does it strengthen your confidence?

PETE SAMPRAS: It does. I felt much more comfortable today than playing yesterday, a little bit more used to the conditions and the court. I played two good solid matches. Ulihrach has given me problems, beaten me earlier in the year in Palm Springs. Today, I played as well as I could. Lost my concentration at certain points a little bit, but it was pretty solid.

Q. As far as the competition keeps on going with Rios and Rafter for the No. 1 spot, do you think it is much better to play before them or you don't mind?

PETE SAMPRAS: I don't think it really matters. It really doesn't, you know, the fact that who plays first. You got to concentrate on what you are trying to do, who you are playing and preparing for your match. Whatever they do, they do. Only thing you can really control is what you do. That has really been my mindset for the past couple of weeks.

Q. You were saying yesterday that maybe if you had to play an extra tournament you would play, maybe in Stockholm or Moscow. But if you don't have - if you feel like you don't have to play it after Paris, will you stay in Europe anyway or will you go back to the United States before Hannover?

PETE SAMPRAS: I will go back home. There is two weeks in between, and as much as I like Europe this time of year, I think I will end up going home.

Q. You said also yesterday that you were willing to do whatever it takes to take the No. 1 spot by the end of the year. It means at the moment that you are spending, I don't know, six or seven weeks in a row in Europe and do you think that you could have -- you could do the same to prepare for the French next spring because obviously every time you say that Grand Slams tournament are more important than anything else, so -- what is going to happen?

PETE SAMPRAS: It is a very unique situation because if I wasn't in a position to break the record, I probably wouldn't be here. I would be here, but I wouldn't be playing all these tournaments. All I have right now is a chance to do it and that is why I have decided to play a lot in Europe and -- but, you know, to get ready for the French is completely different. For me to spend seven, eight weeks on clay before the French is something that would not work for me. It is too much for me. But it is just, you know, a very different situation, you know, these last couple of months. I am going to do what it takes. I am hopefully going to play well and hopefully end up No. 1.

Q. The wildcard present from Boris for Vienna, did it make you friends for a lifetime?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, I think I will be friends with Boris for a very long time. I mean, the fact that he gave me a wildcard has nothing to do with my feelings toward Boris. We have had a lot of respect for each other over the years. Played some good matches in the past, and it was just, you know, our friendship, you know, definitely came across when I asked him for the wildcard. I asked him if I could play and he felt obviously it was more important for me to play than him. He was just coming off an injury and he was nice enough to give it to me. But I am sure when Boris and I are done playing if we are in the same city, I am sure I have no problem talking to Boris. I mean, he is one of the ultimate competitors I have ever played.

Q. Are you surprised, Pete, to see Gambill next instead of Henman?

PETE SAMPRAS: A little bit. I figured - Tim has been playing extremely well last three, four weeks, and, you know, I figured he was the slight favorite, but Gambill has proven he is for real. He played a good strong match. It could have gone either way at six in the third. I am sure Tim was playing well enough to win. But Gambill returns well, serves well; you get those two things, you are going to be tough to beat.

Q. Have you ever played against Gambill?

PETE SAMPRAS: Cincinnati.

Q. So you --

PETE SAMPRAS: So I know him.

Q. Close match?

PETE SAMPRAS: Six and something. Six and two, maybe. Pretty close.

Q. What are the feelings -- could you describe the motivation to break the record?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, I think it is very clear how important it is to me because I have been here quite a bit and, you know, if I have to play Paris, Stockholm or Moscow, I am willing to do it. So that is the way I look at it. It is very simple - cut and dry, and I need to play well and sure, I mean, it is -- to do it five years in a row and to tie the record, it is very tough to do in today's game. I am in a position to make it to six and it is a record that might not ever be broken. It is that hard to do. But I feel like I am on a good road here playing pretty well here this week and next week in Paris and hopefully, I won't have to play another event and just get ready -- it is going to come down to Hannover. That is where the bulk of the points are, so, I think we all know that.

Q. If you do compare it, what sort of response do you expect from the United States?

PETE SAMPRAS: Not much. I mean, pretty much what I noticed last year when I tied the record five years in a row, you know, even over in Europe, it wasn't really talked about, you know, it is disappointing because it is one of the toughest things to do in sports.

Q. Does that get to you?

PETE SAMPRAS: At times, sure. Sure, I mean, for so long people have just taken what I do and what I have done for granted. It is not easy to do year in, year out to win Grand Slams and be No. 1. I feel much more respected in Europe than I do in the States from the press and from the people. Americans expect me to win every match I play and, you know, it is -- kind of the way it has gone over the years.

Q. Is that because of you or is that because of tennis? You were getting excited about the McGwire thing and the whole country regarded it as almost the second coming?

PETE SAMPRAS: Baseball is America's pastime and that record is something that is absolutely huge in the States. I mean, over in Europe Mark McGwire could probably walk down the street and be unnoticed; where now in the States, he can't go anywhere. It is one of the most ultimate records in sports. Tennis obviously isn't that popular as baseball in the States and, you know, just unbelievable story. It was perfect to have he and Sosa, two good guys, competing day-in/day-out; everyone is wondering if -- even ladies were watching baseball and that is pretty unusual. So it was a great story.

Q. So can you walk down the street in Tampa?

PETE SAMPRAS: No. I mean, I must admit tennis is seen all-around the world; if I am home or anywhere in the country, United States, you know, people will stare and-- is that him or not -- I mean --

Q. Autograph books come out?

PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah, but tennis is seen all-around the world. I mean, Australia, Japan, seems like I am noticed just about everywhere.

Q. (Inaudible.)

PETE SAMPRAS: It is great. Really is. I look at a little bit of Boris here in Germany and Tim in England, both those guys are under a microscope; where, for me in the States, you know, there are so many great athletes and so many big sports I feel like I can walk down the street and not have this kind of pop-star-type of image and the press don't really follow me and they don't really camp up by my house. It is nice. Nice to have that sort of normalcy in my life.

Q. (inaudible)

PETE SAMPRAS: When the Masters moved to Germany, I must admit, once the US Open is over in the States, mainstream America doesn't really follow tennis. Unless you are a true tennis fan, you will watch Paris, Stuttgart. People watched the Masters. It was a huge event. It was at The Garden. Now that it is over here in Europe, it has lost a little bit of popularity in the States.

Q. It is going to move away from Hannover after next year. Where would you like to see it?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, I must admit, as much as I like to see it back to the States, I mean, the crowds and the support that Hannover gets over the years is unbelievable. I mean, we are playing in front of 15,000 people that are so enthusiastic. That match I played against Boris here in Hannover a few years ago was one of the ultimate experiences I have ever had. You play it at The Garden, it is half full, you know, not a lot happening. You put it over in Europe, especially in Hannover, I mean, first match five o'clock, it is packed. It is nice to walk out on a court to have it packed like that. That is why I have grown to really like Hannover and playing in Germany.

Q. What if it goes to South America or Rio or Tokyo or --

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, I am not really crazy about it, to be honest with you. Hannover is supported by the people there and to keep on moving it, I mean, would really kind of get lost in the shuffle; especially from the States' point of view. It might be great for the game in South America or Japan, but to have some continuity, I think it would be great for the game.

Q. When Becker didn't participate in Hannover, did you like it? Your point of view like you just said?

PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah. I mean, Boris adds a lot, don't get me wrong. But every match that I saw on TV and that I played was packed. Boris brings a lot of enthusiasm to the people and to the whole event. But the fact that he wasn't there, it was still, you know, great atmosphere and so it was fun to be a part of that.

Q. Boris is coming to the end of his career now. How would you sum up what he has meant to the game?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, he has meant a lot. He is -- every - I am just thinking of the adjectives here - everything that you think of a competitor in a tennis player he has. He has got the fight. He has got the ability. He has won many, many big matches. Likes the occasion. And he has added a lot of popularity to the game. I mean, he is very outspoken and, you know, winning Wimbledon three times or so, or whatever it is, I mean, you know, he has meant a great deal.

End of FastScripts….

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