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September 9, 1998

Pete Sampras

U.S. OPEN CHAMPIONSHIP, Flushing Meadows, New York

Q. It seemed having watched you play him in Australia, you really knew what you wanted to do tonight. One of the things seemed to be that you weren't going to serve too much wide in the deuce court. He hit a lot of great forehand returns against you there. Seemed like you really were able to be pretty dominating on serve this time compared to there.

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, the key -- I remember playing him down in Australia. Karol really likes the ball out wide. I was trying to mix it up, even go to the body. That seemed to be pretty effective. You just need to mix it up against him. In Australia, I was probably going to the same place pretty much. He was picking off some good serves I was hitting. Even still, he's going to hit some great returns. He's one of the best returners we have in the game. I was trying to mix it up, trying to come in, trying to attack his second serve. With the conditions tonight, it wasn't fun to play. Wasn't the best of tennis. I got through it. That's really the main thing.

Q. Considering the conditions, did you feel you played exceptionally well?

PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah, yeah. I feel like I can play better. I really do. But I'm always very hard on myself. With the wind gusting, in the third set, I couldn't even feel my racquet, my hands were so cold. It's a matter of just hanging in there. It's not going to be pretty. I knew walking into tonight's match, with the wind gusting, in my warm-up, it was like, Wow, it's not going to be fun to play tonight. It's time, this is the US Open, this is the big moment of the year for me. Just try to have a positive attitude.

Q. Do you have any sense of revenge at all? Does that creep in? You're here, home court, you don't want this guy to beat you here at all.

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, sure. I always remember my losses. He picked me apart down in Australia. I was probably a little bit more on my toes tonight than I was in Australia. I don't think I was overconfident down there, but he really surprised me with his tennis, beating Andre a couple days ago. I knew he was playing well. You know, I was ready to play tonight. Considering the conditions, I thought I played pretty well. But, you know, he's tough. I mean, he's a great mover, he returns very well. I just kind of won this match. Didn't play great, didn't play bad, I just kind of got through it.

Q. Having said that, will it be sweet for you to get a shot at Rafter coming up?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, you look at each match, each player, and they all have their strengths. And Rafter, you know, beating me a couple weeks ago in Cincinnati in a tough loss, winning here last year, he's kind of the man to beat. He's played pretty well, he's pretty much breezed through this tournament. Our games are very similar. It's just a matter on the return of serve. If I can return well, make him volley, hopefully over the course of a four- or five-set match, I can wear him down. He's a great mover, great athlete. One of the best volleyers we have in the game. I don't look at it as revenge by any means. I just look at the opponent, try to figure out how I'm going to beat him.

Q. You chipped and charged on his second serve. Was it the key of the match?

PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah. Karol's second serve can go off a little bit. And in the wind, the way he tosses it up, it could go anywhere. And one thing I talked about with Paul before going out, put such pressure on his second serves, maybe I'll get a couple double-faults. The way this court is playing, it's playing pretty quick. If I get the chip and charge down, it's not easy to pass, especially in the wind. That was one thing, I really wanted to set the tone early in the match to try to come in and put the pressure on him.

Q. You say you remember your losses. That match in Cincinnati with Rafter, what do you remember about it that you might want to do a little differently this time?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, I thought I played fine. I won the first 6-1. Things were going pretty well. He kind of squeaked out the second set. Ended up winning the match on a very tough line call at the end. Obviously, I was very upset at the moment. Lost my cool a little bit. But he hung in there and played a good match. But I felt I was playing well enough to beat him. But I'm looking forward to Saturday. It's going to be a good match. We're both going to be coming in a lot. Just a matter who returns better.

Q. Have you got to know him a lot?

PETE SAMPRAS: Just a little bit. Patrick is a solid guy. He's hanging out with most of the Aussies, so.

Q. He was in talking to us earlier. He said the ball was definitely in.

PETE SAMPRAS: He did, did he?

Q. Yes.

PETE SAMPRAS: He's smoking something that isn't legal. No.

Q. That leaping overhead, was that part of the strategy of using your athleticism more?

PETE SAMPRAS: It's just kind of a shot I have fun with. I see it up there, the crowd seems to like it. Lets the opponent know I'm pumped and ready to go, got good energy. For a white guy, I can jump pretty well.

Q. You were extremely solid at the net tonight. Do you think you played like Rafter?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, similar. I mean, we both try to come in. We play pretty similar. I probably stay back a little bit more than he does. His game reminds me a little bit like Edberg, he's always coming in. He's not easy to play. He's got that kick serve that gives me problems, he mixes it up very well. But it's pretty straightforward. I mean, I kind of know what to expect, and so does he. It is just a matter of who does it better.

Q. Patrick said he was going to relax tonight and have a beer. Do you allow yourself such a luxury in a tournament like this?

PETE SAMPRAS: Unfortunately, I don't really like the taste of beer, so I'll stick to the Evian here.

Q. Do you want this one right now, Pete, this tournament? Do you really want this one? Can you feel it at this point?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, it's pretty rhetorical. Of course, I want it. I put so much emphasis on the majors, and I'm certainly in a good position. I've gotten through my first five matches pretty handily. I play a tough opponent on Saturday. But, you know, if you're not up for the majors, if you're not up for these tournaments, you shouldn't be playing. I'm not going to say I'm going to win every major I play, but I certainly come in here with a very pumped-up attitude. Certainly this is what the year boils down to for me, is the majors.

Q. Given Agassi's disappointing defeat here, the lack of that showdown with him, is it possible your match-up with Rafter might be the sort of some ongoing rivalry? You've had a little of that with him already. Some international rivalry that will help generate interest in the sport widespread?

PETE SAMPRAS: You know, it's really hard to say. I mean, I've only played Patrick consistently for the past year or so. I don't think anything will compare to what I did against Andre for those couple years we were 1 and 2 in the world, two Americans. I think that will always be the height of my career as far as a rivalry, and playing Becker. Patrick, like I said, just played recently. We'll just see over the next couple years how we match up, how often we play each other. Certainly playing in a match like we are on Saturday, you know, it's a big match. We'll just see over the course of our careers what happens.

Q. Were you thinking about moon balling tonight?

PETE SAMPRAS: Moon balling?

Q. Yes.

PETE SAMPRAS: No, I really --

Q. Were you surprised to see Andre playing that?

PETE SAMPRAS: I didn't even see it. I just heard about it. But it was good entertainment, I heard.

Q. This tournament, it is almost as if it prides itself on being hard to win, all the distractions. Is it still as crazy as in the old days with the old building? Is it still the US Open?

PETE SAMPRAS: It's still the US Open. But with the new stadium, the new locker room, the new facilities, it's a little bit more convenient. It is a little bit nicer inside. The lounge is a little bit nicer. You have a little bit more space. But it's still the US Open. You're still playing out in a big stadium, it's always a little bit breezy here. People are kind of all over the place. It's what the US Open is all about. Each Slam has a very unique aura about it. And this one, certain it's the most hectic. We're in New York City, a lot's happening here. It's fun to play.

Q. People keep talking about the wind and everything else in this new stadium. Is it a more difficult stadium to read and to play in than the old one?

PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah, I think it is. For some reason, it always seems to be a little breezy. I'm not crazy about playing in the breeze, to be honest with you. I would much rather play in calm conditions. Maybe because the stadium is so big, the wind gets down there, bounces off the walls. The old stadium didn't seem quite so bad. You know, I kind of go out with the attitude, it's the same for both guys. You know, it's not -- like I said, I'm going to try to play in calm conditions.

Q. Is there any other place in the world that you play that gets that kind of action consistently?

PETE SAMPRAS: Not really, you know, not really. Australia, a little bit, it gets a little breezy down there. For some reason, it's always gusting, you know. It's always at least blowing down one direction. But it's always unsettling, a second serve downwind on breakpoint. The ball could just fly off your frame. You just hopefully can figure it out through the warm-up, see how the ball's going. But that's just part of playing here.

Q. Earlier in the year, you said your motivation was maybe not what it could be. You seem now, since Wimbledon, to be completely --

PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah, Wimbledon was a big part of my year. Up to that point, my year wasn't great. But, you know, I must be honest. I mean, it is hard to treat each week like it's the US Open. To get that desire and motivation week in and week out on the tour is not easy. That being said, you can't turn it on and off like a light switch when a major comes around. You need to play well all year-round to play well at the majors. When majors come around, everything just stops for me. I just kind of focus on what I'm trying to do, no distractions, just go out and play. But Wimbledon was a huge confidence booster. I measure my year always on the Slams. To have one so far through the year is pretty relaxing.

Q. Because you value the Slams so much, was there a time recently, last year or two, where you actually thought, "Maybe I can turn it on and off for the Slams," and were you wrong about it?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, I mean, you might say that this year at Wimbledon, where I didn't play well at Queen's, I was not playing the best of tennis. You're right, I turned it on. But you can't rely on that all the time. You know, you need to play well through the year, win titles. When you're winning, it kind of brings an aura about you that guys are a little bit more afraid of you. But for some reason, Wimbledon everything clicked. You know, obviously I won a tough five-set match in the final.

Q. Other players have said that you're intimidating, there is an aura to you, you've been No. 1 for six years, whatever. Do you feel that? Can you sense that you have a little edge right there?

PETE SAMPRAS: You know, a little bit, yeah. I feel that sometimes. But on the other hand, I mean, I'm the man to beat. Guys come out with nothing to lose, they swing away. It's probably fun playing me. I haven't felt that way since 1990. But, you know, you might win a couple extra points here and there on just reputation alone. But I look at it both sides. Guys come out swinging away, having fun. They have nothing to lose. That always makes it a little difficult.

Q. Are you surprised the way Rafter plays now? As a defending champion, he doesn't seem to have pressure.

PETE SAMPRAS: I think once he got through his first round, got through that, first or second round of a Slam as defending champions is always a little unsettling. He pretty much breezed through the draw, beat Goran, beat Jonas today. He obviously likes playing here, likes playing on this court. That's really a true sign for me on how I look at a player, is winning a major, if you can come back and do it again. That is the toughest thing to do in sports.

Q. One of the things that Patrick said when he was here was in that game at Cincinnati, he had never seen you sort of lose your cool like that. He thought maybe he got under your skin a little bit. Is that something that psychologically might sort of be there?

PETE SAMPRAS: I don't think he got under my skin. I think the situation did. Having the match in my hands, letting it slip away, being a little frustrated on how the match was going, then get a tough line call, I just had a bit of a reputation with the chair umpire in the past. It was just a bad call. I just lost it for like a minute. That's fine, you know. I'm glad I did it. Made me feel much better, trust me (laughter).

Q. How about Patrick, is there something -- does that sort of mentality carry over the next time you see him on the other side of the net?

PETE SAMPRAS: No. I mean, as far as what? Me losing my cool?

Q. Just being frustrated. If a similar situation occurs, do you think you'll keep it under control?

PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah, yeah. Don't worry, I won't lose my control on Saturday. No, you know, the way I look at each opponent, each player gives me problems in a certain area. And Patrick is someone that gives me problems with his serve and volley. It's just something I just have to deal with. But it's not personal with Patrick. I mean, I get along well with him. I just lost a tough match and obviously I wasn't happy about it.

Q. Pete, though it's early in the development of that rivalry with Rafter, other guys like Rios and the other players closest to you in the rankings, is he perhaps the player who might develop to be your toughest challenger over the next couple of years because of the type of game he has?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, it's really hard to say. I not only look at Patrick, I look at all the guys. But Patrick is one of the only really true serve and volleyers we have in the game today. And those guys give me problems. You know, we'll just have to play it out over the course of our careers. Obviously I'm a little bit older than he is. But, you know, it's really hard to say. I've only played him a number of times. I've had pretty good success against him. But we'll see. It's hard to say if it will ever duplicate what I had with Andre a couple years ago.

End of FastScripts….

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