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September 7, 1998

Pete Sampras

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

Q. All the advanced notices, I'm sure -- what was your reaction to what he was like when you got on the court? A lot of people are talking about him as the next great player sort of thing.

PETE SAMPRAS: You can tell, he's very talented. But also, you know, very young. First set, I couldn't believe the pace of his serve. I mean, I really had a hard time reading it. Second serve was very, very big. The talent is there. I mean, there's no question bit. Just maybe -- just need, you know, tone it down a little bit, because he goes for big, big shots, takes a big cut at it. But he's 18, you know. He's just going to get better and better as the years go on. He'll learn how to tone his shots down a little bit, maybe not go for quite so much on every shot. But, sure, I heard a lot of good things about him. He beat Andre at the French. I'm sure he wasn't intimidated by any means playing out there. I've just heard from other players, he's got a big game. I knew that and I was ready for it. I thought I played pretty well. You know, after that first set and the rains came, you know, I just went from there.

Q. Conditions really changed when you guys came back.


Q. How was it different for you?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, first set to 2-1 was very quick. I mean, it was pretty hot and dry. You know, we were both having a hard time keeping the ball in the court. The rain came, it got really humid, the ball was starting to get a little bit fluffier. It was nice to be able to have a pretty good crack at the ball. The tennis was probably a little bit better, a little bit cooler and humid. So it just slowed things down a little bit, which I prefer. I don't prefer playing on a court that's that quick. But it was completely different from the first set and 2-1 to the rest of the match.

Q. You regard people like Philippoussis and Goran certainly as dangerous. In the first set, were you thinking, he is that kind of player?

PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah, absolutely. I knew he had a big serve. He really -- the way he hits it and his motion, I had no idea where it was going. As the match went on, I started to pick it off a little bit. But I was like, Wow. A couple shots here and there, I could have lost the first set. It was like playing on grass a little bit. When we came back, it got a little bit humid, it slowed down a little bit, I got a pretty good read on his serve. He serves hard, but you have to get it in the court. That's obviously the main thing. But, I mean, he can serve 130 on the line, you've got some potential.

Q. How bizarre was it for you to leave a court when not a drop of rain had fallen?

PETE SAMPRAS: It was a scary sight. Really, it was like green out there. It was. Maybe it was going to rain money, I don't know (laughter). It got really windy. I think they knew it was going to be coming. It obviously did.

Q. Good serves, third set, you really cranked up your first serve. Something happen, change something?

PETE SAMPRAS: No. I was cracking it pretty hard throughout the match. You know, when you're up two sets and a break, I was feeling pretty good. The arm was nice and loose. I just started cracking them, got into a pretty good rhythm. Served it out pretty easily there at the end. Get the serve going, which has been a little bit up-and-down throughout this past week, but today it seemed like it clicked.

Q. Only hit six second serves in the final set.

PETE SAMPRAS: I mean, that's great. Anytime I can get a high percentage of first serves, the way I'm serving, as hard as I'm serving, that's a great sign.

Q. Do you want to play Andre next match? Would you rather avoid him or do you really care?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, I mean, sure, Kucera can play some -- he beat me in Australia. Andre certainly is playing great tennis. I mean, from the fans' point of view and from the media, how Andre and I play, the atmosphere and the electricity of this place would be phenomenal. But the way I am, when I'm put in the situation, just whoever I play, I feel like I'm ready. I feel like I'm playing well. So we'll see. I mean, it's going to be a good match.

Q. You know this perceived, real or not, diminishing interest in the men's game. Don't you think maybe there's a few Sampras, Agassi matches in key tournaments that could fix that right up?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, it's not going to happen with one match. Certainly it's a course of many years, but it would help. I mean, sure, I think when Andre and I play, not only do people follow -- in tennis the people that follow tennis, but people, you know, who are following other sports would tune into that match because of the match-up, because of the different personalities we have and our different games. It's definitely a good match-up.

Q. You said you love the idea of a tennis match being an event, you've only had it a couple times in your life. I imagine you'd love to have that again?

PETE SAMPRAS: Sure, sure. I mean, I'm sure they'll put us at night. It's going to be a packed house. You haven't seen this place packed too often this past week, unfortunately. But it's the arena, it's the stage. And you're right, I haven't been -- I played some big matches in my career, but when I play Andre or if I play Becker, it certainly brings that out. Hopefully, you know, there will be some good tennis. I'm sure it will be.

Q. What are your observations of the way that he has been playing in elevating his game now to where he's actually a contender here?

PETE SAMPRAS: I didn't hear the beginning part.

Q. What are your observations of the way he's playing to the point that he's elevated his game to be a contender?

PETE SAMPRAS: You know, it's not surprising. Andre certainly has got more talent than anybody on tour. He's obviously put it together. And he's playing well and he's confident. And that's really it. You know, he's pretty much -- you know, he struggled through one match, but I mean, he plays a tough guy tonight. Kucera can play some good ball. But I still see Andre as the favorite.

Q. Do you think, regardless of who you play here, you're going to get one of the finest service returners in the game in the next match?

PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah, without question. I mean, Kucera really picked me apart quite a bit in Australia. Andre certainly has proven he's got the best return in the game. They both play pretty similar. Andre maybe has a little bit more fire power. They're both counter-punchers with good backhands, good returns and good passes. Certainly that gives me problems.

Q. Is it the eyes that makes a good service returner? What is it?

PETE SAMPRAS: Eyes and hands. I mean, eyes are the main things, especially at the pace we're hitting.

Q. You played Andre recently. Is his level where it was when you guys met here a couple years ago at The Open final?

PETE SAMPRAS: It's hard to say. Everyone's gotten better. But when I played Andre in Toronto, obviously I wasn't in the best of shape. He always plays well against me. I mean, he feels pretty relaxed. So if we play, I'm sure it will be some good tennis.

Q. Do you sense, he may lose tonight, Rafter as a player the last couple weeks of months has sort of become the superstar. He seems to be up there. He's getting more attention than other guys.

PETE SAMPRAS: Winning this last year and coming back defending champion, it's a different ballgame. After he got through his first match, I think he's handling it pretty well. He's up against Goran, who is not an easy guy to play. He's probably had the best summer of anyone, you know, winning Cincy and Toronto back-to-back, winning Hamlet. He's coming in here with a lot of matches under his belt. But that's a lot of matches to play before the US Open. But he's pretty fit and I'm sure he'll do fine.

Q. Do you sense he has a higher esteem among the players and the fans, becoming sort of like Andre and you are?

PETE SAMPRAS: For many, many years is a true sign, that's the way I look at it. Anytime you win a Grand Slam, I mean, you're basically put up in that upper echelon of great players. You know, the way I look at a career, it takes longevity, it takes years and years of putting up good results obviously in the Grand Slams. You know, he's got a good game. There's no question he's one of the better athletes we have on the tour.

Q. When you look back at Wimbledon, do you think in a lot of ways that's put you in good stead here because you got a Grand Slam win on the board, and you come in here, you seem by and large pretty relaxed.

PETE SAMPRAS: I am. I feel Wimbledon was a huge confidence booster. Up until Wimbledon, my year obviously wasn't that great. But I put so much pressure on myself, probably too much at the Grand Slam. But that's maybe why I've achieved what I've achieved. But it was a huge moment. It really was, to win five Wimbledons was something that you look at. Borg's five, I never thought that would ever be touched. To be put in that category with Borg and the Lavers was a little bit overwhelming. But you're right, I do feel pretty relaxed. I do have my Grand Slam. If I don't win here, any time you look back at a year, when you win a major, you can't complain about that.

Q. When you went out to serve to start the match, he made you wait a little bit. I was wondering if that surprised you for a young guy?

PETE SAMPRAS: I didn't think that much of it.

Q. In the fifth game when you broke him in the third set, did you sense his impatience? One forehand long, back court wide. He didn't seem to have it.

PETE SAMPRAS: I think he was frustrated. I think he was frustrated. I could tell by his body language a little bit. I was serving pretty well. He was having a hard time reading it. I could feel that -- I felt his energy was a little bit low. He got impatient. He kind of just -- like I said, he just takes a big cut at it. If you're having an off day, which I think he had, it's going to be a long day. I played well. You know, I definitely -- the match definitely went the way I wanted it to go. I was coming in and being aggressive. But you have to remember, he's 18 years old. He's got many years to obviously learn from mistakes, and I'm sure he'll do that.

Q. Where was your game at 18?

PETE SAMPRAS: My game at 18 was -- it was pretty bad, I think (laughter). You know, I think I was at that point still trying to make my mark, you know, still trying to break into the Top 50, the Top 20, and I did that just about when I turned 19, when I won here. But I was pretty flaky. I'm not really sure at that point what I really wanted from tennis. You know, when you're young, you're just trying to figure it all out, trying to figure out the new lifestyle, whatever. It's easy to play. It's easy to play when you're 18, 19. You have nothing to lose. Certainly it's a nice feeling. But I was a little flaky at times, little bit inconsistent. But now at 27, I feel like I've been through enough situations to hopefully handle it.

Q. When you won this at 19, did your life really change dramatically? Did you begin thinking about your future?

PETE SAMPRAS: At 19 when I won here?

Q. Yes.

PETE SAMPRAS: Yes. Basically I didn't feel like I was prepared. Not only -- I felt my tennis wasn't good enough at that point to win a US Open. I just had two hot weeks. For about six months, I had a hard time backing it up. You know, it's probably a little bit too young to win a major. When you win at 18, 19, you're still growing and you're still learning. You know, I was recognized all around the world. I was just uncomfortable with the whole situation. But obviously being around it now for a number of years, you get used to it. But you win a major at 19, it's pretty rare. Certainly had a hard time coping with that.

Q. Of all the young guys whose names have cropped up lately, Dent, Gambill, you've hit with him, you've seen them. How does this guy compare?

PETE SAMPRAS: When I look at a young guy, I look if he's got a weapon. He certainly has got the weapon with the serve. But that being said, you're not going to break into the Top 10 with only a serve. But I think he's got the ability. I mean, he's got the groundstrokes. It's just, you know, if I was coaching him, I'd just tell him not to hit the ball so hard. He really takes a big crack at it. You know, when you're on, you're awesome. But if you're not, you're not. So just to tone it down a little bit. I was just amazed at how hard he hits the ball. But obviously you need to hit it in between the lines.

Q. That sounds similar to what you said about Philippoussis a few years back. Does it remind you of him?

PETE SAMPRAS: A little bit, yeah. A little bit. I think Philippoussis has probably learned in the past couple years, and he's probably taken a little bit off his shots, keeping them in the court. But it was similar when I played Philippoussis for the first time. I mean, he was devastating. I mean, he was really powerful. But you need to find that game, like a medium game, just kind of keep the ball in the court. A lot of these young guys like to just crack it real hard. But it's similar, very similar player.

Q. Can you tell guts in a player that young?

PETE SAMPRAS: You know, it's hard to say. I mean, at 18, 19, looking at myself, I didn't probably look like I had much guts. But, you know, fortunately I've been in some situations that you kind of dig deep. I've been through, you know, a couple tough losses to realize what I wanted from the game. It's hard to say. I think he's still trying to figure out his mark and his place, trying to learn. He's going to do that. But it's just hard to say. It depends how you mature and how you grow. But I've heard a lot of good things about him. I think he's going to be around for a while.

Q. Did you at 18, 19, know that you did have those guts? Is it something you learned over time as well?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, it just took one loss. When I lost to Edberg here in '92, you know, that did it for me. Up until that point, I wasn't sure if I really wanted it enough. After I lost that match, it was clear to me that getting to the finals isn't good enough. That loss, I'm glad it happened, I really am. It was a tough, tough moment. Certainly, you know, it was the one match I look back at my career and I'm glad it happened.

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