March 24, 1997
Key Biscayne, FL
JOE LYNCH: Pete moves to 19 and 1 for the year, ready for the first question.
Q. Does it feel to you like there's not as many people nipping at your feet as in the past couple years, Agassi slipping a little, Courier slipping a little, Becker slipping a little, Edberg gone, I guess you have Muster and Ivanisevic, but to me it seems like they don't threaten you as much? If it does feel that way, does that make it more difficult to raise the level of your game?
PETE SAMPRAS: Doesn't make things more difficult. Raising the level of my game, you know, the fact that I'm on top, everyone is gunning after me. Playing Clavet tonight, these guys have nothing to lose. As far as the race was concerned in '95 when Agassi was 2 in the world, neck and neck all the way through the year, that was great for the game, exciting, made me a better player. Now, I'm not sure as far as the difference in points, how much of a lead I have, but there's a lot of tennis till the end of the year. That's a true indication of who had the best year is when the year is over. It was a great start for me as far as winning Australia. I feel like if I'm playing well and healthy, I'll be tough to overtake.
Q. One thing it made me think of is the Grand Slam is a realistic possibility this year. Obviously you don't want to think too far ahead.
PETE SAMPRAS: Well, it's something I don't think about. To win one major a year is a good year, it really is. To win two is a great year. The French is the one that has given me the problems. That's the only thing that's missing in my career, is winning that one.
Q. If you won the French, do you think you'd start thinking about a Grand Slam?
PETE SAMPRAS: I really don't know. It's a lot of work to win the French. You know, it's something that isn't too realistic, but you can't rule anything out in this game; anything can happen. I'm going to go into the French in much better condition, as far as my stamina is concerned, versus last year. We'll see what happens there.
Q. It seemed like pretty comfortable going in the first set, but he made it tight in the second set. He picked up his game?
PETE SAMPRAS: Well, he picked up his game a little bit, but I got a little careless, upset and a break, played careless points at my 3-2 game, let him back in the match. If I would have held on, maybe I would have broken for a 5-2 lead. He competes really well. I mean, he's very similar to the rest of the Spaniards. He just competes well, has a good all-around court game. Made me work very hard.
Q. You talk about your condition heading into the French. Are you going to do anything dramatically next year, take a week off, play anything different?
PETE SAMPRAS: Last year I didn't play anything leading up to the French. This year I'll play in Asia for a couple weeks, then three weeks off to get in good condition. I feel if I'm going to do well at the French, I need to be in good shape. Then I play in Rome, then World Team Cup, then the French. I feel like I don't need to be on clay for two months before the French. I feel like it's a little bit too much. I've tried different things over the years. I played my best when I don't play that much on there.
Q. How important is Emerson's record to you? It seems pretty clear you're probably going to end up breaking it.
PETE SAMPRAS: Well, I think people out there understand that the game has changed so much. There is six, seven years that Laver didn't have a chance to play Grand Slams, because he could have had 18, 20 majors. The game is so much stronger today, it's just a number out there, a number I certainly would love to break. It's become realistic. As a 17 year old, I really didn't expect this. But as it turned out, I'm doing much better than I thought I ever would in this game. It's something that is out there and hopefully with some hard work and staying healthy, I can do it.
Q. Besides for Laver, who are the other guys that you looked up to? Leu Hoad?
PETE SAMPRAS: Leu Hoad and Rosewall, that type of era. I remember watching the '71 WCT match in Dallas, one of the all-time great matches. Those two guys have stood out more than anyone else.
Q. Anybody before then, Cramer, Gonzales?
PETE SAMPRAS: I didn't see much of those guys.
Q. How is your right wrist?
PETE SAMPRAS: It's all right. It's a little sore. It's been bothering me a little bit. Once you get out and the adrenaline kicks in, it hopefully won't be a problem.
Q. It looked like you had a lot of sweat coming off on the racquet.
PETE SAMPRAS: It was very humid tonight. I had to change my grip every changeover. The balls were very heavy. I was having a hard time with my left hand because it was completely drenched. Hitting backhands, sometimes it would slip off my hand. You have to try to take a towel on the changeovers and stay dry.
Q. Did you have a sweat band on top of that tape?
PETE SAMPRAS: I've tried sweat bands and I can't play with them.
Q. You're the only top 16 seed on your side of the bracket left. Is that a little deceptive, given the caliber of the field you've got on your side?
PETE SAMPRAS: Well, it's not that surprising anymore in today's game. Seems like there's so many good, dangerous players out there that you see upsets all the time in today's game. It's not that surprising to see that. Philadelphia, I was the only seed left coming into the weekend. It just goes to show, if you don't come out ready to play, I don't care if your opponent is ranked 60, 70 or 100, these guys are good players.
Q. Who are your favorite athletes in other sports?
PETE SAMPRAS: Well, Jordan as a basketball player. I don't appreciate or know hockey that much, but Lemieux and Gretzky. I think the guys in the NBA are the best athletes we have in the United States. I've always looked up to those guys.
Q. Besides for Jordan, are there two or three other whose come to mind?
PETE SAMPRAS: I went to a Laker practice and saw Kobe Bryant make unbelievable moves. You can really appreciate it on the floor watching. He's something special.
Q. How about anyone on the Heat?
PETE SAMPRAS: I haven't seen the Heat play this year. Maybe I'll have a chance this week.
Q. The added weight that you gave to that racquet, does that affect your wrist at all or your shoulder?
PETE SAMPRAS: No. I've been with the same weight and balance for the past five, six years. I think it probably started in Australia with the heavy balls, started giving me some arm trouble. You continue to practice and play every week, like I have been. You need some time to rest. You're going to have little nagging injuries, throughout a year. Fortunately I have one of the best trainers in the world. He can take care of me. Hopefully won't be a problem.
Q. Pete, what do you think of Rios as a player?
PETE SAMPRAS: As a player, he's one of the up and coming players. Seems like he's improved each year. Has a pretty good first serve, hits the ball pretty flat. Mentally he seems okay. As a person, I don't know him all that well, but he seems a little shy at first, but I think he's being a little more comfortable around the boys. He seems fine.
Q. Strategy against Courier?
PETE SAMPRAS: I play Larsson tomorrow. That's tough enough.
Q. Just a question for a survey in the French Open program. If you had not had the chance to become a professional sportsman, physically unable, what kind of job would you have liked to do?
PETE SAMPRAS: I have no idea. It's hard to answer because I've been playing this game since I was eight. I always wanted to be a tennis player. I've never really thought about it. I really don't know, so, sorry about the survey.
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