Re: Sampras - AUSSIE OPEN
Exhausted Sampras talks about his harrowing, exhausting week
Reuters News Service
MELBOURNE, Australia - World No. 1 Pete Sampras spoke Thursday about the most harrowing and exhausting week of his tennis life and of how it felt to cry on center court as he fought what he said was the toughest match of his career.
Just 36 hours after he appeared head bowed and emotionally drained before the world's media following a five-set epic at the Australian Open against countryman Jim Courier, a more composed Sampras was able to reflect on his most public grief.
"I think people understand that I'm normal, I have feelings like everyone else...I'm not a robot out there," said the 23-year-old American who had been overcome on court by his concern for ailing coach Tim Gullikson.
"I'm as normal as the guy across the street, and I think that's what people have to realize, when they see tennis players, we're not above everyone, we do the same things everyone else does," he added.
He was speaking after beating fifth seed Michael Chang, 6-7, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 to make it through to his sixth Grand Slam final. He had just contacted Gullikson by phone in Chicago where he returned after falling ill here late last week.
Gullikson, who had two minor strokes late last year, flew back to the United States Tuesday and after intensive tests in hospital was now back home with his family, Sampras said.
"Tim is doing very good. I spoke to him this morning, I just spoke to him after the match and he's in good spirits," he added.
And over the next couple of days he would be talking to Gullikson again, "just chatting and strategy."
Sampras had broken down in uncontrollable tears at the start of a final set against Courier early Wednesday morning after a dramatic comeback from two sets down when a fan in the crowd had apparently shouted, "Do it for your coach."
"It was a very tough thing to go through and I'm happy I'm still here," Sampras said.
The top seed, wrapped up in his own thoughts and physically exhausted after two marathon five-setters against Swede Magnus Larsson and Courier, was not aware his four-hour quarterfinal classic had become part of tennis folklore.
"I didn't really realize what the impact was on myself and on tennis, I've really been kind of low key...I haven't been reading a lot of the papers and the TV," he said. "You guys probably know better than I do."
Sampras's emotional trauma this week has also touched other players, including Chang, a devout Christian.
"Pete has handled this past couple of weeks extremely well," Chang said.
"He's been very good as far as being able to focus on his tennis and still be a very compassionate person at the same time.
"We've seen a few different sides of Pete Sampras that we definitely have not seen in the past," Chang added."
Sampras said the Courier match "was the toughest battle I've ever played...I was even more sore today than yesterday."
He now has three days rest to recharge his body and his mind before the final.
Then Sunday he plays No. 2 Andre Agassi or fellow American Aaron Krickstein for what he says will be the most important match of his life.
"This is the most special to me because of the circumstances and the fact that I was down and out against Larsson and down and out against Courier and I really fought back."