Interview with Pete Sampras (Jan 15, 2009)
Interview with Pete Sampras
January 15, 2009
American tennis legend and two-time SAP Open champion Pete Sampras will play James Blake in the Charity Singles Exhibition match of the SAP Open on Monday, Feb. 9 at 7 p.m. Sampras spoke to the media earlier today about his tennis career, the SAP Open, and life after tennis.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, everyone, getting up this morning and joining Pete for today's call. Pete returns to the 2009 SAP Open to play an exhibition match against fellow American James Blake on Monday, February 9, at 7:00 p.m. Pete played in an exhibition at last year's SAP Open, where he defeated Tommy Haas. In his career Pete has played at the SAP five times, capturing the title in 1996 and '97. This will be the second time that Pete and Blake have met. In their first meeting this past December, Pete defeated Blake at a charity event in Baton Rouge which benefitted victims of Hurricanes Ike and Gustav.
Before we start I'd just like to have Bill Rapp say a few comments. Bill?
BILL RAPP: Good morning, Pete. Just wanted to thank you again for being on the call, and we're very excited to welcome you back to the HP Pavilion in San Jose. Two part question for you. Back in '96 I remember well the final where you played for the No. 1 ranking in the world here against Agassi. If you'd talk a little bit about that match, and then also give us your thoughts about playing on opening night against James Blake here at the SAP Open.
PETE SAMPRAS: Well, I remember playing Andre. It was for the No. 1 ranking. I think he won Australia a few weeks earlier, and I just remember I played great. I was 3 and 2 and sort of got in the zone there for a little bit. Walking out on the court, I mean, whatever it seats, it was packed, and it felt great. I've always enjoyed playing in San Jose and looking forward to coming back to play James, who's been a good friend over the past number of years. I've been trying to help him do a little bit better. It's a challenge for me to go play James. You know, I played pretty well against him in Baton Rouge, but he's a great player. He moves great. He does a lot of really, really good things out there. I just remember playing Tommy last year; it was a great crowd, and I'm just looking forward to coming back. I've always enjoyed the court. It's not too fast, not too slow, and to play someone like James who's top 10, top 15, it's a challenge for me, and I'm looking forward to hopefully being competitive and playing well, and the people enjoy it.
Q. Just a couple things. Just curious about the competition in general when you enter one of these type matches where maybe there's a winning isn't the only thing type of attitude. I'm just curious how you actually approach an opponent and how much you fully follow him leading up to it, if at all? Is it mostly how you're doing?
PETE SAMPRAS: You mean someone like James?
Q. Yeah, James Blake.
PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah, I mean, these matches are fun, but at the same time it's important for me to be competitive, and now being six years retired, and James does it every day, I don't want to embarrass myself. I want to make it competitive. If I could pull a set off, that would be great. It's fun for me. It's a challenge. It keeps me sharp. It keeps me sort of motivated in the sport, you know, because I don't do this that often so I'm not quite as consistent. I don't move as well, so it takes that much more work for me to sort of be competitive. I'm looking forward to it. James is a great player. He has shown some great skills over the past number of years and came close one U.S. Open to getting to the semifinals. You know, I'm comfortable with his game. I played him in Baton Rouge about a month ago. It's a fun time, but at the same time we both have a lot of pride. He doesn't want to lose to me, I don't want to lose to him, but if I happen to, I mean, I'm obviously okay with it. Ten years ago you probably couldn't talk to me for a couple days. But it's a good time. I'm looking forward to coming back. It was a great response last year in San Jose from the crowd, so hopefully we'll have the same sort of crowd this year.
Q. Just one more. How closely are you following Federer these days?
PETE SAMPRAS: Well, it's hard not to. He's pretty close to tying my record and breaking it potentially this year. I think he's well on his way to doing that. I think he knows he's got some work ahead of him. You look at Nadal is going to push him, and now Murray is sort of in the mix. He's going to do it; it's just a matter of when. Wimbledon is always going to be a major that he can rely on to potentially win, even when he's past his prime. It's exciting for the sport, at my expense, I guess, but I'm okay with it. I'm just sort of waiting in the wings here just sort of for him to break that record.
Q. What are your emotions waiting in the wings? I mean, Hank Aaron said, "Records are made to be broken." Do you have the same attitude?
PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah, they are made to be broken. Would I love for it to stand forever? Absolutely. But if there's someone deserving of it, a guy like Roger who's obviously a great player but he's a great role model, he's a good friend of mine, and there's nothing I can do about it today. We're playing in different times. But I've accepted that he's going to break it. I mean, when he was about eight or nine and he was winning them with ease, the majors, I knew it was just a matter of time. He was 24 and he had a bunch of majors already, so it was just sort of accepting that the 14 was going to be something he was going to fly by. I think he's going to break it and maybe add a couple more after that.
Q. Where do you see James and Andy's games at right now? Do they have a shot to push for a Grand Slam title? Where do you see them at right now?
PETE SAMPRAS: Well, I see James and Andy I think Andy probably with a little more fire power has the ability to contend for a major, if not win one, because he can just sort of get hot at a Wimbledon or a U.S. Open and serve some guys off the court. But I think we've seen that you need a little bit more than just a huge powerful serve. He needs to hopefully add a little bit to his game, try to come in a little bit more. It's easier said than done. I think they're in good shape. But you look at Nadal and Roger, they just sort of have this extra gear, and they can play great with a lot less energy than James and Andy. It's unfair for those guys to sort of be compared to the generation of the '90s, and people want those guys to be up with Roger and Nadal. Let's face facts; those guys are better players. More consistently they're better players. They can have the one off win here and there. But they're in good shape. They're not quite the upper echelon of the sport, and that's okay. They've got to face facts and accept that Roger and Nadal are the two best players in the world, and Murray and the rest are sort of in the same boat.
Q. Do you think they've accepted it, that they've come to terms with that?
PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah, as much as they'd like to be one and two in the world and contending for majors. And I think they can contend for some majors, but I think they've accepted that consistently they can't quite play at that level for ten months of the year. It's just it's hard to do, and they're just not quite there yet.
Q. What is it about it seems like exhibition tennis, it excites fans more just looking from the outside maybe than exhibition events in other sports. They seem a little bit like a drag, but you get to tennis and people actually really kind of get a little juiced up for those matches.
PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah, there's an element of entertainment. I think the players come out with a different sort of attitude. You know, when I was playing, and you're playing for majors in tournaments, you've got the head down and you're going straight ahead. People appreciate the tennis, but I think the exhibitions is a time where you can have a little fun with the crowd and do some different things, different shots, and people like to see different things in sports. In tennis you sort of see the same thing every day.You know, when James and I play we'll be competitive, but at the same time, we'll be lighthearted and we'll have some fun out there and do some different things that nothing planned, like James hit it there, I'll hit it there. It's more just if there's a moment here and there throughout the match that the crowd might enjoy, you sort of do it. You know, it's a little more entertaining in a different way.
Q. And also, you mentioned Federer, and it seems like maybe a little bit of a foregone conclusion he's going to get the record maybe this year. Do you plan to be there? Have you been contacted? Do you plan to kind of make that trip with him?
PETE SAMPRAS: It's hard to say. It depends where it is. Going over to London to Wimbledon is something I want to go back to at some point, but at the same time it's a long trip, and certainly New York is closer. It's a shorter flight. We'll see what happens. I'm not making any plans. In a perfect world I could be there, but at the same time, hopping on a 12 hour flight to London isn't exactly what I love doing. But out of respect to the record and him, I've given it some thought, and I'll sort of just see what happens.
Q. I'd be curious to know how much tennis you actually play these days. How much work do you do during the week?
PETE SAMPRAS: When I'm not playing any exhibitions that are coming up, I don't hit that often, maybe once a week, just sort of stay somewhat sharp. If I'm playing like James here, then Lleyton, I probably hit three days a week for about an hour, hour and a half, and just sort of hit a few, play some points, move around, sort of loosen up the arm. And then as they get closer, I'll sort of play a few sets here and there. For me it's just being competitive. It's staying healthy; it's not injuring myself out there and playing well. I'm just doing enough to do that.
Q. How many of these do you plan to do this year? Or are you going to do some senior tour things?
PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah, I'm going to do a couple of Jim's. He's got one in Boston. I'm going to do one in Mexico, which will be a nice sort of vacation. You know, there's a South America trip that might or might not happen. So we'll just sort of wait and see. I'm not doing a ton of them but just enough every three or four months. I like to keep somewhat active, and when an opportunity to comes to play in San Jose with James, it's a shoe in for me because it's close, and to play someone as competitive as James is is fun for me, so it's a win win.
Q. On another matter, you mentioned that the attendance was really good last year there. One of the things that we have looked at in the last few years is the attendance at the Grand Slams is just through the roof. One of the things that some of the players have said is they wonder if the importance of the Grand Slams has gotten so great that it diminishes the importance of the tour events. Do you guys focus so much on the Slams that they lose sight of what's happening on the Tour, which is the backbone of tennis?
PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah, I understand, and you could use the same argument in golf where everybody talks about the Slams. The Slams are the Slams, and you can't take that away. But in order to do well at the Slams, you need to treat these tournaments like they're important. You have to go out and beat these guys. You can't just turn it on and off at the Slams. I don't think it's hurt it. I just think the San Joses are going to do well and the Cincinnatis; they're all going to have their communities and their media support it. But when push comes to shove and people look back at the year, it's what did Roger do at the majors and Tiger do at the majors. I mean, that's how you make history. But it's just all the events have to just understand that the majors, that is what drives a lot of the top guys or who drove me for many years. We never wanted to disrespect all these events that were great events that were the backbone of the tour, but you get to a point of your career, what it is about the majors, you sort of focus a little bit more on it.
Q. Are you playing any golf, speaking of Tiger?
PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah, I'm playing a little bit. I play a couple days a week, just to have fun with it, get out of the house, and it's a challenging game. I haven't anywhere near perfected it. It's fun to go out and play a little bit with the boys and have a little fun.
Q. This last season, of course, there was a great Wimbledon final between two great players, goes deep into the dusk, No. 1 versus No. 2, and it's sort of become the big locker room discussion, which is better, the great Federer Nadal Wimbledon final, or of course Mac, the up and coming serve and volleyer, versus Borg going for his fifth. Can you take a minute and reflect on those two matches, and which one do you think was the best?
PETE SAMPRAS: I don't remember much of the John Bjorn. I was pretty young at the time. I just know everyone talks about that tiebreaker, and you have two contrasting personalities in games, and just a great story right there. And then you have two guys playing in their prime at the same time playing at a very high level with technology and great movement and a dramatic end to the day. You know, you ask someone that's older, they might take Borg McEnroe, and you ask someone a little younger, they might take Nadal and Federer. For me to try to put one over the other, I think for pure drama that tiebreaker was pretty incredible. Maybe for a level of tennis, this one last year was you can't get much higher than that. The game has gotten quicker, so obviously it looks more powerful these days. But Borg McEnroe sort of had back then to play great, so it doesn't look quite as powerful but still very dramatic. It's apples and oranges. It's hard to pick one over the other, but they're both right up there.
Q. And you, of course, had so many great matches; Russia Davis Cup certainly comes to mind, a couple of great matches with Andre in the quarters and the finals, and then your own Wimbledon in the dusk triumph immediately jumped to mind. But if you had to pick your, like, say, top three matches, what would those be?
PETE SAMPRAS: I would probably say the Rafter match, just what I went through those couple weeks with my shin and then having my parents there was just sort of a storybook ending to my last U.S. Open where everyone sort of wrote me off. To win my last major against Andre sort of in the '90s and 2002 was great. My Russia time over there was difficult, and I was able to win on clay in a very tough atmosphere, so I think the three that you mentioned were the three that I look at. You look at some of the match with Corretja certainly from a physical standpoint showed some will. I think those three stand out, and all the majors that I've won have been special in each way.
Q. When you have a sore stomach some morning, do you ever flash back to Corretja?
PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah, like I said in my other conference, I don't think much about my career these days. It is about my life with my kids. The Corretja match, I don't think it's my proudest moment because I was someone that wasn't in the best shape and sort of got it's not something you're proud of, but it's something that I was able to get through and show the New York people that I might have a little talent but there's a little heart in there, too.
Q. If I could ask, if you had to choose one between the three you previously mentioned, the Rafter, the last U.S. Open or Davis Cup Russia, which one would you choose?
PETE SAMPRAS: I would probably say probably the last Wimbledon just because of I just got engaged right before then, my parents were there, I broke this great record. Life is never perfect, but at that moment it was as close as I was going to get to perfection, just personally and professionally. It was just like a cumulation of hard work, getting through a tough couple weeks. I think that was probably the best moment personally and professionally.
Q. And finally, just very quickly, you've played in the exhibition series with Roger a year or so ago. You played real tough in the Garden with him. What does that say to you that you could play him that tough when you've been retired for a good stretch and really weren't sharp? What do you think that said?
PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah, that I can still play pretty well. I can play a good match, a good one off match. I don't know if I could go back to back to back, but I can still serve and volley pretty well and be competitive, and I think my game matches up pretty well with Roger. I think someone that comes in and puts a little pressure is not something that he's used to and maybe not that comfortable with. It was fun. The conditions over in Asia were very, very fast, so it really was hard to judge our games. The one at the Garden was a little bit slower, which was a little bit better for both of us. But it was fun. I don't want people to read too much into it. But for me personally it just was nice to be competitive. I don't want to sign up for these things and lose 1 and 1 in 45 minutes. It was important for my sort of I don't know, not my image but just sort of myself to be competitive and not put myself out there and not play well. I just wanted to be competitive, and I was happy with that.
BILL RAPP: Pete, I wanted to thank you for meeting with us, and we look forward to seeing you in San Jose.
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