Sampras Will Play A Limited Schedule
By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 5, 2006; Page E05
After he retired as the greatest player of his generation and arguably of all time, Pete Sampras
wanted to get as far away from tennis as possible. And with a record $43 million in earnings from a career that spanned three decades, Sampras had the means to devote himself to whatever caught his fancy: golf, parenting, poker or plain old sloth.
Over the last three years, Sampras has pared his golf handicap to 5 and treasured the time spent with his two sons. He still enjoys the occasional jaunt to Las Vegas with his pals. But sloth, he learned, isn't what it's cracked up to be. So at 34, Sampras found himself pulling out the rackets he'd put away and looking for an opportunity to ease back into the sport that had consumed his life for so long -- not to reclaim any former glory, but simply to remember what it was like to be fit, reasonably focused and able to strike a ball and know , unlike golf, exactly where it was going to go.
Tomorrow, Sampras will play his first competitive match since winning the 2002 U.S. Open, facing off against fellow American Robby Ginepri in a clay-court exhibition in Houston. Later this summer, Sampras is scheduled to play about six matches for the Newport Beach (Calif.) Breakers of the World TeamTennis league.
In a conference call Monday, Sampras stressed his return to the game was limited and motivated entirely by a desire to get in shape again and regain a sense of purpose.
"Me playing some exhibitions is in no way an indication that I'm coming out of retirement," said Sampras, seeking to snuff out any speculation about a full-blown comeback before it began.
Tomorrow's exhibition won't be televised but can be viewed live on the Internet. The U.S. Tennis Association is producing the webcast (it starts at 8:15 p.m. Eastern time at http://www.usta.com
) in hopes it will ramp up traffic on its redesigned Web site, much like a title fight does for cable TV.
Sampras's goal is more modest.
"Hope I won't embarrass myself out there," he said with a chuckle.
Sampras sounded relaxed and spoke with a candor and ease that is rare among active players as he fielded questions on a range of topics, including Roger Federer's place in history, Andre Agassi's inevitable decision about retirement and the demise (lamentable in his eyes) of serve-and-volley tennis.
He didn't hesitate to hail Federer as the greatest player the sport has seen in years but stopped short of anointing him as the greatest of all time. Making comparisons across generations, he said, simply wasn't possible -- whether that comparison be of Rod Laver to himself, himself to Federer, or Laver to Federer.
"No question Federer has the best game we've seen in a long time, but I felt like I did okay myself," Sampras said.
Sampras won 14 Grand Slam titles in his career and finished the rankings at No. 1 for six years -- records that will likely never be broken. At 24, Federer is halfway to Sampras's total, winning his seventh Grand Slam event at the Australian Open earlier this year.
Sampras confessed to imagining himself across the net against Federer and implied that, at his peak, he thought he'd fare well, given his powerful serve and serve-and-volley tactics. The problem today, Sampras suggested, is that none of Federer's opponents has a big enough weapon to hurt him. Andy Roddick has the big serve but hugs the baseline rather than pressure the Swiss.
"I think I would stick to my game and hopefully be good enough to beat him," said Sampras, who lost to Federer at Wimbledon in 2001.
Sampras retired in storybook fashion, bowing out after defeating his arch rival, Agassi, in the 2002 U.S. Open final.
He said he feels both admiration and empathy as he watches Agassi press on despite a chronic sciatic nerve injury.
"I think the next four or five months are going to be a telling tale on what his future is," Sampras said. "If he can't compete, if he can't move the way he wants to, I do see him hanging it up. But I understand that he wants to keep going, and I think that's great."