Q&A / PETE SAMPRAS
Sampras misses 'rush of standing on Centre Court'
By STEVE HUMMER
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 12/09/06
In 2002, Pete Sampras, one of tennis' greatest champions, slipped quietly into retirement. He and his wife, actress Bridgette Wilson-Sampras, concentrated on raising two sons in California, out of the glare of celebrity.
Now 35, he is returning part time to the court. Sampras just finished one short season of World Team Tennis and has embarked on a series of exhibitions.
He is scheduled to play Kennesaw's Robby Ginepri tonight at the Kennesaw State University Convocation Center in a best-of-three-set exhibition. The FedEx Tennis Shootout also features local players competing in a tiebreak shootout format.
Sampras says he has dropped the 10 pounds he gained in retirement, and that his serve has remained in the 130-mph range. His modern-era records — 14 Grand Slam titles, seven Wimbledon championships, a six-year span of being ranked No. 1 in the world — are all being challenged by Roger Federer.
Sampras talked briefly with the AJC's Steve Hummer about his life and his legacy:
: What is the best and the worst part of retiring at 31?
: Throughout my life, I always had the job and sport in the back of my mind. When you'd go out and have a few beers or go out for a nice dinner, there was always the thought of how it would affect my tennis. [After retiring] I could have some fun and not worry about people trying to knock me out of No. 1.
I do miss the work and the structure and the focus. I miss the high of playing Wimbledon and the other majors. I miss the rush of standing on Centre Court of Wimbledon.
: Now that you've begun hitting a tennis ball again, how active do you plan to be?
: I'm looking to get myself busy again. I'm looking to get a little more structure and focus in my life. I love being with my kids, but a man has to go to work.
I'm playing a little bit now, but nothing like it used to be. I hit some balls three or four times a week. I get to the gym almost every day. We'll just see how it goes next year and take it from there.
: Then comes the question: Ever think of making a full-blown comeback?
: The only time I really think about it – and it's not going to happen, believe me – is around Wimbledon. Especially when I see everybody staying back on the grass. That was something I loved to see.
: When you see a guy like Jimmy Connors succeeding as a coach [with Andy Roddick], do you have any interest in that?
: It has crossed my mind, and people do ask about that. To be a coach takes quite a bit of traveling, and I don't know if I'd like that part. Realistically, I don't see that happening. But I don't know, if someone asks me to do it. ... I do know what to do out there.
: Do you get asked more about Roger Federer than yourself anymore?
: Yeah. How do you think he'll do? How good is he? It will be a comparison for the next number of years.
I really think Roger is going to go on and break most of my records. That's OK. I've reached out and offered him congratulations. I've told him how much I admire and respect what he's been doing.
: What are your thoughts on the general state of American tennis?
: It's good. There used to be myself, Andre [Agassi], Jim [Courier] and Michael [Chang]. That was a pretty dominating era. It's unfair to compare us to Andy [Roddick], James [Blake] and Robby [Ginepri].
Andy has been making some strides with Connors as his coach. James has had a real strong year. It's just that Federer and [Rafael] Nadal are in a class above the rest.
: Do you allow yourself in your mind to imagine what it would be like to play [Federer] in both of your primes?
: I think it would be an interesting matchup. Roger is more of a baseliner; he doesn't like to come in [to the net] as much. I'm all about pace. I think we both would have our fair share of wins. Neither would dominate the other.
: Do you watch a lot of tennis anymore?
: Not a lot. Just the majors.
If something is on television, I may watch it here or there. To watch a match, you might have to sit there for three hours, and that's a long time.
FEDEX TENNIS SHOOTOUT
• When: 7 p.m. Saturday
• Where: Kennesaw State University Convocation Center
• Tickets: $26.50, $45.50, $75.50 (www.etix.com or 1-888-202-3849)