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Interview with Pete Sampras – LA Tennis Open


July 14, 2009

Pete Sampras

PETE HOLTERMANN: I’d like to welcome everyone. I’m Pete Holtermann, media director for the L.A. Open Presented by Farmers Insurance Group. We’re on the line with Pete Sampras, because he’s going to be our opening night match, playing Marat Safin in a rematch of the 2000 US Open final.

To introduce our honored guest is tournament director Bob Kramer.

BOB KRAMER: Good afternoon. This is a special occasion for all of us, and for me personally. I want to welcome you all to this conference call, which is kicking off the L.A. Tennis Open, Presented by Farmers Insurance Group. We have our 83rd annual event coming up. Exciting stories to tell, nothing more prestigious than having Pete Sampras with us not only this morning but as our tournament honoree. This is a special kickoff to our event, which is also our silver anniversary here at UCLA. Pete has a slight connection with the campus. It’s a very special moment to welcome the player that I think is the greatest player of all time. We can debate that forever.

But Pete has won our event twice. Certainly one of the greatest Southern California champions of all time naturally, someone who is coming back to play a reprise of his 2000 final with Marat Safin.

Pete, welcome aboard. Thanks again for tennis for making the trip to London.

PETE SAMPRAS: No problem. Thanks again for having me. It was great being over at Wimbledon seeing Roger break my record. A little bittersweet, but it was nice to be there, up with all the champions, Laver, Borg, Santana.

But I’m excited to play in L.A. I haven’t played in this area in quite a while. I’ve always enjoyed the court at UCLA. I’ve won there twice, like you said. Playing Marat, who is a friend, who is on his way out, I believe he’s retiring the end of this year, it’s an exciting time, and hopefully I can play well and the fans enjoy it.

PETE HOLTERMANN: We’ll go ahead and open it up to questions.

Q. Are there days that you might think you retired too early?

PETE SAMPRAS: No. No. The last couple years of my career were pretty exhausting, not winning any titles. I think once I was at the bottom of the mountain there, losing Wimbledon, being as low as I could possibly be, losing on Court 2, then coming back and winning the Open, you know, I had nothing left in the tank. I had nothing left emotionally. Physically I could have kept going. Probably would have done okay. But emotionally I was cooked. It was time for me to go.
I gave myself eight months to a year to really see if I would want to play again. Once Wimbledon came and went again the next year, I knew it was time for me to move on. It wasn’t an easy decision, but it was the right decision.

Q. How competitively are you taking the match with Marat? It’s a great way for you to sort of relive the old days when you played that great final. Are you going out there looking to take a scalp or have some fun?

PETE SAMPRAS: I think a little bit of both. We want to have some fun, a lighthearted match. At the same time he’s competitive, I’m competitive. He’s not going to want to lose to someone that’s close to 40. All these matches against the current guys, I want to play well. I don’t want to embarrass myself. If I can pull off a set, I’m ecstatic. If I can win the match, that’s even better.

For me, as I can tell you now, having hit three or four days, I’m not nearly as good as I used to be. I don’t move as well. To play one match every four months, it’s a little unsettling. I’m not building off anything. I hopefully can find my game kind of through the first set and see where it goes from there.
It’s competitive, but we’re having fun. When the point starts, I’m going to want to win the point.

Q. Pete, can you talk a little bit about the relationship you’ve had with Marat over the years. You mentioned that you consider him a friend. I wonder who you may be still in touch with on the tour and what your relationship is with him.

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, Marat and I have always gotten along very well when we were playing. He’s a really nice guy, great player, showed what he could do especially at the US Open the one year, he tuned me up pretty good. He’s an expressive guy on the court, shows emotion. Off the court, he’s a happy-go-lucky guy. I was pretty reserved when I was playing, to myself. For whatever reason, he and I seemed to get on really well. We practiced quite a bit together.
You know, he’s a champion. He got to No. 1. He won a major, I think two majors. It’s sad to see him go because I think he brought a lot to the sport. Haven’t sort of kept in contact with him. But certainly when I see him, we’ll talk about some of our matches. He’s always asking me, when Paul was coaching Henman, he would ask Paul, How is Pete doing? He was always just a personable guy, really nice guy, and someone that I’ve always gotten along really well with.

Q. Who else on the tour now, anybody you stay in touch with?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, you know, with this text messaging, it’s easy to stay in touch without talking. Roger and I have gotten to be pretty good friends over the past couple years. I text a little bit with James Blake. I sent Andy a little email after his loss. There’s some older guys. Courier I still stay in touch with, Andre every now and again. This whole technology of BlackBerry and text messaging has made it easier to stay in touch with everybody. Alex O’Brien, who lives in L.A., Justin Gimelstob, quite a few guys that I used to compete against that I stay in touch with.

Q. I listened to your comments after the Wimbledon final. I don’t know if you were asked this, how much Federer’s record against Nadal affects your opinion? You were widely called the greatest ever by so many different people, had a positive record against your main rival, Andre.

PETE SAMPRAS: Very good question and tough question to answer. I do understand the argument as far as being the best ever. You have to be the man of your generation. He has come up short against Nadal. I can see the point.

It’s hard to answer that. I don’t know how to answer it. You know, it’s not done yet. Roger’s career isn’t done yet. He’s going to play Nadal a number of times over the next number of years, and he has to beat him. He has to beat him in the finals of majors. To be considered the greatest ever, he certainly in my book is. But he has to figure this kid out. He has to beat him. He’s lost to him a number of times. You know, you got to be the man of your generation. He certainly is the man of his generation

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