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Sampras has no regrets about his early retirement

Legend still dabbles in tennis, including tonight’s exhibition match against Haas at HP Pavilion

February 18, 2008

SAN JOSE — Pete Sampras won his record 14th Grand Slam title at the 2002 U.S. Open, then walked away from the sport he dominated for more than a decade.

Six years later, the man whose record is being pushed by Roger Federer has no regrets. Sampras, 36, doesn’t believe he left too soon, doesn’t believe he had anything else to prove.

“I was done,” said Sampras, who will play Tommy Haas tonight (7 o’clock) in an exhibition at HP Pavilion on Day 1 of the SAP Open. “The last sort of fuel in the tank was that last run at the U.S. Open.”

Sampras raised eyebrows in November when he won the third of a three-match exhibition series against Federer, who needs just three more titles to break Sampras’ Grand Slam record.

But all that did was create a tighter bond between Sampras and the current No. 1 player in the world. It didn’t make Sampras think about a comeback.

“I could still play a little, still play at a pretty high level,” Sampras said. “But coming back is a whole different ballgame, a whole different lifestyle, a lot of work.

“Even in my prime, it was a lot of work staying on top. The day-in, day-out grind of tennis isn’t in me anymore.”

Federer called Sampras his idol after the loss and said, “This guy can play tennis, you know. I’m happy that he got me at least once.”

These days, Sampras uses tennis as a vehicle to stay fit. He also plays a lot of basketball and golf, not to mention chasing around his two young sons.

“There’s no book on retirement at 31,” said Sampras, who is married to actress Bridgette Wilson. “It’s sort of a tricky one. But I think playing tennis again on my terms has been fun.

“It’s not anything I need to do every day. But when I have an exhibition coming up, like I do in San Jose, I start hitting and it gives me a little bit of focus, which is great.”

Exhibitions are obviously far less stressful than the real thing. But, Sampras said, “At the same time, every time I step out on the court, I want to win. I want to be sharp. So it takes some focus.”

The focus in tennis these days has been on Federer’s pursuit of Sampras’ record. The Swiss star won his 12th Grand Slam at last year’s U.S. Open, but lost to Novak Djokovic in the semifinals of last month’s Australian Open.

Federer’s ascent to No. 1 was just starting when Sampras’ career ended. But their paths did cross at Wimbledon in 2001, when Federer ended Sampras’ 31-match winning streak at the All-England Club with a fourth-round victory.

Of course, there’s a debate about which player is better. There are also questions about which one faced tougher competition on tour.

“What I had to deal with that Roger is not is different style of play,” Sampras said. “Everyone plays pretty much the same (now). He’s just better at it. Whereas my generation, I had to deal with not only great baseliners in Andre (Agassi), but I had to deal with serve-and-volleyers.

“I was playing these guys that were multiple Grand Slam winners. There’s only a handful of guys that have won Grand Slams playing today.”

Sampras, however, does not carry a chip on his shoulder. He and Federer have become good friends and stay in touch through text messaging.

“There’s a side of Roger that a lot of people don’t see,” Sampras said. “There’s sort of a kid in him. He likes to have fun, likes to joke around. We’re actually quite similar — dry, sarcastic humor.”

Sampras’ opponent tonight has his own opinion about the Sampras-Federer debate. Haas said Sampras is the better server — perhaps even today — but Federer has the superior all-around game.

“When you’re playing Pete and you’re not playing your best, you’re still going to lose a tight (match), 6-4, 6-4,” Haas said. “But if you’re playing Roger and you’re not playing that well, you’re going to lose pretty much 6-1, 6-1 or maybe even get a bagel.”

Although Federer has shown vulnerability against clay-court specialist Rafael Nadal and rising star Djokovic, he still presents major challenges for top-ranked Americans Andy Roddick and James Blake. Sampras isn’t sure that’s going to change.

He said Roddick has the power to compete with Federer but doesn’t have enough athletic ability. Blake, he added, has the athletic ability but doesn’t have the power.

“It’s a tough matchup for both those guys,” Sampras said.

The two Americans who probably would have consistently pushed Federer — Sampras and Agassi — are well into retirement.

But as Sampras will show tonight, the game is still very much part of his life.

Source: Mercury

Filed under: Archives 2003 to 2011

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