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Sampras keeps his hand in game – by playing No. 1

February 10, 2008

Pete Sampras said he has no plan for a comeback and doesn’t regret retiring. But six years after he stepped away from competing at tennis’ highest level, he sure does enjoy picking up a racket and playing exhibitions against select competition.

“It’s more fun. Maybe less stressful,” Sampras said recently. “But at the same time, every time I step out on the court, I want to win.”

Aside from playing World Team Tennis events the past two summers and a spell on the senior circuit, Sampras played three exhibitions against Roger Federer in November and will face the No. 1-ranked player in another exhibition at New York’s Madison Square Garden on March 10.

It’s last decade’s top player vs. this decade’s, the grand slam record holder vs. the guy who’s chasing him, a 36-year-old retiree vs. a 26-year-old in his prime – two world heavyweights at the world’s most famous arena.

But first, Sampras will be in San Jose on Feb. 18 for another exhibition as a kickoff to this year’s SAP Open. His scheduled opponent is Marat Safin, who may be replaced because of a toe injury. The tournament, on Feb. 19-24, lists eight of the top nine ranked Americans, but the choice of two-time defending champion Andy Murray not to play represents a huge void.

Sampras, who won the San Jose tourney in 1996 and 1997, also will play two exhibitions against Todd Martin (in Florida and Georgia) leading up to the Federer match.

“It’s a work in progress, retirement,” Sampras said on a conference call promoting the SAP Open. “I will say I have my moments. I had those moments a couple of years back when I was getting a little bit bored and restless. I was playing a lot of golf, not really doing much. After a while of doing that, I just felt a little bit, you know, what’s next? There’s no book on retirement at 31. It’s sort of tricky.

“But playing tennis again, on my terms, has been fun. It’s kept me in shape. It gives me a bit of a focus, which is great.”

Sampras is a stay-at-home dad when not out playing tennis. He and his wife, actress Bridgette Wilson, have two young sons. They recently put their 10,000-square-foot Beverly Hills mansion on the market, asking for a mere $25 million. He said he lifts weights, does treadmill work and plays 3-on-3 basketball twice a week.

Not quite the lifestyle of a No. 1 player on the ATP tour, but Sampras seems fine with it. Winning a record 14 grand slam titles – Federer has 12 – was enough. So was finishing first in the world six straight years. Anyway, even in retirement, he gets to play the best in the world, including Federer.

In their three-match Asian swing in November, Federer beat Sampras in Seoul (6-4, 6-3) and Kuala Lumpur (7-6, 7-6), but Sampras rebounded with an eye-opening win in Macau (7-6, 6-4).

“My goal was to make it competitive,” said Sampras, adding he and Federer have become friends

Filed under: Archives 2003 to 2011

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