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Sampras to play on, but not in Melbourne – [Dec 20, 2002]

Pete Sampras wil return to the court in February.

Pete Sampras’ exceptional career will continue – just not next month and, consequently, not in Australia. Sampras will play on for at least another year, but seems unlikely to return in an active capacity to Melbourne Park.

The grand slam singles record-holder and two-time Australian Open champion said this week he would end the hiatus that followed his surprise September
victory at the United States Open, and plans to resume for a 16th season in San Jose from February 10.

That means, for reasons of inadequate preparation, no Australian visit for only the second time in 11 years, and no commitment beyond the defence of his fifth US championship. Sampras’ personal Holy Grail, the French Open, will feature on his 2003 schedule, as will other tournaments to be determined by his health and motivation.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Sampras said he wanted to avoid his season being treated as a farewell tour. Perhaps he remembers 1996, when Stefan Edberg’s year-long finale was one long procession of send-offs, tributes and presentations, or 2001, when the prelude to Pat Rafter’s indefinite break was dominated by questions about his intentions.

“I’m just going to see how it goes, just kind of ride the wave and see how far it takes me,” said Sampras, whose wife, Bridgette Wilson, last month gave birth to their first child, a son. “The last couple of years were tough. It took a lot out of me, emotionally, to not play well and to have to talk about it all the time.”

The 31-year-old’s last competitive match was against Andre Agassi at Flushing Meadows, sealing what he maintains was the “sweetest” of his 14 grand slam
victories. Before the US Open, Sampras had not won an event of any kind since claiming his record seventh Wimbledon in 2000. “There were many moments when I
seriously talked about stopping,” he said. “Once I won, I felt like I had wiped out two years of criticism in two weeks of tennis.”

He has spent the past few months at home in Beverly Hills pondering his future. Should he stay in the game or should he go? The decision to continue was made with the help of his wife, his father, Sam, and brother, Gus.

“I kept looking for something to tell me, for somebody to give me an answer,” Sampras said. “But there wasn’t one moment, not any one conversation, some quote or even something I heard on TV. Sometime last week, I just decided. The talk of not playing seemed a little scary, and I’ve kept playing enough around here since the (US) Open to know that I still enjoy playing.

“And now that I’ve decided, that I’m announcing it and letting people know, it feels good. I’m relieved. And the goals are the same as they were 10 years ago, to win majors.”

There will be at least one change: a new racquet with a larger head will replace what had become the smallest weapon on the men’s tour, one he had used
since the age of 14.

Sampras’ perspective, and ambitions, altered more recently. “. . . I don’t have what I had when I was No. 1 in the world (1993-1998),” he said. “To do
that, to stay there, it has to be your total life, you have to live and breathe it. But that doesn’t mean I can’t still win the big ones. That’s why I play.”

Australian Open and Commonwealth Bank International officials cannot claim to be too surprised by the confirmation that Sampras will not play here, as the
longer he took to commit, the less probable was his visit.

Tournament director Colin Stubs is yet to announce who will fill the position that had been held open in the eight-man Kooyong field, while the Australian
Open must cover the loss of another drawcard less than four weeks from its January 13 start.

The missing already include Amelie Mauresmo, Martina Hingis, Jelena Dokic,Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Arnaud Clement and Goran Ivanisevic. Among the doubtfuls
are defending champion Thomas Johansson, Tim Henman, Greg Rusedski and Australian No. 2 Wayne Arthurs.

Mauresmo’s apologies were the most recent, the 1999 finalist and current world No. 6 yesterday citing a kneecap injury.

By Linda Pearce

Filed under: Archives 2003 to 2011

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