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Posted on: July 13th, 2006

Sampras is no longer sweating it

- petepage

By Tim Casey, Sacramento Bee
July 13, 2006

Surrounded by two security guards and a few World TeamTennis officials, Pete Sampras walked into the second floor of Macy's at Sunrise Mall on Wednesday night.

Looking around, he seemed confused.

"I've never done something like this in a furniture store before," he said.

Sampras then sat in an off-white leather chair for a news conference before the Capitals' 20-17 victory over the Newport Beach Breakers, Sampras' new team.

No, it wasn't a typical setting. It also was strange seeing Sampras in such a relaxed atmosphere and playing at a lower level.

Sampras lost 5-2 to Jesuit High School alum Sam Warburg, who idolized Sampras growing up. In doubles, he and Rick Leach lost 5-2 to Warburg and Mark Knowles.

Sampras still had his booming serve, hitting a few above 120 mph. But he didn't move as well or hit his groundstrokes and volleys as consistently and crisply as he did before.

"It's kind of a mystery," Sampras said after his singles match. "I'm a little rusty, just getting my game back and getting rhythm out there.

"I want to play better. But it's not like it used to be, when I couldn't sleep after losing."

Indeed, this is a fairly different Sampras. Despite his subpar performance, Sampras joked with teammates and interacted with fans, even signing autographs after the loss. He appeared jovial, a contrast from his ATP Tour days when he gained a reputation as a serious player who rarely displayed emotion.

He wasn't John McEnroe, cursing and throwing rackets. He wasn't a young Andre Agassi, wearing loud outfits and long hair and declaring image is everything.

Sampras focused on winning, not wooing crowds or getting endorsements. Within tennis circles, he was held in high esteem, particularly compared with McEnroe and other stars in the 1970s and 1980s known for their temper tantrums.

"I didn't like that (behavior)," Capitals coach Wayne Bryan said. "Here comes a guy (Sampras) that shows you can be passionate, dedicated and be a great athlete. And win with class, win with dignity and be a great sport. He left tennis better than when he (came into) it."

And yet, Sampras never attained the popularity accorded to Wayne Gretzky, Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods, contemporaries of Sampras who could also make a legitimate claim as the best their sport has ever seen.

He behaved like a gentleman and won a men's record 14 Grand Slam singles titles, though some naysayers wanted more. The same public that criticized prima donna athletes also chided Sampras as too boring.

He couldn't win. And that reputation still somewhat bothers Sampras.

Sampras said he didn't feel respected until late in his career when he wasn't as dominant.

His highlight came at the 2003 U.S. Open, when Sampras was honored in a ceremony. As players such as Agassi, McEnroe and Boris Becker spoke about Sampras' career, Sampras shed tears.

"As hard as I worked, you kind of want that," Sampras said. "I felt appreciated that night."

The sell-out crowd Wednesday also showered Sampras with affection. It could be his last time here for a while, perhaps ever.

Before agreeing in February to play seven WTT matches, Sampras had only played one competitive match since his career ended at the 2002 U.S. Open. Although he's not playing as he'd like and won't commit beyond this summer, Sampras is enjoying the WTT's laid back nature.

His 3-year-old son, Christian, watched Sampras compete for the first time Monday night. Christian lasted three or four games. Then he played with his construction toys.

"I guess I wasn't that exciting," Sampras said, smirking.

Source: Sacramento Bee

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