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Posted on: July 25th, 2006

Sampras scratches his itch; Tennis legend takes up racket again

- petepage

By Lourdes Castillo, Houston Chronicle

July 25, 2006

More than 4,500 fans were at Westside Tennis Club on Monday night to witness the play of one of the game's legends.

Pete Sampras, a member of the Newport Beach Breakers, is taking some time off his retirement for World Team Tennis.

"In the last year, I was getting a little bit restless, and I just basically promised myself that if I had a tennis opportunity this year I would maybe play," Sampras said. "I'm not really looking for the competition; it's more of just having a bit of a focus, a structure in my day."

The Wranglers (3-10) played their last home match of the season against the Breakers (5-8). Sampras teamed with Rick Leach in doubles to defeat Jan-Michael Gambill and Graydon Oliver 5-4. In singles, Gambill defeated Sampras 5-3, but the Breakers edged the Wranglers 20-19 overall.

"I've never played with him on the tour, and so it is such an honor to play with him in Team Tennis," coach Dick Leach said before the match. "He definitely brings the potential to beat anybody, and even if he hasn't played in three or four years, he still has one of the best serves in the game."

Now it's about team
Sampras has 14 Grand Slam singles titles, but WTT is a new experience for him. "It's been fun. It's kind of a different format, something I'm not really used to," Sampras, 34, said. "My body is a little bit nicked up at the current time just playing one set and then sitting around.

"I'm not anywhere near as good as I used to be but I can still show a little bit of what I used to have."

Sampras often is considered by some the greatest tennis player of all time. Although he appreciates the sentiment, he doesn't agree.

"It's flattering, but I don't think of myself as the greatest player," he said. "I don't think there is one greatest player of all time. I just look at each generation and I feel like in the '90s I was the player to beat."

Sampras played in Houston several times during his impressive career, and is always glad to be back.

"Houston is a great tennis town," Sampras said. "I must have played here a dozen times over my years. I've always enjoyed coming here."

With an extensive résumé, including seven Wimbledon, five U.S. Open and two Australian Open titles, Sampras never imagined he would accomplish so much and have a lasting impression on the sport.

When he won his first major at 19, he was unsure of what he wanted from the sport, how far he wanted to go or if he was willing to deal with the pressure and expectations of being No. 1.

"I wasn't like Tiger (Woods) who said he wanted to win 19 more titles than Jack (Nicklaus); I was just trying to win the next tennis match," Sampras said. "I didn't have those big aspirations, but when I got into it and won nine, 10 and 11 (titles) I felt like it was realistic and that I could do it. I wasn't very good at the junior (level) so it was all kind of a surprise to me."

Next year uncertain
Whether fans will get another chance to see Sampras on the WTT courts next year is unknown.

"It's kind of a wait-and-see approach and kind of getting my feet wet a little bit," Sampras said. "I've always been kind of a slow starter so I'm not really helping my team right now."

Source: Houston Chronicle

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