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Posted on: July 21st, 2009

Sampras, Safin Resume Rivalry In LA

- petepage

By Richard Pagliaro
Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The seven-time Wimbledon winner returned to the the place he once called "a tennis cathedral" to watch Roger Federer break the all-time Grand Slam record they once shared with an epic 77-game win over Andy Roddick in the Wimbledon final. But these days Pete Sampras stays busy as a full-time father to his two sons, honing his swing on the golf course and ocassionally pushing players' buttons tennis traditionalist Sampras, the man known for wearing all white and wielding the same Wilson Pro Staff strung with gut, has found technology and uses it to stay in touch with his friends on Tour.

"With this text messaging, it's easy to stay in touch without talking. Roger (Federer) and I have gotten to be pretty good friends over the past couple years," Sampras told the media in a conference call on Tuesday. "I text a little bit with James Blake. I sent Andy (Roddick) a little email after his loss. There's some older guys. Courier I still stay in touch with, Andre (Agassi) every now and again. This whole technology of BlackBerry and text messaging has made it easier to stay in touch with everybody. Alex O'Brien, who lives in L.A., Justin Gimelstob, quite a few guys that I used to compete against that I stay in touch with."

Sampras will renew his rivalry with Marat Safin when the pair stage a US Open rematch at the LA Tennis Open later this month.

The14-time Grand Slam champion, who held the No. 1 ranking for a record 286 weeks, will return to the LA Tennis Center at UCLA for the "Millennium Challenge" as part of the 83rd annual LA Tennis Open. Two-time LA Tennis Open champion Sampras meets Safin on opening night, July 27, in a rematch of the 2000 US Open final against Safin.

"I'm looking forward to it. Safin is a great player," Sampras said. "He's retiring this year. We've had some pretty good battles. He got me pretty good there in the Open. I got him the next year. Hits the ball hard and well. He's a good athlete. I got my hands full here. Hopefully I'll prepare and play well."

The 38-year-old Sampras, who pushed Lleyton Hewitt in a competitive exhibition in Memphis earlier this year, said he enters the exhibition with Safin hoping he can both compete and entertain.

"We want to have some fun, a light-hearted match. At the same time he's competitive, I'm competitive," Sampras said. "He's not going to want to lose to someone that's close to 40. All these matches against the current guys, I want to play well. I don't want to embarrass myself. If I can pull off a set, I'm ecstatic. If I can win the match, that's even better. For me, as I can tell you now, having hit three or four days, I'm not nearly as good as I used to be. I don't move as well. To play one match every four months, it's a little unsettling. I'm not building off anything. I hopefully can find my game kind of through the first set and see where it goes. It's competitive, but we're having fun. When the point starts, I'm going to want to win the point."

Winning the match, of course, may prove to be more problematic. Asked to assess his chances against Safin, Sampras replied: "Not great to actually win the match. He's playing a lot. He's playing every day. I'm so sporadic with my tennis, it's a tough deal. Play every four months, it's not easy to find your confidence, to find your rhythm. It's one of those things where I just have to find it as we go, and that's not always easy, even when I was back in my prime. I want to play well and do some things I used to be able to do, but obviously I'm not quite as sharp as I used to be."

The temperamental titan won the first of his two career Grand Slam titles with that win over Sampras in New York, a 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 victory that saw Safin overpower Sampras, and holds a 4-3 edge over the American in professional matches. Safin won their last meeting, which came in the fourth round of the 2002 Australian Open.

Though their on-court demeanors completely contrasted the stoic Sampras vs. the sometime volatile Safin Sampras said the pair were friends and often practice partners during their days on the ATP Tour.

"Marat and I have always gotten along very well when we were playing," Sampras said. "He's a really nice guy, great player, showed what he could do especially at the US Open the one year, he tuned me up pretty good. He's an expressive guy on the court, shows emotion. Off the court, he's a happy go lucky guy. I was pretty reserved when I was playing, to myself. For whatever reason, he and I seemed to get on really well. We practiced quite a bit together."

Safin will retire from the ATP Tour at the end of this year and Sampras said he is "sad" to see the former World No. 1 call it quits.

"You know, he's a champion. He got to No. 1. It's sad to see him go because I think he brought a lot to the sport," Sampras said. "(I) haven't sort of kept in contact with him. But certainly when I see him, we'll talk about some of our matches. He's always asking me, when (Sampras' former coach) Paul (Annacone) was coaching (Tim) Henman, he would ask Paul, 'How is Pete doing?' He was always just a personable guy, really nice guy, and someone that I've always gotten along really well with."

In 2002, Sampras won his final tournament, the US Open, giving him a record 14 Grand Slam titles. In his career, Sampras was 762-222, including 64 titles in 88 finals. He held the year-end No. 1 ranking for a record six consecutive years (1993-98). In seven appearances at the LA Tennis Open, Sampras was 19-5, with two titles in three finals. He was enshrined at the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2007.

During the Monday evening session, a ceremony will be held to recognize Sampras as the 2009 LA Tennis Open tournament honoree. This award has been given annually since 1985 to a person who has greatly influenced the growth of tennis through their playing career and other contributions to the sport.

While some have questioned whether Sampras has given back his time and energy to the sport he once ruled, he suggested he is willing to work with juniors in L.A. or Carson, California if the USTA is interested in his services. Tom Gullikson, Sampras' former Davis Cup captain and twin brother of his former coach Tim Gullikson, currently coaches for the USTA in Carson.

"I'm all for helping some of these kids. I've talked to the USTA about doing some things. Nothing seems to have come out of that," Sampras said. "But I've done what I could. Maybe as I get a little bit older, I'll do a little bit more."

And while he stays in touch with several top pros via email, Sampras said he has no desire to pursue a full-tme coaching gig unless he could home-school a player.

"Only from home and on my BlackBerry," Sampras said with a laugh when asked about the prospect of coaching in the futurre. "I don't see myself going on the road and traveling. You know, never say never. I'm sure Connors never thought he would. As you turn 50, you never know what will come. I'm willing to be home and help out some young kids in the future, but not traveling."

In addition to this Monday night match against Sampras, Safin will play in the main draw of the LA Tennis Open. It will be the sixth appearance for the Russian in the tournament, having gone 6-5 with two quarterfinals in his previous efforts in LA. A former World No. 1, the 2000 US Open and 2005 Australian Open are among Safin's 15 career titles.

For more information, please visit www.LATennisOpen.com or call (310) 824-1010.

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