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Posted on: July 25th, 2009

Sampras still has the star power

- petepage

Saturday, July 25, 2009

It’s hard to imagine anyone turning down an offer from Pete Sampras to mentor younger players.

But apparently the United States Tennis Association doesn’t need the services of one of the sport’s greatest champions.

“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.”

Sampras should receive a warm welcome at this year’s 83rd annual L.A. Tennis Open, which begins Monday at the Los Angeles Tennis Center on UCLA’s campus in Westwood.

The Thousand Oaks resident is the tournament honoree, and will play an exhibition match on opening night against Marat Safin.

Sampras’ presence is part of a legends field that rivals the main draw for star power. Jim Courier, Stefan Edberg and Michael Chang are scheduled to play each other in the ensuing days.

The last match of Sampras’ 15-year career was a victory over rival Andre Agassi to capture the U.S. Open title in 2002.

Sampras says he gave himself eight to 10 months after the win to see if wanted to play again. But once Wimbledon came and went, he knew retiring was the right decision.

“The last couple of years of my career were pretty exhausting, not winning any titles,” said Sampras, who turns 39 next month. “I think once I was at the bottom of the mountain there, losing Wimbledon, being as low as I could possibly go, losing on Court 2 then coming back and winning the Open, I had nothing left in the tank. I had nothing left emotionally. Physically, I could have kept going and probably would have done OK. But emotionally I was cooked.”

Sampras walked away from the game as the all-time leader in Grand Slam singles titles with 14. But his record was surpassed last month by Roger Federer, who won his 15th Grand Slam title at Wimbledon.

Sampras attended Federer’s five-set victory over American Andy Roddick after flying in from Los Angeles that morning.

“It was an historic moment. I was happy to be there,” Sampras said. “It was quite a trip, but it was well worth it, sitting there watching these two guys battle in an epic match.”

Although Rafael Nadal has proven a vexing foil for Federer, Sampras already considers the 27-year-old Swiss the greatest ever.

“He certainly in my book is,” Sampras said.

Sampras has formed a friendship with Federer, and believes his serve-and-volley attack would have presented a challenge to Federer.

“Do I think I could have beaten Roger in my prime? Sure,” Sampras said. “I don’t think anyone could beat me in my prime on grass.”

Although it’s only an exhibition, Sampras expects a competitive match against Safin. It will be a rematch of their 2000 U.S. Open final when Safin, who is retiring at year’s end, upset Sampras in straight sets.

“He’s not going to want to lose to someone that’s close to 40,” Sampras said. “All these matches against current guys, I want to play well. I don’t want to embarrass myself. If I can pull out a set, I’m ecstatic. If I can win the match, that’s even better.”

Sampras spends much of his free time working on his golf game and hanging around with his sons Christian and Ryan.

While they enjoy the sport, the two have yet to fully embrace their father’s tennis advice.

“It’s more getting them to listen more than coaching,” Sampras said. “They play every now and again. I’m just trying to keep them in line and behaving, nothing more than that. But if they’re into it as they get older, I’m cool with that.”

As for the criticism about not giving much back to tennis or to the Southern California area since he retired, Sampras says, “You have to understand when you retire from your sport, you need a few years to sort of decompress and get away from it. I have the last couple years played and been around. I’ve done what I could do when I was playing. I’ve done what I could do since I retired.”

And there is always a chance the USTA might finally take him up on that offer.

Source: Ventura County Star

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