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Posted on: August 04th, 2009

Sampras Plays to a Tough Room

- petepage

July 29, 2009

LOS ANGELES — Pete Sampras was joking, but nobody got it.

Asked to assess his career in light of Roger Federer’s 15th Grand Slam title, Sampras looked thoughtful.

“I didn’t really accomplish much, I guess.”

There was silence. “You don’t feel that you … ?” a reporter started to say.

“No, that was just a joke!” said Sampras, who grinned and turned in mock desperation to a tournament official.

Sampras was 100 minutes away from taking the court earlier this week at the Los Angeles Tennis Open, held on the U.C.L.A. campus, not far from where he grew up in Rancho Palos Verdes.

His opponent, Marat Safin of Russia and Monte Carlo, was the man who beat him for the United States Open title in 2000.

Now Sampras, 37, and Safin, who turns 30 in January, were headlining an opening night card. Officials hoped it would jumpstart attendance at a tournament reportedly suffering from lost sponsors and a potential dip in revenues and interest.

The headliners delivered an entertaining exhibition won by Safin, 6-4, 3-6, 10-6 (tiebreak).

Serving bullets (one was clocked at 120 m.p.h.) and racing to net at virtually every opportunity, Sampras showed flashes of his classic serve-and-volley shotmaking that won him 14 of the world’s premier international tournament titles. He earned $43 million in prize money from 1988 to 2002.

Afterward, in a ceremony honoring his career, Sampras stood on the Straus Stadium court with his parents, his wife, Bridgette, and his two sons, Christian, 6, and Ryan, 3.

Sitting in a corner on the court, Jack Kramer, 87, one of the game’s greatest players and promoters, saluted the Sampras family with a wave.

Interviewed at courtside, Safin delivered a benediction. His questioner said: “You don’t face anybody who plays like this, do you?” referring to Sampras’s serve-and-volley tactics.

“Thank God,” said Safin, who has taken a vow to retire at the end of this year. The crowd roared with laughter.

Showing muscled arms in a sleeveless shirt, Sampras had delivered a series of punishing volleys that often kept Safin at bay. He punched consecutive aces to take a 3-0 lead in the second set and captured the set with an ace.

Often humble in his remarks on court and to reporters, Sampras did say, however, that he felt he was not being boastful in believing that in his prime he could frequently have beaten Federer.

“You have two great players,” he said. “I think I would have had my share of wins, and I think Roger would have had his share of wins.”

Recalling his rivalry with Andre Agassi, Sampras said, “You know, I didn’t beat Andre every time; he beat me — ah, just not in the big matches.”

When his words failed to elicit the desired laughter, Sampras turned to Peter Holtermann, a tournament official.

“There’s no sense of humor here!” he said, smiling. “No sense of humor.”

“You need a warm-up act,” Holtermann said with a grin.

Then the reporters laughed.

Source: NY Times

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