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An Interview with Davis cup Captain, Patrick McEnroe, August 2002 (at the Tennis Masters Series – Cincinnati ATP Tour Event)

Vince Barr: Do you think that there is any similarity between Pete Sampras’ attempt to come back and the one Andre Agassi had to deal with back in 1997?

Patrick McEnroe: “I don’t think there are too many similarities, no. I think, obviously, Andre fell way out, he went down to 141 in the world, and I think it was more a case of him losing interest. I think Pete’s got, I don’t think he’s got as far to come back, I think he’s clearly struggling, his confidence is hurting at the moment. But, a couple of tough wins and a couple of matches that he can pull out will do a lot for him. Certainly, he hasn’t gone as far but it’s still going to be difficult. Obviously, he’s not going to come back and dominate, but he’s still going to have a chance to make a move in a major, I think.”

VB: That’s kind of my next question: can Pete still compete at a major or does his loss to Bastl at Wimbledon signal the end of his ability to win another major?

PM: “No, I don’t think so. We’ve all known for the last few years that for Pete to win a major, other than Wimbledon, was going to be real tough. But in saying that, he’s been in the US Open final the last two years so, that’s not that long ago. Is it getting more difficult? Yes. Is it not possible? I would not say that, ever, about Pete. He’s won too many times. And, as I said, if he can win some matches, get that aura back a little bit and his own belief, then it’s possible. But clearly, it’s going to be difficult.”

VB: Do you think he’s lost anything on his game? Woodbridge thought his serve was more readable; Agassi mentioned that Pete wasn’t moving his feet as well as he did in the past.

PM: “I think he has but I think that some of that stuff is from a lack of confidence. I think that his serve, consistently, does not have the pace that it did. A lot of the players now are using more modern racquets and I think that has had an effect a little bit. Maybe if Pete tries a new racquet, who knows? It might help him. Obviously, it’s difficult to make that change for someone who has been doing what he’s done. He’s been the greatest player of all time, essentially. But I do think that there are a few areas of his game, if they haven’t declined, they haven’t gotten better. And you know, the rest of the players continue to get better.”

VB: Should he change his style from serve and volley to more baseline? It seems like he’s getting passed a lot more than he used to, maybe because his serves are coming back a lot more often.

PM: “Well, no. He should continue to play his – I mean, he was never, in my mind, a pure serve and volleyer except for on grass, obviously, he was. He was always very dangerous from the back of the court. I saw some things in Canada where I thought he was playing the right kind of style: he was attacking, he was hitting the ball hard – he was going for shots. I think that when he plays defensively, he gets in trouble, because that’s not his game, that’s not his mentality.”

VB: Do you think he’s doing more harm than good to his legacy by continuing to play with mediocre results?

PM: “Well, I don’t think so. Pete Sampras is going to go down as one of the greatest of all time, no matter what he does. He could never win another tennis match again; I really don’t think that’s relevant. I think Pete will be the one to make the decision when he wants to stop playing – no one else should make that or should even talk about it. Well, I guess people need to talk about it because that’s what we do, people in the press. But Pete knows enough to know when his time has come. And I still think that there is a belief that he can do it.”

VB: Is Pete going to be play in the next Davis Cup tie in France?

PM: “Well, I hope so. I hope he’s going to want to be part of the team. Obviously, I need to have a sit down with him and talk to him and see how things went this summer and I think he wants to see that, too. I think he wants to play it by ear, a little bit. I think Pete is at the stage now where he is looking more, week to week, as far as how he’s doing, how he’s feeling. But, certainly, he’s been a huge part of what we’ve been trying to do and his presence has been huge. Not just what he does on the court, but just being there for the rest of the guys and being part of the team, has been invaluable. So, I hope he wants to do that. Am I going to say that for sure, he’s going to be part of the team? A lot of that will be his decision to make and we’ll talk about it.”

VB: What strategy do you have to try and increase his confidence on clay? He hasn’t done that well at Roland Garros, except for the semifinal run he made in 1996.

PM: “Well I would tell him, first of all, Davis Cup is a lot different from Roland Garros, where you have to win seven matches. In Davis Cup, you’ve got to win one match. Similar to Corretja, what he did to him in Davis Cup. So, I would get Pete to try to play his game, which is play attacking tennis, and not sit back there and try to play too much from the baseline. He’s going to have to, obviously, do a little bit of that but to just to try play his game and get his confidence going. If he plays well in the next couple of weeks, does have a good run at the US Open then maybe his confidence is back.”

VB: Is Andre going to play in the next tie?

PM: “I’m not planning on him playing but I obviously would love to see him play, I think everybody would, including the guys on the team. I think, hopefully, Andre knows that and if he decides to change his mind about Davis Cup and come back and play, I think the rest of the team would welcome him. And I think that, to me, is the most important thing.”

VB: What does Pete need to do in his game to become a more serious threat to win the US Open?

PM: “Well, I don’t think it’s in his game, I think a lot of it is in his head. Quite honestly, I think a different racquet, maybe changing his equipment a little bit wouldn’t be a bad idea.”

VB: What type of racquet should he use?

PM: “I don’t know, just to a more modern racquet. I think all the players nowadays, I mean, obviously, Wilson has plenty of racquets that he could test and see if there is something that is a little easier for him. Because I think it is very difficult, to play the way he’s playing now. He can do it, and he can do it in certain matches, I just don’t know if he can do it match in and match out. The newer racquets, the players can hit the ball harder with a lot less stress.”

VB: What can Pete do to regain his confidence; obviously, winning more matches would help because tennis is such a mental game.

PM: “There’s really nothing, that is the ultimate question in tennis. I think he’s been working hard. I think he’s put in the time and the training on the practice court. The only way to get it is to go out there, win matches and fight and try to keep pushing forward. There really is no other answer other than to do that. And he’s had enough experience to know that.”

VB: When you were practicing with Pete right before the Canas match, did you see anything that he was doing exceptionally well or poor?

PM: “Not really, I mean, warming up is really no big deal, it’s what do you see in the matches? And I think that Pete is still hitting the ball as cleanly as ever. I really believe that with the players out there now, I think the racquet is a big issue, I really do. And I really think that a lot of the guys now can hit the ball with more spin and harder without really, a lot of effort. And I think Pete can do that but I think that it’s more and more difficult to do that for him consistently. So that to me is really the bigger factor.”

End of Interview

2000 Tennis Conversations

Pat McEnroe
Fred Stolle

2002 Tennis Conversations

Tom Gullikson
Pat McEnroe
Cliff Drysdale

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