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No Davis Cup for No. 1 Sampras

December 1998

Pete Sampras does not consider himself a political animal, but after bypassing 1998 Davis Cup duty as part of his successful quest to finish the year at No. 1 for a record-breaking sixth straight season, he has confirmed that his 1999 Davis Cup policy will again be hard-line: he will not play.

"Winning the slams and staying No. 1, that's my priority," Sampras said Thursday night from Los Angeles, "and I feel if I try to play Davis Cup, those other things will be in jeopardy. I'm in a special situation here with these records, and I hope people can understand that, though I know some won't."

Sampras' services for the first round of Davis Cup in Birmingham, England, on April 2-4 had been sought by Tom Gullikson, the U.S. captain. Not only does the United States face a daunting assignment against two top 10 players, Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski, but the U.S. Tennis Association had also already made arrangements to commemorate Davis Cup's centennial by holding the second round at the historic Longwood Cricket Club in Boston. Without Sampras to anchor Round 1, a Round 2 seems unlikely.

"There's a number of things the heads of tennis can do to make Davis Cup more accessible for the top guys," said Sampras, who feels the four-round format is a drain on his Grand Slam preparation. "To have a week off before and after Davis Cup, and not be penalized with your ranking, would be a step in the right irection, but I don't see much of that happening. I know one guy can't change Davis Cup, but unless they change the format, I don't see myself playing."

And Sampras said he would not play the first round merely to help the Americans reach the second. "I can't commit to something unless I'm going to finish what I start; but I have to be honest, the slams and the ranking come first," said Sampras, who gave Gullikson the bad news earlier this week.

Sampras managed to win his 11th Grand Slam event at Wimbledon and finished the year at No. 1, and Lindsay Davenport used her U.S. Open victory to land atop the women's tour, but the rule of thumb for tennis in 1998 was that there wasn't one.

The four Grand Slam events produced four different men's and women's champions. Sampras twice slipped behind Marcelo Rios of Chile, who led the men's tour with seven titles but none in Grand Slam events. Martina Hingis, relentless at 16 but regressing at 17, won only one of the three slams that she had grabbed in 1997. "It's easier to be the hunter than the hunted one," she said.

Things were helter-skelter on tennis' golden oldies front as well. No sooner had Jimmy Connors been inducted into the Hall of Fame than he found himself toppled as the head of the senior class. He was supplanted by John McEnroe, who is poised to follow Connors into the hall in 1999 and also proclaimed himself ready to take on Sampras and the youngsters, too.

"I think these guys should get their facts straight before they pop off," Sampras snapped by way of response to McEnroe's suggestion that the U.S. Davis Cup team might be better off tapping a solid soldier like him instead of begging for the services of a current star like Sampras.

"It's easy for McEnroe to criticize; back when he was doing this, he played just 13, 14 events," said Sampras, who has a 22-event schedule.

"You can't win majors, be No. 1, and be in Davis Cup; I physically can't do it or mentally can't do it," said Sampras, who won only four titles in 1998, his fewest since 1991. "You can't have everything." But by finishing this season at the top of the pecking order, Sampras broke the blockbuster sixth-straight-year record he had shared with Connors. And by winning Wimbledon, Sampras put himself in position to tie Roy Emerson's career record of a dozen Grand Slam titles if he gets off to a perfect start next month at the Australian Open. Sampras also has a chance to surpass Ivan Lendl's career record of 270 weeks at No. 1 if he can hold his spot for 18 more weeks.

"These records out there are the reason I'm going to continue to work hard," he said.


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