Pete Sampras & His Davis Cup Woes
February 12 - 28, 2000
He was Captain John McEnroe's top recruit for the 2000 U.S. Davis Cup team. Pete Sampras, winner of 12 Grand Slam titles and the greatest tennis player ever, was named singles player with Andre Agassi in the first round tie against host Zimbabwe. The match was to take place 4-6 February, a week after the Australian Open.
However, the day after his heartbreaking semifinal loss to Agassi in the Australian Open, Pete Sampras called a press conference to announce that he sustained an injury early in the first set of the said match. His MRI exam showed a 30% tear in a right hip muscle. He would therefore be unable to join the American Davis Cup team in Zimbabwe. Instead, he would be going home to Beverly Hills for treatment and rehabilitation of his hip. He was looking forward to the next round of DC which would be played in Los Angeles if the U.S. won.
Chris Woodruff was named as last-minute replacement of Pete Sampras for the first round of Davis Cup. He lost his first singles assignment but won the reverse match to give the U.S. their cliffhanger of a victory. The Americans would next host the quarterfinal round against the Czech Republic 7-9 April at the Great Western Forum in L.A., right in Pete's backyard.
By the first week of April, Pete Sampras would have completely recovered from his injury. He expected to be back on tour early March and to be in solid tennis shape after playing in Scottsdale and Indian Wells. He was eager to play in the next round of the Davis Cup.
Everything would have been fine and dandy at this point except that where John McEnroe is involved controversy follows. The enfant terrible of tennis past has always been one to shoot off his mouth. Almost from day one of his captaincy, he has managed to put Pete Sampras on the spot with his snide remarks and insinuations.
Before calling the news conference about his injury, Pete Sampras informed McEnroe of the MRI result and got "not a whole lot of support" from his captain. .McEnroe was quoted as saying that Pete "hadn't really wanted to make the trip, anyway." Sampras felt that McEnroe thought he was faking his injury and that he was in a sense questioning his integrity.
"I have always lived my life with integrity, on and off the court," he said. "I was really hurt by it. I feel like I'm a straightforward, stand-up person. To hear that, it was pretty tough, especially with the next Davis Cup match here in L.A., something that I'm really excited about."
Things turned for the worse when Chris Woodruff won his second match, securing the tie for the Americans. McEnroe said that he "might just keep this team intact." He even groused that while other players like Courier and Martin called or sent messages to the team, Sampras had not been heard from. Now, not only Pete's hip was injured but his feelings as well. To top it all his status with the DC team was in limbo.
"It hurt me," Pete Sampras lamented. He said that his teammates knew that he was rooting for them. "The guys there know I am supporting them," he said. "I couldn't wait to tell Chris what a great job he did under all that pressure."
He also said that he still wanted to play DC since he had rearranged his schedule for the year for this event. "I want to play, I want to play in the next one here in L.A. What we have in this team is unique. You won't see a team like this in the U.S. for a number of years."
However much he wanted to play, Sampras nevertheless expressed emphatically his disappointment with McEnroe's comments. He said that instead of laying the controversy to rest, he added fuel to it.
"John was in a position to put the speculation to bed. But instead, he opened the door to the cynics. I want to play. I just don't know. I guess there could be better communications."
And John McEnroe, for all his reckless and loose cannon style, knew he could not afford to totally alienate his biggest recruit for the U.S. team. Much is expected of him and he needs the best American players to win the title.
When asked about his implication that Pete Sampras lied about his injury, he said: "The reality is that I definitely sensed more of a shock and didn't deal with it as well as I could have, in the sense that it affected me more than I realized it would. … My mistake is that I took it maybe too personally or too hard."
McEnroe also acknowledged that he had to talk things over with Pete Sampras before the latter would rejoin the team. "At the end of the day, the issues that I have with Pete, or Pete has with me, need to be worked out between us and talked about."
That they did. "I contacted him," McEnroe said. "We expressed our views. … Now it's time to move on."
On 28 February, John McEnroe, captain of the U.S. Davis Cup team, announced the singles players for the quarterfinal against the Czech Republic: Andre Agassi currently ranked no. 1 in the world and Pete Sampras the greatest tennis player ever.
All's well that ends well.
Based on: Serve & Volley - Bill Dwyre, LA Times; Pete Sampras Is Hurt, and It's Not Just His Hip; It's Safe to Say Pete Sampras Is a Little Disappointed in John McEnroe's Comments (AP); McEnroe Picks Agassi, Sampras for Davis Cup Squad - Bob Greene (AP)