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Ericsson Open - SF
Post Match Interview

Pete SAMPRAS defeated Lleyton Hewitt
6-3, 3-6, 6-1

April 1, 2000

ATP: Questions.

Q. In the last set, you win the best point of the tournament. It was very important?

PETE SAMPRAS: It was an important point. It was breakpoint.

Q. In the second game.

PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah. I lost the momentum a little bit there in the second, up a set and a break. I kind of lost my game a little bit. You know, the third set, that was a huge game, it really was a huge momentum switch. Played a great point. It went from there. I kind of got the crowd into it a little bit there. It was a pretty smooth third set. I give him a lot of credit. He's got a good future, a very good future in the game. He's got all the intangibles to be a champion. I mean, he's got the attitude, he's got the game, he's got the heart. It seems like to me he's going to get better and better the older he gets.

Q. He didn't buckle when you ran through him?

PETE SAMPRAS: Lleyton, he fights very hard. That's what makes him so difficult to play. He's very quick and he doesn't give you an inch. Even though I was up a set and a break, I didn't really feel like I had him. Kind of let him back into the match. He just kind of raised his level. Before I knew it, it was in the third set. I just felt in the second, I was sweating a lot. You know, I was having a hard time holding onto my racquet. Once I lost the second, I changed my clothes, got off with a fresh start, fresh clothes. Kind of helped out. I was playing a lot lighter. I wasn't carrying around my wet shorts the whole match.

Q. Have you ever been that animated in a non-Grand Slam match before?

PETE SAMPRAS: Certainly, it's a big match. I mean, Lleyton has had a great year. Certainly I would like to do well here. When it's a big point and a big moment, the way things were going at that stage, it was the third set, beginning of a battle, it was a great point. It was certainly kind of the point of the match, kind of switched the whole match as far as the momentum was concerned. Just went from there. But, it was a hard-fought point. He scraped through a couple tough shots. Eventually came in and picked off a couple good volleys.

Q. Is that the game plan, pound his backhand?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, the game plan against Lleyton, his game is a lot like Michael Chang. He doesn't miss much, he's very quick, he's a good counter-puncher. If you let him play, he's very difficult. It's kind of up to me on really the outcome. If I play solid and serve well, my match is going to go pretty well against him. If I don't, if I play a couple loose games, he's got the game to be very consistent in every match he plays throughout the year. But I finally tightened up my game a little bit in the third. Got my groundies in the court, served well. That was pretty much it.

Q. Was that the particular strategy? I noticed a lot of aces were served down the middle.

PETE SAMPRAS: He likes a target. He likes an angle. The conditions were pretty heavy. It was hard hitting through the court. The balls were pretty heavy. Served him a couple body serves, because he likes it wide. That was a huge strategy that Paul gave me before I walked out there, I was missing my serve going to the body a little bit, I got a couple cheap points that way. He loves a target, he loves something to aim at. He does that very well.

Q. How nice is it for you to go out and pick your wits against them, with a new, young player, a young established game against a young pro trying to make his way in the game?

PETE SAMPRAS: I don't want to say it's a statement. I mean, I think I've done enough in the game to make statements. But I think out of all the young guys coming up, I think he's had the best start. I mean, he's lost three matches now. He's won a bunch of tournaments. But I think he knows in order to get to the Grand Slam stage and the Grand Slam winners, being No. 1,, you know, you need certain weapons. He has those weapons. He's got the heart. That's always going to win these matches. But certainly a power game, someone like Philippoussis, or myself, that's certainly a game that can get hot at the right time and win majors. He's going to be in contention throughout all these tournaments, the rest of this year, the rest of his career.

Q. Do you think there's anybody weaker in the tour now than him?

PETE SAMPRAS: What do you mean "weaker"?

Q. No, quicker.

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, he's up there. He's up there with the Changs of the world. I mean, I played him a couple years ago, I thought he was quick back then. He has even worked on that, even gotten quicker. That's how he's going to win his matches, by grinding guys down, being very consistent. But, you know, Top 3 or 4 quickest guys out there.

Q. How good is his return?

PETE SAMPRAS: He's got a really good return of serve. He's tough to ace. You know, he makes a lot of returns. I think Andre throughout the years has the best return I've ever played against. But he's up there. He's up there with the quickness and the hand-eye coordination. Hit great returns when I was serving big. He's got one of the better returns in the game.

Q. He really gives a presence of not being flustered or intimidated, even as the crowd is behind you. Do you notice that or are you into the match that you don't sense that?

PETE SAMPRAS: As far as him?

Q. Yes. His composure.

PETE SAMPRAS: He's very composed. I mean, even though he hasn't been around that long, he's beaten enough of the top guys, he's been out on center court throughout the world. He knew who he was playing, but I don't think he got intimidated by me or the crowd. I mean, certainly the crowd was pulling for me a little bit in the third, which was nice. But he's, you know, a very composed young guy, got a good head on his shoulders. That i don't think was a big concern for him.

Q. In the second set, it seemed as though your backhand stiffened up a bit, favoring the left side. How is that new medicine?

PETE SAMPRAS: My back is fine.

Q. You look a lot better than the other day.

PETE SAMPRAS: You mean when I wasn't throwing up (laughter)? My back is fine. I just lost my game for ten minutes. You can't afford to do that. Just making me work hard, sweating a lot, losing a lot of liquids. I still felt fine, had a long way to go. It was nice to win it pretty easily.

Q. What happened on the whipped overhead?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, I tried to get in the air, but these legs are getting older. I haven't unfortunately hit my sky shot this week. Maybe on Sunday.

Q. Was the wind any factor when you lost your serve?

PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah, it was a little gusty. When I lost my serve, double-faulted a couple times there. It's always gusty here on this court. I got a reasonably high ball toss, sometimes I can lose my rhythm. That didn't help. You know, just try to concentrate a little bit better in the third and hopefully tighten up your game. But certainly it's always a little bit breezy out there.

Q. Might there be a heavier load in Los Angeles if Andre can't play?

PETE SAMPRAS: Oh, yeah. I mean, it's going to make things an interesting week. Certainly we'd love to have him. Hopefully he can get his health back. You know, with him on the team, I mean, our chances are that much better to win this pretty easily. If he doesn't play, certainly it opens the door to a tough weekend. Who John is going to pick, I don't know. I don't know how serious the injury is. Hopefully he'll be fine.

Q. Any disappointment in not getting the match-up with Andre on Sunday?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, we would all love to have seen it, everyone in this room, including myself, who kind of rise to the occasion to play in any final, but especially Andre. It's a unique match-up, good for the game, good for the game in this country. Not to take anything away from Kuerten. He's had a great tournament and he certainly deserves to be there. The atmosphere will be good. Walking out with Andre on Sunday would have been a lot of electricity out there. You know, you can't pencil in Sampras and Agassi in the finals of this tournaments. There's too many good players. I feel like we both kind of escaped some tough matches to even get to this point. Fortunately, I got through tonight, looking forward to a good final.

Q. Sunday promises to be a crazy atmosphere. A lot of Brazilians here. Do you enjoy that?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, I tasted that a little bit against Lapentti, the Ecuadorians. The Brazilians will be loud. But there are a few Americans here. I'll get them going somehow.

Q. Kuerten brings kind of a baseline clay court mentality. Hot summer day, Sunday, thinking of coming in more, short points, keeping the back safe?

PETE SAMPRAS: The back is fine. But the conditions will be a little bit quicker during the day. I'll try to come in a little bit more, chip-and-charge. It's much different during the day. The ball goes through the air that much quicker. I'm not going to want to get into a long, grueling point with Gustavo. He does that well. I'll play a fast-court match. I don't want to be out there for four hours. I'm going to try to get out there, use my serve, use the whole game.

Q. The breakpoint early in the third set, in the middle of it, can you create a strategy as it's going on or does it happen automatically?

PETE SAMPRAS: When you're playing tennis, playing points, you're not thinking -- the strategy, once you're in the point, it's instinct and reaction. Before the point, you might think of what you might do. I just felt like I was grounding him down on the backhand and eventually I was going to come in, it was just a matter of when. When you're in a point like that, you're dealing with your nerves in such a big point, you can't have a lot of time to think, it all happens so quickly. Hopefully it works out.

Q. It was an intriguing reaction to winning the point. You sometimes don't get that visibly excited when you win Wimbledon. Was it more one point or the fact that everything was flowing, you really felt good about yourself, that was a crucial time even in the year, winning a point and going on to win a match like that?

PETE SAMPRAS: I just felt the way the match was going in the second set, I completely lost my rhythm. The third, it was such a big point because of the momentum just completely turned around to my side, then went straight to my side after that point. It was a great point. People that are there watching, the fact that I show no emotion all, the fact that I showed some, they loved it. I like it. It's something I'll do a little bit more as I get older. I'd love to win here. I mean, the year hasn't been bad. I mean, I've gotten -- I've come up short in a couple tight matches, but I'd love to win here.

Q. Where do you think your game is now?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, this field here, to get to the finals, it's a good effort. Everyone was playing. It's a Grand Slam draw. To come through and get to the finals, have a chance to win it, is a great position to be in. I'm looking forward to the day. I'm confident. I'm playing well. Certainly I'll love to go out 3:00 on Sunday feeling pretty good.

Q. With that kind of field, how much are you surprised to see Kuerten in the final of a hard court tournament?

PETE SAMPRAS: I'm not surprised. He has kind of transformed his game obviously over the past couple years, a clay court player to playing well on hard court, indoor, even on grass he did pretty well. He serves well. He can get a lot of cheap points that way. He moves well. He loves playing in the heat here. He possesses a good all-around court game. I'm not surprised. I'm a little surprised that he won today, but the fact that he's in the finals isn't a huge shock.

Q. Do you think it's a good enough game to win a Slam on hard court?

PETE SAMPRAS: Basically you're talking the US Open, right?

Q. Yes.

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, you never know. I mean, he wouldn't go into the US Open as a favorite. I mean, he'd be more of a dark horse. I don't know how well he's done there over the years. US Open is always a little bit on the quick side. The way the game is today, I mean, there's a lot of great players that can come through in Slams. He certainly has done it once. There's no reason why he can't win The Open.

Q. You mentioned Chang a couple times. There was a match you played against him, '93 quarters at the US Open, the last two and a half sets, Nastase says it was the best hard court tennis he's ever seen. How would you compare your game on a hard court now to then?

PETE SAMPRAS: What do you mean "my game"?

Q. Would you say it's basically the same?

PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah. I mean, the way that I play, every now and again, I can get into a zone. It happened in that match. It happened at Wimbledon last year. But every day is not going to be like that. It's just a matter of being confident. I remember those last two sets, I got into an unbelievable rhythm, zone. You hope every day is like that. Obviously, it can't be like that every day. But I'm playing the same game. I just happened to get hot at the right time there.

Q. Greg said three days ago of the nine matches you played against him, that was the best you did. Lleyton said the same thing just before. Is it your feeling?

PETE SAMPRAS: What do you mean Greg?

Q. Rusedski.

PETE SAMPRAS: Rusedski. The match with Greg, you know, I played quite well. I've only played Lleyton a couple times. You know, I'm playing well. I feel like I kind of escaped through a couple tough matches at the beginning of the tournament. My game is starting to come around. I feel like this is where I want to be. I'm confident. I feel like I've got a good chance to win here, but it won't be easy.

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