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Sampras Reflects on Wimbledon, His Parents and His Future

July 11, 2000

Less than 24 hours after capturing what he called the most defining victory in his career, Pete Sampras still seemed blinded by the flashbulbs from Wimbledon's Center Court. Trailing by 4-1 in the second-set tie breaker, already having lost the first set to Patrick Rafter, Sampras thought he was headed for defeat. Instead he was headed for history.

"It's huge for me," he said yesterday in a Manhattan hotel room, trying to digest the meaning of his seventh Wimbledon title and his record 13th singles Grand Slam crown.

"I felt like this is it, this is maybe my destiny. . . . I felt like it was going to happen at 9 o'clock when the light was going out."

After a sleepless night followed by a morning flight from London, a relaxed Sampras spent 45 minutes with a Times reporter, Liz Robbins, and several editors. The 28-year-old player discussed topics ranging from his parents, the match that changed his career and the shin injury that has caused him to re-evaluate playing in the Davis Cup semifinals in Spain next week.

Q. What were the last 24 hours like for you?

A. Well, after the match I did a lot of press and I went to the ball in my warm-ups and jacket, said a few words and thanked the people. My head was still at that point spinning, a lot of emotion, and spent a lot of time with my folks after the match, which was nice.

So last night I got home at about 1. They had the matched replayed on one of the channels there, so I was able to relive it. It was amazing, it really was. It still hasn't hit me quite yet.

Q. So what's the most amazing part of watching your own match? When you were down, 1-4?

A. Well, I felt throughout the match I was outplaying Pat; for the majority, that I had a lot of chances. And he's the type of player who kind of grinds you down. And I played a very, very tight tie breaker [in the first set] -- double-faulted a couple of times. And it's a lot a pressure and a lot of nerves, and I don't care how many times I've been in that situation, you still feel it.

After the changeover when I lost the set, I tried to reflect on the match I played against Becker where I lost the first set 7-6 [the 1995 final that Sampras won in four sets]. On grass, you don't have a lot of time to really sulk.

You can't afford to lose any concentration. Down 4-1 in the tie breaker, I didn't like my chances. I really didn't. Luck just wasn't on my side. He double-faulted, I hit a couple of good shots and before I knew it, I was serving for the tie breaker and it just changed the whole complexity of the match.

There's nothing that I did any differently. He finally felt the nerves in the second-set tie breaker. Once I won the second set, I could relax.

Q. Is it customary for you to watch the match?

A. Usually I get home and I get the NBC coverage and I'll watch that. Last night, they had it on Eurosport, so that was cool. I was there with my trainer, my coach and my fiancée. To relive it was amazing.

Q. At the point where you saw yourself at match point and winning it -- you're watching yourself in this outburst of emotion.

A. It was spontaneous. It was a bit of an emotional roller coaster throughout the day, even in the match. Because I felt like I was going to lose the match at one stage. But at 5-2 in the changeover -- that's when it hit me. I felt like it was going to happen. And it's always an eerie feeling when you're in that position when 45 minutes before then, I was struggling.

It happened so quickly that it all hit me, the emotion of the whole tournament, the fact that my parents were there, the historical impact of breaking the record. It all was inside of me. But I think mostly that my parents were there, and I knew that. I was thinking about them throughout the match and the fact that I was torturing them.

Q. How did you get them to fly over?

A. Before I came on this trip, I mentioned to them if I get to the final I want them to be there. My dad told me, "My bags are packed." Every time I get into a final I call and invite them. And he says: "No, you're doing fine. I don't want to get in the way." He always kind of keeps his distance.

This year I just made it a goal of mine that if I ever got to a final in a slam that I want them there, I want them to be a part of this. They're not going to come with me every week, but Wimbledon's been such a big part of my tennis, and that court is so special to me. And they're obviously the reason that I'm able to play. And you want the people that helped to get you there to be there. It was just an amazing moment after the match.

Q. You didn't know where they were sitting?

A. No, I didn't. Even through the rain delay, I didn't see them at all.

My dad said they wanted two things to happen: he did not want to see or talk to me that day of the final, and he didn't want to sit in the players' box. So those was his only two wishes.

He didn't want to get in the way the Saturday before the match or the Sunday just before the final, said he didn't want me to worry about them getting picked up or getting the tickets. He wanted to keep it simple.

The last slam they saw me in was the '92 U.S. Open loss, which, ironically, changed my career.

Q. How?

A. Because up until that point, I was happy being in the finals, quarters and semis at the slams. I was content just being top 10 in the world. But that match changed my career. It just finally showed me that I do hate to lose. Because I remember in that match with Stefan Edberg, I gave in a little bit at the end and got a little soft. And months after that loss, it would just really ate away at me. I felt that I kind of gave it away. Unfortunately, it's a good effort getting into the finals, but nobody remembers who comes in second. And you learn that the hard way.

Q. Do you think that this match will also change your career?

A. Oh, yeah. Absolutely. Just because of what I was up against -- with my injury and not having a chance to practice and not feeling very confident in the second week of a slam, which is the time I play my best.

And it's huge for me -- Wimbledon, all the slams -- but especially Wimbledon has been the biggest tournament in the world. So I feel that this was it. I felt like this is it, this is maybe my destiny. I believe in destiny -- I really do.

I believe that things just happen. I felt like I was possibly going to do it right at 9 o'clock, when the light was going out. . . .

The scene there was unbelievable. It was getting dark, and those lightbulbs. It was scripted, in a way.

Q. After breaking Roy Emerson's Grand Slam record, have you talked to him?

A. I never really have talked to Roy. I saw him in Australia for a little bit, but I don't know him quite that well. But I'd certainly love to get to know him a little bit better.

Q. Has there been one surprising phone call of congratulations?

A. I just got one from Dave Matthews. I'm a big fan of his music. I've met him a couple of times, so he just called. But I haven't, obviously, been home. Bill Clinton hasn't called yet.

Q. You made the announcement that you would be planning to play Davis Cup. Are you still going to play?

A. . I'm not sure. I need to let my shin heal properly. As much as I'd like to think I could play, I have recommendations from the doctor to take some time off. I was treating it pretty aggressively to go out and play. And looking at the whole summer, you know, I need a couple weeks to let this thing heal. So at this point I'm not sure what I'm going to do about Davis Cup. I'm going home and get some more tests done, get some more treatment.

I need to treat my shins and make sure this is not a prolonged injury that if I keep on playing on it, it's not going to get worse. So I need to get 100 percent healthy and have a good summer and get ready for the Open. I've had too many injuries this past year that have been frustrating.

Q. Could it be age?

A. It could be.

Could be a lot of years of playing. It's just maybe a little more discipline with my stretching and my preparation. You know, the older you get, your body changes, so I need to be more aware of my body a little bit. You know, I don't think I'm old -- I'm getting older but I'm still quite young. I'm only going to be 29 next month.

Q. Were you in pain with your shin during the final?

A. It was sore. The only thing I could think of was, this was my last match. And I knew going into the final this was it. It was a relief to know this was my last match.

Q. Do you have a deadline to tell John McEnroe whether you will play Davis Cup?

A. I need to call him. I haven't talked to him about any of this. I should call him in the next couple days to make sure we communicate well on the point.

Q. Will he understand if you can't play?

A. I would hope he would understand. He should understand. So that's what I'm hoping for but you never know.

Q. How badly did you want to win the French Open to complete a career Grand Slam?

A. I'd love to win it. I feel like I played pretty well there this year and lost a tough match [in the first round to Mark Philippoussis]. It's always a priority. It's the one people want to talk about -- why haven't I won there? -- and it's obviously not an easy slam for me to win. Next year I'll have to get a good schedule, and this year I wasn't able to play on clay and this year I think I will make it a goal to play on clay. I think I can do well there. And possibly win there. You need some good fortune and I know at the French I need a bit more. It's not the reason why "I am going to play the game until I am 35 -- if I haven't won the French, I would play the French every year." But it is my biggest challenge at this point in my career.

Q. Short of the final, the whole question of men's tennis having too much power seems to have been diffused at Wimbledon.

A. Oh, yeah. I mean, you obviously have your big servers -- they lost early on at Wimbledon. But the game in the future is probably going to go a little bit more baseline. Just look at who was in the last weekend: there was Agassi, who plays from the backcourt and [Jan-Michael] Gambill, who plays from the backcourt. So it's not just primarily two guys serving each other off the court. But the other is more fun to play and it's more fun to watch when you have a contrast -- Rafter-Agassi. I think that's the best tennis.

Q. Technically, what is it about your game? Is it the second serve?

A. Yes, the second serve. You're going to win the majority of points on your first serve, but you're only as good as your second serve. Even though I had some double faults, I couldn't have survived without it last night.

Q. You're still using the Wilson Pro Staff -- that racket has got to be 15 years old. Are they still making it?

A. No, they're not making it. But I have enough. I think Wilson has maybe about 100 or so.

Q. And what about the tension in the racket?

A. At Wimbledon, it's 32 kilos [70.5 pounds]. Usually it's almost 33, 34. But I go a little bit looser at Wimbledon -- it's still very tight. . . . I use the thinnest gauge possible. It's called 122. Usually people use 130. But it's the finest gut.

Q. Did you take any physical mementos from Wimbledon -- any of the grass, a program?

A. No, I didn't take anything. Over the years I have never really kept my rackets from whatever slams I might have won. This one, I am going to keep the outfit that I wore and keep the racket that I played with and just put it away in my trophy case in my living room.

Q. Who are your biggest challengers now?

A. The same guys: Andre Agassi is always going to be my rival. Just go down the rankings: to Pat, he's going to be a strong contender for the Open, if he's healthy and he's playing great. You know, you've got the [Magnus] Normans and the [Gustavo] Kuertens, but Andre stands out more than anyone for me.

Q. You'll be getting married later this year [to Bridgette Wilson]. Do you think marriage and eventually having children will affect your tennis career?

A. I don't think so. It might change my life off the court. You know, responsibilities to my wife or my kids. But when I play and practice and train, it will be the same. So I don't see a big change as far as that's concerned.

Q. How has your fiancÀee helped you in your career?

A. She was my rock for these two weeks. She was just there for me to talk you. She kept me together; she really did. Obviously I'm ecstatic about getting married and marrying her, and living our lives together and having a family one day.

I'm marrying the right girl.

Q. Is this 13th one the defining slam for you?

A. Yes, because of what I was up against. It was the most difficult and the most satisfying. Obviously there's pressure when you play all slams, but this one it felt like the pressure was from my shin a little bit and having to take care of that. It wasn't an easy time. I had a few people around me -- Jeff Schwartz [his agent] and my fiancée -- to keep me together because I had my doubts if I was going to be able to get through it.

Q. In 1990, when you won the U.S. Open [at age 19], did you think you'd get to No. 13?

A. No. In '90, I was so young, and my game at that point was not good enough. I just had two unbelievable weeks. And I didn't have the confidence to back it up. I had the post-Grand Slam blues, but I never ever thought that I'd be here today. That '92 Open loss changed my career. The ability was there; it's just a matter of my heart and my mind taking it a step further.

The easiest slam of my career was my first slam. And my most difficult was a day ago.


Pete Sampras On...

Just great athletes who are going to have a huge effect on the sport. I think they are going to dominate and be No. 1 and No. 2 in the world because of the power and athletic ability. They're young and they're just going to get better and better. They both have won a slam now, so the pressure is off.

Having played Jan-Michael Gambill, I think he stands out more than anyone. He's got a good game. It's hard to see how far he will go, if he can break the top 10 and win a slam. After him, it's a bit thin. It might be years before you see a group of me, Andre Agassi, Michael Chang, Jim Courier and Todd Martin.

Over the years, that's been the shot that separated me from a lot of guys. Hearing what other players say, my toss is hard to read. It's the ability under pressure to serve at 115 miles an hour and have it go in the court in a little bit of space. That's all muscle memory right there. I look at the second serve, my movement and how I've improved my return of serve. Those are the three areas that have separated me from others and kept me consistent year in and year out.

I'll be playing some golf every now and then and taking my kids to school, just being a father. I still want to stay involved in tennis, maybe in the L.A. area with kids, trying to grow the sport a little bit.



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