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Cool world for Sampras after Wimbledon win

August 1, 2000

MASON, Ohio - Sometimes, even Pete Sampras admits it's pretty cool to be Pete Sampras. But even in his world, things have been above average lately. Just a few weeks ago, he broke what was thought to be one of the most unreachable milestones in sports, winning his record seventh Wimbledon title for his 13th Grand Slam singles title. Roy Emerson had held the record at 12. The week before Wimbledon, he announced his engagement to actress Bridgette Wilson. And the Wimbledon celebration culminated with a touching embrace in the stands with his parents, who have only seen him play a handful of times on the pro tour. After his Wimbledon victory, Sampras did a whirlwind media tour of New York, including a Wheaties box photo.

What else is there?

''That's a question I ask myself,'' said Sampras, in a telephone interview from Toronto, where he is competing in a Tennis Masters Series event there before coming to play the Tennis Masters Series Cincinnati next week at the ATP Tennis Center in Mason. 'I think that's about as good as it's ever going to get.''

And America is noticing, that's for sure. Sampras said everyone he's laid eyes on since his return from England has recognized him.

''I'm not used to that,'' he said. ''But I don't feel any different. I don't think I need any FBI people watching me or anything.'' Still, it's good to be the best player in tennis.

Take, for instance, how he met his future wife. ''I was watching a movie, 'Love Stinks,' with this friend of mine,'' Sampras recalled, ''and I saw (Wilson) and half-kiddingly said, 'I'd like to meet her.''' His friend arranged a meeting. ''Just called up her people and got it set up,''he said.

When he arrives in Cincinnati this week, he also may use his celebrity status to go to Cinergy Field to participate in batting practice with Ken Griffey Jr. and Barry Larkin.

''I don't know if I'll actually take any swings though,'' Sampras said. ''I don't need to be breaking my wrist or anything. I know my place on the baseball field.''

No, he'll need his valuable wrist for more tennis, because although he says he doesn't really know what his next goal is, the tennis tour keeps moving on every week.

''I guess I'm looking at still playing quite a bit and having a good schedule to do well at the majors,'' Sampras said. ''But right now I'm looking at the U.S. Open, Toronto and Cincinnati. I'd like to finish the year strong and then have a break.''

Sampras said even though he missed a good bit of the first part of the year with injuries, a strong finish could enable him to be the Tennis Masters Series points race champion. ''It's a possibility,'' he said. ''I'm not ruling it out. If I'm right there, I'm going to push hard and try to get it.''

Though he'll celebrate his 29th birthday in a week, Sampras doesn't even entertain the thought of making life easier for the rest of the Tour and retiring early. He can still dream of winning the French Open, the only Grand Slam that has eluded him. But he won't chase it with the single-mindedness that Ivan Lendl went after his nemesis - the grass courts of Wimbledon.

'I'll do pretty much the same thing I have every year,'' said Sampras, who is seeded No. 2 in the Tennis Masters Cincinnati. ''I might add a clay-court tournament or two beforehand. It's a challenge for me, trying to win there.''

Not owning a trophy from the French doesn't diminish Sampras' myriad of accomplishments, all won in a much more competitive era than that of Don Budge, Lew Hoad or Rod Laver. But you'll never hear him say that.

''I don't really need to hear it to feed my ego,'' Sampras said. ''I think of myself as among the greatest players of all time. Everybody has a player who they think is the best.'' For the moment, most people think of that player as Pete Sampras.


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