Sampras on roll and having fun
August 9, 2000
MASON - See Pete ride water slides at The Beach. See Pete take batting practice with the Reds. See him blow out birthday candles, eat at Waffle House, go to Riverbend.
Pete Sampras is arguably the top player in tennis history, but when he's in Cincinnati, he isn't afraid to take in the town. He has made a point of making himself at home here.
The fact he usually sticks around in the Tennis Masters Series Cincinnati draw hardly hurts.
"You always look forward to coming back to a place you play well," he said. Including his 6-4, 6-2 beating Tuesday of Mariano Zabaleta, Sampras is 35-8 (.814) here, including three championships. This week, he could surpass Michael Chang's total of 38 victories to become the tournament's winningest active player. Sampras' winning percentage is second only to Mats Wilander (36-7, .837) in the event's history.
Sampras is 27-4 (.871) here since 1991. There is only one place he has had as much success here during the same span: Wimbledon.
Sampras has been good to this tournament, and it has been good to him. His birthday annually falls during the event - he turns 29 Saturday - so he often celebrates here. Sampras even took time Monday to visit Cinergy Field, meeting some Reds and taking batting practice. "In Toronto (last week), I heard that was a possibility," he said. "To meet Ken Griffey Jr., who is one of the all-time greats, and to see him hit a few out and be able to partake in some batting practice, it was great." Sampras never played baseball, so he said he was pleased to hit a couple of balls well. "Close to the warning track," he said. "On a roll."
Fact is, Sampras looks more relaxed now than ever. The obvious thinking is relief after setting a record with his 13th Grand Slam title last month at Wimbledon.
"Being with 11 or 12 Slams, people talked about the pressure of breaking the record," he said. "I didn't look at it as pressure. Obviously I wanted to do it. Now that I did break it and I do have the unbelievable record put away, sure, it feels great. But now that I'm where I am, I'll try to add on to that."
Sampras elected not to play in the Olympics next month because it's just 10 days after the U.S. Open concludes. As far as playing for his country, he said, Davis Cup represents his commitment.
Right now, his goal is to recapture top form on hard courts. Sampras took nearly a month off after Wimbledon before playing in the Tennis Masters Series Canada last week; he blew three match points in an eventual quarterfinal loss to Marat Safin.
"This is a Grand Slam type of atmosphere," Sampras said. "When you can win here in Cincinnati, you know you're playing great going into the U.S. Open."