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November 20, 2000

There were many pundits who felt that Pete Sampras’s comprehensive defeat by Marat Safin in the US Open Final was very much due to the fact that Sampras did not have enough time to recover from his Semi-Final match the previous day. The Slam King, holder of a record 13 GS titles to date, turns 30 next year and has been on the gruelling tennis circuit for nearly a dozen years. It’s tough for any player to play major matches two days running and it certainly doesn’t get any easier as you get older. So Sampras has decided that it’s time to take stock and see how he can improve his fitness regime.

To this end, he has had a chat with an LA neighbour of his: hockey great Wayne Gretzky. Sampras explained to journalists:

“We had a talk about how the body changes after 30 and how it takes longer to recover, and he said that’s when he started training twice as hard. Ever since I heard that I’ve wanted to get in great shape. So that’s what I’ve been doing, just training harder than I’ve ever trained, as far as conditioning.”

Sampras didn’t pick up a racket for five weeks after the US Open. But he had a perfect excuse not to – marriage to actress Bridgette Wilson and their honeymoon in Mexico. But now, it’s back to work with renewed vigour. For the past month he has been working with trainer Brett Stephens, who has him running further and lifting heavier weights than before.

“My stroke and technique have never been a problem”, Sampras said. “It’s being able to recover from matches and come out fresh that’s going to be a challenge as I get older, to go the distance against any player or in any condition.”

Another change to the Sampras schedule is that he plans to limit the number of tournaments he will play each year. This indicates a major change of priorities. Clearly, finishing the year as the No. 1 player – as he did for a record six straight years from 1993-1998 – is no longer so important to him. He explained:

“If I wanted to be No. 1 this year, I could have been. I could have been last year if I didn’t hurt my back [thereby having to miss the US Open]. The ranking is not important to me. The mark of a career is what you did at the majors.”

At the last tournament of the year, the Tennis Masters Cup in Lisbon, Portugal, Sampras hopes to prove that his US Open defeat was just a blip on his superlative record and that, with careful training, there is still much more to come from him.

Source: Todd Holcomb (Atlanta Journal)


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