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Sampras Confident Ahead of Open Despite Loss

January 10, 2001

Pete Sampras insisted on Wednesday there was no reason to doubt his chances at next week's Australian Open despite suffering a straight sets loss to Spain's Juan Carlos Ferrero at the Kooyong Classic.Sampras, the world number three, appeared rusty as he struggled to deal with the speed of the courts, strong winds and temperatures of around 35 degress Celsius (95 Fahrenheit).

The American, who has won a record 13 grand slam titles, lost 2-6 4-6 to world number 12 Ferrero.

"I have had a lot of time off in recent months, and I found it difficult to adjust to the conditions," said Sampras.

"I expected to play a bit better than I did, but Juan Carlos handled the conditions better than I did.

"But there is no problem. It always takes me a couple of matches to find my touch again after a break, and I will feel in better shape before the Open starts.

"The courts there are a little slower than in Kooyong, so that will suit me more. I am building my year around the four grand slams and I intend to do well at the Australian Open."

Against Ferrero, Sampras called for the trainer at the end of the first set and was given two painkillers, but said there was no problem with his fitness or health.

The Australian Open begins in Melbourne on January 15.


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Sampras Still in Hunt

January 10, 2001

Still hungry after all these years, grand slam record-holder Pete Sampras yesterday recommitted himself to the hunt for major championships for another "three to five years".

"I'm trying to add to what I have," a mellow Sampras told the Colonial Classic media conference in Melbourne, confiding that he was spending a lot of time "indoors" following his recent wedding to American actor Bridgette Wilson.

"I want to be at the top of the game, winning majors, and to enjoy the next three to five years, or however long I play.

"I'm still hungry, and still motivated. I felt the pressure last year coming into the Australian Open (chasing Roy Emerson's record of 12 grand slams), but now I feel the pressure's off me."

Sampras, ranked No.3 in the world, finally passed Emerson's record when he won his seventh Wimbledon title last July.

The tour's other "senior pro", 30-year-old Andre Agassi, whose Australian Open victory last January took him to six grand slam titles, also pledged himself to the pursuit offurther major championships.

Agassi, the world No.6, declared himself reinvigorated after a 2000 season marred by a mid-year car accident in Las Vegas, and the cancer suffered by close family members.

"I want to feel when I step up my game I can beat the top guys," Agassi said.

"That's where my enjoyment falls. I want to do it so long as I can make the fans think I can win the match."

Agassi returned to something like his best form at the end-of-year Tennis Masters Cup in Lisbon, where he lost the final to Brazilian Gustavo Kuerten, who ended the year No. 1 in the Champions Race.

By winning the French Open in 1999, Agassi became only the fifth man in tennis to win all four grand slams, along with Don Budge, Rod Laver, Fred Perry, and Emerson.

Sampras had a lengthy break last northern autumn before playing in the Masters Cup in Lisbon, and he said he would now play a restricted tournament schedule based around the four grand slams.

"It's a peaking process," he said.

"You want to peak four times a year."

He won his first grand slam, the US Open in 1990 as a 19-year-old, beating the then 20-year-old Agassi in straight sets in the final.

The round-robin Colonial Classic, featuring Agassi, Sampras, Pat Rafter, Russians Marat Safin and Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Spanish Davis Cup hero Juan Carlos Ferrero, German Nicolas Kiefer, and Frenchman Nicolas Escude, begins at Kooyong at 11am.


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Sampras' Call to Arms

January 10, 2001

The United States needed a new men's tennis hero to avoid a dramatic slump in the sport there, according to six-time Wimbledon winner Pete Sampras.

Sampras said the sport was surviving against rugged competition from other sports only because the public was able to identify with him and Andre Agassi.

But both are in the twilight of their stellar careers and no young American male players have appeared to save the men's game.

After losing his opening match in the Colonial Classic at Kooyong to emerging young star Juan Carlos Ferrero today, Sampras was blunt about the downward spiral tennis could soon see in the world's biggest market.

"The States is a tough place considering you have a lot of sports that are popular - basketball, football," Sampras said.

"It's not maybe coming across on TV with ratings, but if you look at the stadiums that are being built, tennis is still doing well - it's just across the board it's struggling just a touch," he said.

"I think when I'm done and when Andre is done, I think it could struggle even more because there aren't a group of young Americans, there are some good ones, but knowing the American media, they want grand slam winners and they want guys who are No.1 or 2 in the world."

Nevertheless Sampras feels the ITF is on the right track with its new-style promotion of the sport and he enjoyed the race for No.1 in 2000 between Gustavo Kuerten and Russian Marat Safin.

"I think it was a pretty exciting end with the race between Kuerten and Safin and Kuerten got it and he had to beat me and Agassi to be No.1 ... I think it worked out pretty well," Sampras said.

But he urged the ITF to market the current crop of young Europeans and South Americans heavily in the US to educate the American public.

"I think it's a good start but it's going to take some time," he said. "People are used to seeing myself and Andre and some of the older guys. Some new faces - I think people need to know them a little better."


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2001 Colonial Classic
Post-Match Interview

Pete Sampras loses to Juan Carlos Ferrero
2-6, 4-6

January 10, 2001

Q: Did the conditions bother you today?

A: It's always an adjustment when you come down here with the heat and the conditions are a little bit quicker than normal so it showed a little bit today; the ball was flying on me a little bit, I hit a couple of volleys that I thought were pretty good and they just kind of sailed a little bit more than I would have liked. I hit the ball okay, you just combine the wind and everything, it's tough conditions and he handled them a little bit better than I did today. I just didn't have my rhythm out there and it just takes time getting used to the conditions and making a few adjustments here and there with my shots and I hope I will get better as the week goes on.

Q: You mentioned yesterday how the courts at Melbourne Park were fast, are they about the same here?

A: Maybe a touch quicker. They're both pretty quick and I think it will get quicker as the more play gets on and so it goes, there is no question, and with these hot conditions it's going to play even faster.

Q: You called for the trainer after the first set.

A: Yeah, I needed a couple of (indistinct) but I'm fine. No worries.

Q: Not having played here two years ago you played last year, but how do you feel compared to other years starting the year arriving here?

A: Well, this year the main reason why I didn't play a lot in the Fall, pretty much Lisbon, was I wanted to play in Australia and at this point in my tennis it is hard to to both; it's hard to play a full schedule until November, have a little time off and get ready for this one. My goals are the majors and obviously this is one of them so I'm going to give myself the best chance to do well here and I felt the European tournaments, I have been number one for quite a while so that wasn't a good enough reason for me to play those tournaments, it was to give myself to good chance to do well here because it's not an easy slam to start out with because getting through the holidays and you come down here in a Grand Slam event with the heat you have to be in shape.

Q: Might it take you a bit longer than usual because you didn't have tenacity in the Fall?

A: Well, for me it just takes a couple of matches, really does. When I played against Hewitt in the first match in Lisbon I was pretty rusty and didn't play well but sometimes it takes me a match or two to get my form and that's why this week is a perfect preparation to go out and play three good matches against some of the top players. I need to play, I need to play and stay sharp, and there is no substitute for playing versus practicing, it's a completely different situation.

Q: Did you not expect much from today then?

A: I was expecting to play a touch better and I feel like I just needed to be a little bit sharper but I knew I've played Juan and he has got big groundies and on these courts the groundies were kicking off pretty good and I have to play against that. I feel like I can get better as the week goes on.

Q: What was December like for you? What did you do? You were in LA?

A: I just I took some time off after the Open and went on a honeymoon and got ready for Lisbon but I pretty much trained and practiced all the way. After Lisbon I came home and just starting getting back into it and didn't take much time off; I felt like I had my time off after the Open. I just worked out twice a day and did some running, did some lifting, got myself in good shape.

Q: There was some big changes to the game last year ranking system and the way they have promoted things. How do you think that worked out over the whole year?

A: I think it was a pretty exciting end with the race between Kuerten and Safin, and Kuerten got it and he had to beat me and Agassi to be number one, I think that's very exciting, I think it worked out pretty well. As far as the other things in the game, I think for the first year with the new marketing and the new system, I think it came off pretty good. You guys probably know more about it than I do being in the media. I like some of the changes, it's going to take some time. A lot of the young guys people don't know, the Ferreros and the Safins, I think as the years go on this game will get stronger and stronger.

Q: As one of the older guys, are they putting more emphasis on the 20 year olds?

A: Well, that's the future of the game the Safins, the Kuertens, the Ferreros, to market those guys, especially in the US where a lot of the American public really don't know much about them because they're only in the States once a year. Just push the marketing around the world and I think it's a good start but it is going to take some time. People are used to seeing myself and Andre and some of the older guys, some new faces I think people need to know them a little bit better.

Q: Did you get a feeling there was any more interest being generated in the States because people have said it has gone dead?

A: The States is a tough place considering you have a lot of sports that are popular basketball, football. Tennis is still, unless I'm playing or Andre is playing, and if we're playing each other that's when people really follow it but other than that, it's a little bit of a struggle in the US. You still look at the tournaments, the Palm Spring, Miami, US Open are packed; it's not maybe coming across on TV with ratings but if you look at the stadiums that are being built, tennis is still doing well it's just across the board it's struggling just a touch. I think when I'm done and Andre is done, I think it could struggle even more because there aren't a group of young Americans there is some good ones but knowing the American media they want Grand Slam winners and they want guys who are number one or two in the world and if you don't have that you are going to see a lot of stuff written like when I started coming on tour (indistinct) American tennis, that could possibly happen in the next three or four years.

Q: Although you are not playing, any thoughts on Patrick McEnroe replacing his brother as Davis Cup captain?

A: I think Pat will do a great job. He has played a little bit in Davis Cup, he has got experience, he knows the game, he knows the players, he is in touch with the young guys, doing the commentary, and he is around just about every week, and he has got a good personality; he can mould himself to a lot of different personalities on the team and I think he will do a good job.

Q: Pete, you spoke about sacrificing some of your Fall in order to come to the Australian Open this year, what does the Open actually mean to you, the Australian Open?

A: Well, it's a historical event, it's been around for many years, it's a Grand Slam. I know I harp a lot on the Grand Slams because I feel like this is for me the top of the game, this is what we play for, and I look at the Australian as one of the biggest tournaments we have in the game.

Q: How has it changed since you started? You have been here so many years, have you seen the tournament itself actually change?

A: I haven't; I never played here at Kooyong, I always played at Flinders Park. Really it hasn't changed much. With the new court this year it will bring a little bit more people out but it's always good fan support, good support from the media. Of all the Grand Slams it's the most convenient, so to speak, with the city itself and it's a very easy city to get around, it's English speaking and it's always nice to come back.


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