Sampras Creeps into Second Round
January 15, 2001
seeded Pete Sampras survived a frightful encounter against Karol Kucera
Monday night on Rod Laver Arena, advancing to the second round in four tight
sets 7-6 3-6 6-4 7-6.
It was a lacklustre performance by the 13-time Grand Slam singles champion,
the American taking over three hours to dispose of the player who had beaten
him on just one of seven occasions, ironically here at Melbourne Park in
Kucera went on to advance to the semifinals that year, an effort that remains
his best showing at a Grand Slam singles event.
Nevertheless, the 26-year-old Kucera, who last year dropped out of the
top 30 for the first time since 1996, lived up to his reputation as one
of a handful of players who, when in 'the zone', can pose a substantial
threat to the former world No.1.
Nicknamed the 'little cat' after his coach Miroslav Mecir [dubbed the 'big
cat' in is playing days] Kucera moved quickly and deceptively around the
baseline Monday night.
The lanky Slovak rattled the American with a string of low, deep and superbly
placed groundstrokes, including a hefty 60 winners. During the entertaining
duel [which ended long after midnight], an out-of sorts Sampras, still in
'honeymoon mode' following his nuptials last September [he has played just
two tournaments since], hovered uncharacteristically around the baseline,
forced into rallying with the icy cool Slovak.
As a result, Sampras committed a massive 60 unforced errors [to Kucera's
32], but was saved by the Slovakian's inability to capitalise on all but
three of the 17 break points presented to him during the match.
"The last time I played Kucera on that court he beat me up pretty
good. He's by far the best first round opponent I've ever played here. He's
ranked 70 in the world and played like he should be top 10," said Sampras,
a two-time Australian Open winner [in 1994 and 1997].
"He's hard to come into the net on. And when you do come in you have
to be selective because of his ability to pass on the run. I knew this was
going to be a dogfight," said the American, who meets the Czech player
Bohdan Ulihrach in the next round.
Sampras faces Slovakian Karol Kucera in the first round of the Australian
Open, and American rival Andre Agassi is his predicted quarter-final opponent.
"I'm not thinking about Andre just yet," Sampras said. "There
is a lot of work to do for both of us before that happens. I've got my hands
full with trying to get past Kucera, who is a very dangerous first round
Kucera, ranked 75 in the world, beat Sampras in the quarter-finals of the
Australian Open in 1998.
Back to Archives - 2001 | News
Australian Open - Round 1
Pete Sampras defeats Karol Kucera
7-6, 3-6, 6-4, 7-6
January 15, 2001
THE MODERATOR: First question for Pete, please.
Q. Stuttering performance first up. Can you give us your own appraisal
of how you performed?
PETE SAMPRAS: I thought it was far from stuttering. Last time I played
Karol on that court, he beat me up pretty good. He's probably the toughest
first-round opponent I've had playing here in Australia. I had to withstand
a barrage of great returns, great passing shots. I thought I had a lot of
good stuff out there, and I just kept getting passed and passed. If he was
going to keep that up, he was going to put it into a fifth set. You know,
he's 70 in the world and played like he should be in the Top 10. He made
me work hard in every aspect, didn't miss much. But the way he moves and
passes on the run is some of the best I've ever seen.
Q. You lost to him once in previous matches. Was that on the Centre Court
PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah.
Q. Did you try to stay back on the baseline a little bit, try to throw
him off that rhythm he seemed to have on the pass?
PETE SAMPRAS: No, he's hard to come in on. He had that good first serve.
As much as I wanted to come in, he was hitting the backhand deep to my backhand.
It was hard for me to get control. He doesn't hit the ball with a lot of
power but hits it with a lot of placement, and a very tough guy to come
in on. When you do come in, you have to be selective because of his wheels
and his ability to hit passing shots on the run. I just was stuck from the
backcourt and he won a majority of those points. So I was trying to come
in, trying to come in and, you know, it worked out at the end.
Q. How good is it for you to have that first tough round, to come out
PETE SAMPRAS: It's good to come out of it. It's not easy on the body, you
know. This court's always been pretty tough on my body and my feet, and,
you know, I got one day to recover and get back on Wednesday. But when I
saw the draw, I saw I played Kucera and I was like, "That's a dog fight
for me." He always plays the top guys very well. He's been there, was
one of the Top 10, hasn't been playing quite as well. But whenever you face
him against one of the top players, he's a threat.
Q. Does it affect your recovery, finishing a game this late?
PETE SAMPRAS: It doesn't help when it's 1:30. By the time you get something
to eat, get a rubdown it's three in the morning. It screws up your whole
sleeping regimen. But I've been in this position before and you just try
to take all the right precautions tomorrow, get in a lot of fluids and good
food in you to get ready for Wednesday.
Q. Basically just rest tomorrow, do you?
PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah. I'll just hit very lightly. Yeah.
Q. What were the conditions like out there?
PETE SAMPRAS: It was a little bit heavy, cool. It was good playing conditions.
It was a little breezy, especially going down from the umpire's left to
right. It had some sort of impact on the match. So it was good conditions.
Q. Earlier today Andre was in here and he said that just the format with
Davis Cup and stuff like that, he's just not going to play. He doesn't foresee
playing in the next three years, even if they change the format after that,
he says he doesn't know. He doesn't have it in him anymore. Do you have
those feelings at this point?
PETE SAMPRAS: I can definitely relate to how he feels. Davis Cup is a big
commitment, and it's not just four weeks a year, it can take a lot out of
you, especially with the timing of the Davis Cup ties. I'd love for the
format to change, to have it, you know, something like the Ryder Cup and
do it over a span of a couple weeks. The way it is now, it is, you know,
it's tough for Andre and I to commit to each tie. We both have played quite
a bit of Davis Cup. He's probably played more than I have. But it definitely
is a grind out there.
Q. Is that what it's going to take for you to play, a format change? Can
you see any other scenario where you'd return?
PETE SAMPRAS: Well, I think the scenario of the format changing would be
an indication that I would play one day. I don't foresee it happening, you
know. I just think it's a little bit political with the ITF and ATP and
the scheduling. You know, I just would love to see it change. I don't think
it's going to happen while I'm playing or while Andre's playing, and that's
unfortunate. But I'm -- I can be very happy with what I've done in Davis
Cup, been a part of two winning teams, had some pretty good epic matches
in Davis Cup. So, you know, until the format changes, it's hard to, you
know, see me play.
Q. You were using your backhand slice a lot today, was that a strategy?
Were you forced to use it?
PETE SAMPRAS: Well, Karol likes the ball waist-high. I was trying to hit
the high rollers, keep it low, give him a change of pace. He likes the ball
in his wheel house. It was a bit of strategy to keep it low. It paid off
some. He was hitting some great winners. Wouldn't have mattered what I tried,
he came up with some great stuff.
Q. Being a Lakers' season ticket holder, are you a little worried about
Shaq and Kobe right now?
PETE SAMPRAS: Very worried. Once I hear Phil Jackson's worried, then I'm
worried. He's the man in control. When there's a little friction there,
I think we're all a little bit concerned. The last thing we want to see
is a trade. And those two guys together, it's a pretty good tandem. I'd
hate to see it go away.
Q. Who stays and who goes?
PETE SAMPRAS: Well, it's -- I don't know. I mean, Kobe's considered the
best player in the league right now. Shaq is -- he's also the man. So I
think they both should stay. Suck it up. Rise above it.
End of FastScripts....
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