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Sampras Creeps into Second Round

January 15, 2001

Third 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[5] 3-6 6-4 7-6[3].

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 1998.

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 opponent."

Kucera, ranked 75 in the world, beat Sampras in the quarter-finals of the Australian Open in 1998.


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Australian Open - Round 1
Post-Match Interview

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 here?


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 of it?

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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