Pete Sampras Interview - ATP Media Teleconference
June 21, 2001
Q. People talk about your first and second serve, talk about the way you play the big points. What is the one thing about your game that has most contributed to your success on grass, specifically at Wimbledon?
PETE SAMPRAS: I think a couple things. I think my second serve, if I'm not serving well, is still very effective with spin and placement. I think my movement on grass is part of the battle. I'm playing well on grass. That's an area that people don't talk much about. I think my movement is a big asset to have. Playing the big points, being able to raise it at certain moments of the match. I think a combination of those things is the reason why I've been successful there.
I've also been pretty fortunate in a lot of close matches there.
Q. In London, The Guardian has a story from June 11th, "Pete Sampras, at his lowest ebb for a decade. His French Open was a disaster. The once invincible American has his last realistic attempt at a Wimbledon." Is this your last realistic attempt? Are you at the lowest ebb for a decade?
SAMPRAS: Well, I think whatever article that was a bit of a stretch. Sure, obviously after the year in Paris I was deflated about my clay court run.
But that being said, you know, I still feel like I will be a threat at Wimbledon for the rest of my career. I plan on playing this game for many years. I always feel like when it comes to this tournament that I'm still the man to beat. That's kind of how I look at it.
Obviously, people are thinking that I'm hitting 30, I've done a lot in the game, is it time for me to go? I can just say that I plan on being around for quite awhile.
Q. Take us back to finals last year, what you remember about that very special moment with your parents there, breaking Roy Emerson's record.
SAMPRAS: Well, it's all pretty much a blur. It all happened so quickly. From being I felt like down and out, down a set, 4-1 in the breaker, to coming back and an hour later I was holding up the cup.
It all happened the way I've always dreamt about breaking the record, at Wimbledon, having my fiancee there, having my parents there. I just realized it's as good as it's ever going to get. As an athlete, that moment, it's getting dark, a surreal atmosphere, it's still firmly in my mind.
It's the way I've always wanted to break the record one day, to have my parents there, who don't come around much, to share that with me was very special.
Q. At this point in your career, and also if you take the last couple months, how much do you need Wimbledon to get you going, keep you motivated in the game?
SAMPRAS: Well, like I've talked about for the past week, just kind of walking into the club, being on centre court, like I've been the last couple days doing interviews, there's no problem getting the motivation and passion back for the game. The court is that special to me. Wimbledon is so important to the sport of tennis. I know deep down that I have the ability to really turn my year around very shortly.
I've kind of come into Wimbledon the last number of years with kind of sub-par years, like this one. For some reason, I'm able to turn it up a notch in the second week, and I've won here. Hopefully that happens again.
Q. Last year it was a good scene for you having your parents there. Are they going to make the trip this year?
SAMPRAS: They will not. I think I tortured them enough last year (laughter).
Q. Where do you feel your game is right now coming into this year's Wimbledon?
SAMPRAS: I feel fine. I feel like I had a pretty productive week in Queen's, lost a tough match to Hewitt, but I beat some pretty decent players that week, got some good matches. I've had a good week of practice. I think everything is where I want it to be.
I'm healthy, which is nice, hitting the ball fine. I've been here quite awhile getting used to the grass. I feel like I'm prepared as well this year as I've been in any other year. Hopefully it all happens again.
Q. You had such a great record at Wimbledon. When you play some of these matches, how often do you feel like players are defeated before they even walk on the court with you?
SAMPRAS: I don't feel like they're defeated. If anything, I just have a bit more of an aura playing here than anywhere else in the world, because of the grass, I love playing on it, what I've done here over the years.
It's not defeating. I don't feel like I've won the match walking out. If anything, these guys come out with nothing to lose, they kind of swing away. Strange things can happen out there.
You know, it helps having the reputation, the experience of doing well here over the years. But there are no easy draws or easy matches out there; you have to work for it.
Q. As the years go on, particularly after last year with the record, is it possible to have a sense of enjoyment as you proceed through Wimbledon or a sense of being an active participant in tennis history as you go on?
SAMPRAS: Well, I think, if anything, I'll enjoy Wimbledon a lot more this year than last year. I felt so much pressure - pretty much self-inflicted - because of the record. This was a great chance for me to do it. I was kind of dealing with an injury throughout the two weeks.
This year I feel a lot more relaxed going into Wimbledon, which hopefully I can play a bit better than last year. Last year I didn't feel like I was quite at my best.
What was your other question?
Q. Just do you feel like you're being an active participant in tennis history as you go along?
SAMPRAS: Yeah, I just kind of am an active participant - probably more than a participant. I want to play at the highest level and try to add on and try to win another major here over the next couple years in two weeks. That's why I continue to play, and I still enjoy playing against the best players in the world in the biggest arena.
Definitely still a lot of passion and motivation I still have for the game.
Q. You get to play most of your matches on center court. Do you think there's a decided advantage by playing your matches there?
SAMPRAS: Yeah. I mean, I'm very comfortable with the speed. I'm comfortable with the surroundings. You know, when I walk out, I feel like I'm walking out on my court at my home. It's a comfort level that I don't have to think twice about, what it's going to be like.
I love the court because it's so -- it's small, intimate, you get to see the people. You play in some of these stadiums around the world, you don't feel connected to the people. Wimbledon, you feel a certain connection. It only helps the atmosphere and eventually playing better.
Q. What is it about these two weeks that gets you going? You said you saved years with a good two weeks. Is there anything particular you can say, besides center court, stuff like that?
SAMPRAS: Well, you know, the event means a lot to me, just like all the Slams, but this one in particular because of what I've been able to do here over the years. I felt like there's so much history and character that I felt like just the world was watching here. You know, you kind of go with that attitude. You walk through the club to get to the court. There's no other place like it.
But that being said, the surface helps my game. I feel like - I don't know - I just feel confident out there. I feel like I've gotten my breaks at Wimbledon more than any other place, won a lot of close matches. You combine all that, that's why I've had this unbelievable run.
Q. You won Wimbledon for the last four years. You won the tournament seven times. Is the challenge still the same this year?
SAMPRAS: I'm still the man to beat. You feel like everyone is kind of gunning after you. You feel that.
You know, that being said, there's nothing for me to prove here at Wimbledon. After breaking the record last year, I still feel a lot more relaxed coming into this year's Wimbledon. See if I can kind of turn the year around over the next couple weeks.
Q. Also, you might have already answered this. Aside from Wimbledon being on grass, what for you personally sets Wimbledon apart from the other Grand Slam events?
SAMPRAS: I just think the history that Wimbledon brings to the sport of tennis. You look at the stadium 70 years ago to today, it hasn't changed at all. You don't see a lot of sponsors up. It hasn't changed. It's maintained the history so many years later. It just separates it from any other tournament. It being the only major on grass, where they used to play three of them on grass 30 years ago, I like it. I like that it brings something different to the sport. You know, there's a certain panache, if you want to call it that, that Wimbledon has that not a lot of places do have.
Q. You talked a little bit about the aura, not a defeatist attitude from the other guys, but the aura for you walking out on center court. Are there moments in big matches when you sense an advantage simply because of what you've accomplished there?
SAMPRAS: No, I don't feel like my opponents are any less intense or a defeated attitude. It's just my game that I feel like at certain moments of the match where you just raise it a level, you just play good tennis. You know, I just feel like it's my ability against his. On grass, most places around the world, I feel like my ability is just as good as his. For some reason here, I've been able to put it all together all at the same time. Once you have that as a tennis player, you feel like you're unstoppable.
Q. You said earlier in your career you didn't like the speed, bad bounces, had to change your strokes. Can you remember the time that happened? Your first two or three trips were early outs.
SAMPRAS: They were. Wasn't till I started working with Tim Gullikson in '92, we decided to change my attitude, to having a better attitude, changing my strokes a little bit, shortening them up, being a little bit more concentrating on my returns, because that's how you win Wimbledon, is by returning serve well. Those two things in '92, I got to the semis, lost to Goran in a tough match. Next year I won there. The year of '92, working with Tim, definitely helped just kind of, you know, get over the hurdle of playing on grass.
Q. You talked a lot about how Wimbledon has been a turnaround point for you. Is just getting to Wimbledon, practicing on the grass, does that start the turnaround for you?
SAMPRAS: Well, it's kind of getting over another year the French Open disappointment. When you get on the grass, you enjoy hitting on it, playing on it. Being around the club, hitting at the courts at Wimbledon, you just kind of are looking forward to the tournament.
You're getting ready, pumped up. You feel like you're getting ready for the Super Bowl. That's a good feeling. Then the feeling that all the top players look forward to having because it's going to be a good two weeks that could be anyone's tournament.
Q. You talk a lot about last year breaking the record. This year you can match Bjorn Borg's mark of five consecutive Wimbledons. Do you look at that much?
SAMPRAS: You know, I don't. I really don't look at comparing myself to Borg and the five. I'm just trying to win this year's Wimbledon, trying to do the well next two weeks. It's nothing more than that.
Obviously, last year was a different story because of that overall Grand Slam record. But the five really hasn't been a big focus of mine.
Q. You talked about being more comfortable at Wimbledon where you've been so dominant for so many years now. Is there a certain point where you can remember the comfort level really being there? Was there a certain turning point in that for you?
SAMPRAS: Well, I think once I won for the first time, when I beat Courier in '93, then came back the next year and beat Ivanisevic in the final. I think after defending, I think that -- when you defend a Slam, it's the toughest thing to do in sports, especially tennis.
Once I did that, I pretty much breezed through the tournament that year. I just felt like, "Wow, for the time being, this is kind of my home." Then I think I confirmed it when I actually beat Becker the next year for my third. That was like I'm starting to get this run, get this confidence and aura that guys are feeling that really has transcended into something where I'm sitting here with seven. I never expected to take it this far. I was just trying to win one of these. It's gone much better than I ever thought it would.
Q. Describe what it's like for you to walk out on the court. Is it a calming effect? Is it a butterfly effect?
SAMPRAS: Well, I always make a point to go to the court before the tournament starts because it is quiet and peaceful. You just take a seat and look around. You just look at the court and you kind of flash back on a lot of great moments that I've had, a lot of tough finals that I've won. A lot of times I've taken that circle around the court holding up the cup. This year I was obviously thinking about what happened last year.
You kind of just draw back on past experiences there. You know, you feel pretty good about yourself when you've lost one match there over the past eight years. It's a court that I wish they traveled with it and I could play on it everywhere (laughter).
Q. There's no nervousness anymore when you go out there?
SAMPRAS: No. I was nervous the first time I play there I believe in '92. Over the years, I've been out there so many times, it's a comfortable court that I have grown to love. It's almost like a calming effect because I'm so comfortable out there, I feel like, just as I said before, I'm at my court at home.
Q. The seeding that Wimbledon has done, are you a fan of that? Is it fair?
SAMPRAS: I think it mathematically makes sense. You have 8 seeds for 32, 16 for 64. I know it loses a little bit of its early-round upsets, whatever you want to call it. I think most players like it. When you only have 16 seeds, you can play someone 18 in the world in the first round. That's not always the fairest thing. It's nice to see all the tournaments have decided to do this.
I think you'll see the tennis will be fine, it will be exciting. I don't think it will have a huge impact on the tournament.
Q. I'd like to ask if you think the number of rivals you potentially have at Wimbledon every year is growing or is pretty much staying about the same the last few years?
SAMPRAS: It's stayed pretty much about the same. I mean, I think we have the same ones. You have obviously Andre, Patrick Rafter, the two Brits in Rusedski and Henman. We have two that aren't here, Krajicek and Philippoussis, that could win here potentially one day. It's pretty much the same. If anything, still a lot of challenges.
Over the years I was beating Becker and Stich and Edberg, seemed there were a lot more grass court players five years ago than they were today. That being said, there's still enough threatening guys that could knock me off.
Q. The players are saying it's injuries, but the call-offs, particularly in light of talk of boycotts and stuff like, that does that in any way diminish Wimbledon for you with a Kuerten not being there?
SAMPRAS: Not at all. Wimbledon is still the biggest event in the game. It's unfortunate that some of the guys aren't here. I hope it's not a trend that you see every year.
I think to see the top player in the world not here is disappointing. But Wimbledon is Wimbledon. It will always stand out from the rest, in my eyes. I don't think it will lose anything. I just hope that not a lot of guys do it in the future; that everyone continues to play.
Q. You mentioned earlier, you're closing in on 30. This is making you an old man by tennis standards, isn't it?
SAMPRAS: It's mind over matter. Look at it as more experience.
Q. Have injuries taken their toll over the years? Do you find as you get older, it's harder to stay healthy for the whole season?
SAMPRAS: You know, not as much as when I was 22. I still had little injuries here and there, every year I played. I think hurting my back a couple years ago at The Open kind of woke me up to kind of taking care of my body as you get older, being a little more conscious of being in good shape, being warmed up, doing the proper stretching. You have to do that as you get older.
I've been healthy for quite some time. Hopefully it stays that way.
Q. I know you haven't walked into Wimbledon with an Australian Open and French Open, but you certainly walk in trying to make the record and other pressure situations. How does that break down actually?
SAMPRAS: When you're used to it, I've been used to being the man to beat here, you just know what to expect, you know what it feels like to be on centre court. Come Monday at 1:00, you know what it feels like to play the finals. I can sit here and put myself in those situations, know what it's going to be like. When you're prepared for it, it can only help.
But the confidence that I have out there, the game that I feel like I possess on grass definitely stands out. You know, on the other hand, guys are coming out against me with nothing to lose. It could be the win of their career. There's pressure from that standpoint.
Obviously, a run isn't going to last forever. This one day will end. Hopefully it will be when I'm 35 and done.
Q. When you're trying to do something really big, like make the record last year, does it hit you every day when you go out there, or does it hit you at strange times?
SAMPRAS: As far as the pressure?
SAMPRAS: Well, you know, it's all relative. You look at pressure and look at a lot of the pressure that I feel is self-induced. I feel is self-induced. I felt that last year at this point where I felt like it was a good opportunity to break the record. But you always have this ability of feeling it, knowing it.
But actually when you toss the ball for the first point, you shut everything out, just get in the heat of the moment, your game takes over. Your muscle memory gets you through some pressure situations. You get through it and you deal with the same thing again the next day.
Q. Could you give us the highlights of married life so far?
SAMPRAS: Highlights (laughter)? With my wife here, we live together now, we're together a lot, I'm with someone that I'm going to spend the rest of my life with. There's a lot of good things happening in my life.
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