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A Disappointing Loss at Wimbledon Reminded Him How Much He Wants to Play

July 23, 2001

The security blanket was snapped out of his hands, and Pete Sampras found himself pushed from his personal comfort zone in July for the first time in five years, dismissed from Wimbledon in the fourth round. Instead of hitting aces on grass in the memorable Monday Wimbledon final, he considered his future while at home in Los Angeles. Not only had we grown used to seeing his name and "Wimbledon champion" in the same sentence, he had too. But after years of domination, Michael Jordan got on with it. So did Wayne Gretzky and Joe Montana. Presumably, even Linus would have been able to survive without his security blanket. And in time, so will Sampras, even though the absence of a Wimbledon title in 2001 and five-set loss to Swiss teenager Roger Federer left him feeling "pretty devastated." Being Sampras still has its advantages. You tend to worry about the proximity of dangerous household objects when Goran Ivanisevic suffers a particularly devastating loss. Deep disappointment, not the threat of personal injury, was the prevailing theme with Sampras.

"This year has been a little bit disappointing," he said. "Wimbledon has always kind of saved it. And this year, it didn't happen.

"This year has been a little bit disappointing. Wimbledon has always kind of saved it. And this year, it didn't happen."

"I was very, very, very disappointed. So you just go through different levels. As time goes by, the tournament is over, and it's time to move on. After four, five days, you can only be bummed out for so long. You can only dwell on the past for so long. There has to be a little bit of a mourning period, but at the same time, looking forward."

For Sampras, life after Wimbledon will unfold at the Mercedes-Benz Cup at UCLA's Los Angeles Tennis Center. The tournament starts today at 11 a.m., and Sampras will face countryman Chris Woodruff on Tuesday in the first round. Sampras is seeded fourth, the first time since 1992 that he has been placed that low in a U.S. event. The top three seeded players are Gustavo Kuerten, Marat Safin and Andre Agassi. Sampras has not won a title since last year at Wimbledon, a 14-tournament drought, his longest since 1990. This year, he is 18-11, and one of the 11 losses was to Woodruff in an indoor event at Memphis, Tenn.

"It's disappointing and depressing when someone like that goes into a bit of a slump," said Paul Annacone, Sampras' longtime coach. "Because the bar is so high that every loss is so extreme. I think it's really tough for Pete at this stage of his career because it's hard to maintain the balance of having this great joy for winning compared to the pain and losing. "The losses start to hurt so much more. The better you are, the harder it is because you are used to winning so much more." That the latest loss hurt so much told Sampras something. After walking off the court, he said it felt "almost eerie," and the defeat started to sink in for the seven-time Wimbledon champion on the long plane ride home to L.A. "I still care a lot about playing, and I definitely felt it after I lost," he said. "If I lost and I was fine, it would concern me. But I was pretty down."

Sampras said he did not read anything about himself after Wimbledon, saying: "I didn't have the energy." The assessments of his future varied wildly, from a momentary glitch to imminent retirement. Sampras was bemused about the retirement talk before Wimbledon, mostly drawn from an out-of-context quote. This, combined with his title drought, his 30th birthday next month and his recent marriage created the altered atmosphere.

"It was a tone I heard from the press, 'How much longer are you going to continue to play? I've done everything in the game. What's left?' " Sampras said. "It got to be a little bit much. The thought of retirement hasn't seriously crossed my mind. "After Wimbledon, it was: 'Where do I go from here? Am I going to be back next year?' This retirement talk got carried away because there wasn't anything else to talk about. Last year, it was the record. This year, it was, when I'm going to stop? "The day I stop is the day I don't want to do it anymore."

"The day I stop is the day I don't want to do it anymore."

The last time Sampras had lost at Wimbledon was in 1996 to Richard Krajicek in the quarterfinals. Then Sampras had youth in his favor, going on to win six more Grand Slam titles, four at Wimbledon. This time, he has the support of his wife, actress Bridgette Wilson, and the proximity of his family to help him. Sampras married Wilson after losing in the U.S. Open final last year and said she has given him balance in his life. "It's a huge help," he said. "I've never been so happy in my life after meeting Bridgette and being married, and to have her there supporting me through the good times and bad times. We support each other's career as best we can. "She had to deal with me being home miserable. I'm not that much fun to be around. She knows how hard I am on myself, and I am very hard on myself especially when I lose a very close match on the very court that I feel like I dominate."

Sampras laughed after he talking about his mood after Wimbledon. His tone was upbeat. Sampras is going to be an uncle, for the first time, early next month and after replaying the Federer match in his mind, he sounded ready to move forward. He thought he had played well enough to win. "[Bridgette and I] have heart-to-heart talks about it," Sampras said. "About my tennis, about the future. There are times I feel, 'I've done a lot, what's left?' Just to appreciate what I've done. The day you do stop, you want to have it be a high point, not a low point."

There was much discussion after Wimbledon about Sampras needing to increase his workouts. But he said already did that after the Open loss to Safin. Unlike Agassi, who has taken to running hills, Sampras runs wind sprints and plays volleyball.

"I was thinking, I was going to lose my lunch," Sampras said of the sprints. "There's a certain high you get when you're through it. It's not fun going through it."

Another product of the Wimbledon loss is that Sampras has realized he needs to play more tournaments. He has appeared in 11 events this year, reaching one final. "We've talked about it quite a bit. I'm at a point where I've realized that I think I play better when I play more," he said. "There's no better preparation for a Slam, no better thing that gets you in good shape than playing matches. It's a dilemma I've faced in the past. As time goes on, it's getting tougher to get motivated for some tournaments, leading up to Slams." said Annacone: "Now he's got to turn the page and get on to the next thing. Great players have great expectations and when they're not met, it hurts like hell. He's at the stage where he has a couple of new challenges. In my mind, he's still in the elite group. There's no reason he can't get right back there."


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