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Sampras Coast to Next Round

August 28, 2001

Pete Sampras began his quest for a fifth US Open title with an impressive 6-4, 7-6(4), 7-6(6) win over France's Julien Boutter.

Under steamy conditions, Sampras played a tactical match against the Frenchman, serving 18 aces and winning key points during both both tie-breaks. Boutter fought until the end, serving 25 aces, but could not claim a set.

"It was a very tough opening round match," Sampras said. "He possesses a huge serve...He served four aces in a row in the third-set tie-break. "I managed to squeak it out at the end, but it was a tough day. It was getting pretty warm out there, so it was good to get it over with in three sets."

Sampras, the No. 10 seed, now meets Brazil's Andre Sa, who on Monday fought past Edwin Kempes.

"Everyone's concerned about me,'' Sampras said with a grin.

It's to the credit of the four-time Open champion that he's amused more than annoyed by talk that he should retire because he's washed up. He doesn't see it that way, even though he has gone 17 tournaments without a title and flirted with disaster Tuesday before beating obscure Julien Boutter 6-4, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (8).

"I expect to do well here. I still feel like I'm one of the strong favorites,'' Sampras said. ``If I didn't win here, it would be a disappointing year. But I'm not worried about it. I feel like I've got many years left. All this retirement talk has gotten a little bit carried away.''

Sampras turned 30 on Aug. 12, a milestone that usual signals the end is near -- or past -- in tennis. How many more years does he expect to play?

"Five, six, seven at least,'' he said, smiling again.

To last that long, Sampras must reverse a recent decline that has turned every match into a taxing challenge.

He needed 2 1/2 hours to beat Boutter, a Frenchman with no career titles to Sampras' 63. Clutch serves by Sampras and untimely double faults by Boutter were the difference.

"At the level he was playing, it could have been an upset,'' Sampras said.

Sampras' No. 10 seeding is his lowest at a Grand Slam tournament since he earned the first of his record 13 major titles at the 1990 Open. He hasn't won this event since 1996, hasn't won any tournament since Wimbledon in 2000 and hasn't reached the quarterfinals at a Grand Slam tournament in 2001.

Unless he wins the Open, this will be his first year without a major title since 1993.

"There's no reason to panic if I don't win,'' he said. ``I could go out and win three next year. ...

"I've raised the bar so high, and when I don't win titles every couple of months, I'm probably judged much tougher than anyone. It's a pretty high standard to live up to. It is what it is at this point. I feel like I've got a decent shot here to possibly do it.''

His confidence, motivation, fitness, foot speed and backhand have been questioned, but for whatever reason, he no longer dominates the big points or lesser opponents as he once did. This year he has lost to Chris Woodruff, Andre Ilie, Harel Levy, Alex Calatrava, Galo Blanco and Alberto Martin.

For the first time since 1996, Sampras isn't the reigning Wimbledon champion. He lost in the fourth round to Federer.

"There's nothing you can do -- just accept it, go home and be depressed,'' he said. ``For three or four days I was really down. Being home the second week of Wimbledon hasn't happened that often, so it was a very eerie feeling.''

But the slump started with a loss a year ago, when Marat Safin routed him in the Open final. A few days later, Sampras discussed the state of his career with fellow Los Angeles resident and occasional golfing partner, Wayne Gretzky.

"Wayne said when he hit 30, he needed to work harder,'' Sampras said. "It was good to hear that. I put a conscious effort after the final here to put a lot of time into my training. That's why this year has been disappointing. I've put in the time, I just haven't gotten the results.''

"I'm still very confident," he said. "I feel like I'm still one of the strong favorites."


Back to Archives - 2001 | News

US Open - Round 1
Post-Match Interview

Pete Sampras defeats J. Boutter
6-4, 7-6, 7-6

August 28, 2001

THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.

Q. Really high quality match. How important do you feel it was to get out? It was hot, you were working hard.

PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah, it was huge. It was nice to win in straight, I mean, because it was some tense moments. I knew at the level he was playing, he possesses one of the best second serves I think I've ever played on a court that's playing pretty quick. He was serving consistently in the 110s. I had a hard time catching up to it.I mean, I give him a lot of credit. He really made me work very hard. Served big. I don't know how many aces he hit. Seemed like he hit about 30.

Good tennis. I mean, I was pretty happy the way I started off here. Played a very dangerous player early on. It was a good one to get through because I knew at the level he was playing, it could have been an upset. A couple points here and there in the breakers, you know, served like four or five straight aces in the breaker. I'm like, "There's nothing you can do except just hang in there." Got a few second serves, made him play, went on, hit a good passing shot on matchpoint and that was it.

Q. Only two double-faults on your serve today. Were you trying to be more careful? Were you very, very accurate with your second serve today?

PETE SAMPRAS: Pretty accurate. I was serving pretty hard. I feel like my second serve is one of the best in the game. I might as well use it. You know, was a good -- pretty good rhythm on my second. First serve I didn't really get too many in in the first couple sets, but I'm just as confident in my second. Put a little bit more spin, you know, served a couple doubles, which is a good sign for me. Usually, I'm hitting it that big, I can throw in a lot more. So it was a pretty good serving day.

Q. What are your thoughts about the crowd?

PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah, it was nice. Nice to have that support early on. Usually it's pretty low-key. But they saw I had a pretty tough opponent. The way he was playing, they wanted to, you know, see me win in straight, and so did I. Didn't want to be out there any longer than I had to.And it was nice to have that support.

Q. Do you think it was your opponent or anyone you would have been playing?

PETE SAMPRAS: Probably a little bit of both. He was making me work hard. But it's nice to have that support, have that crowd behind you, and you're starting to feel a little bit out there -- you have your hands full, it's nice to have that support. New York has provided that for me over the years.

Q. They're concerned about you, Pete, this crowd.

PETE SAMPRAS: Everyone's concerned about me (smiling).

Q. Are you concerned about you?

PETE SAMPRAS: Not as much as everyone else.

Q. Was it frustrating, the Hamlet Cup situation?

PETE SAMPRAS: No. I got what I needed to get out of the Hamlet Cup. I needed some matches. I haven't played a lot during the summer. I needed to go out there and compete a little bit. You know, did well, got to the final. Would have been nice to have won there. But I needed some practice matches leading up to this event. Same court, same balls. Couldn't ask for a better week leading up to this week.So tough final, but ....

Q. Was that your first Hamlet? You shied away from it in the past.

PETE SAMPRAS: I played in '90.

Q. Is your confidence level lower than it's been in the past few years when you come in here?

PETE SAMPRAS: No. I mean, I feel like I'm just as confident today as I was last year, the years before. The only difference this year is I've had Wimbledon in my bag, and this year, it hasn't happened. But I can't dwell on what hasn't happened. I got to dwell on what's gonna happen and I'm hoping to do well here and possibly win. A lot of good competition. It's not going to be an easy road, but, you know, when I've had sub-par years going into Wimbledon, I've always had that two weeks to kind of save my year. I was planning on that happening this year. Lost a tough five-set match and had to accept the defeat. It happened. You know, it was a tough loss. But I'm looking forward to playing here and playing -- giving myself a chance to do well here. Put myself in contention and maybe I could, you know, come through.

Q. Would it take a win at The Open to save your year?

PETE SAMPRAS: Definitely would help. There's no question. It would be nice to -- I think I've won a major every year for many years, and, you know, it's hard to keep up that pace for eight, nine years. It would be -- it would save my year, no question. If I didn't win here, it would be a disappointing year. But I'm not that worried about it. I feel like I've got many years left. All this retirement talk has gotten a little bit carried away. You know, I've got many, many years left. I'm going to contend for every Grand Slam for the rest of my career.So there's no reason to panic if I don't win this year's US Open. I could go out and win three next year, so... It can be done, even when you hit 30.

Q. Is it strange to come in here as an underdog, or is it maybe a fun feeling or a curious feeling? First time you've been regarded as a guy who's really down there.

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, I look at, you know, the pressure that there is on myself. It's not what everyone else is saying or thinking. You know, I expect myself to do well here, and I still feel like I'm one of the strong favorites. Just look at what I've done here over the years, final here last year, won here a few times. I didn't have the best of years, but it doesn't matter to me. It would be nice to come in here having done better at Wimbledon or won a Slam. But this is where I'm at. I did the best I can, and I wouldn't consider myself an underdog by any means. I haven't felt like that since I was 19 here.

Q. Anything in particular help you get over that Wimbledon disappointment?

PETE SAMPRAS: There's nothing that you can do. It's just accept, go home and be depressed (laughter). It took --.

Q. How long did that last?

PETE SAMPRAS: It was a good three, four days where I was really down, reflecting on the match, reflecting on the chances that I had. Being home the second week of Wimbledon, something that hasn't happened that often. So it was a very eerie feeling. But it's kind of a law of averages. I've won so many close matches at Wimbledon. This year, it didn't happen. You know, grass is a surface that comes down to a couple points. You need a little bit of luck on your side. This year didn't happen. I lost to a guy playing great. But you go home and you just kind of mope around for a while. It was a tough loss. You know, it's part of what we do as athletes. You're gonna have some highs and lows. Last year I had the biggest high of my life. This year I had a pretty low point.So this is the way it goes.

Q. In your mind, how many years do you have left?

PETE SAMPRAS: I don't know. Five, six, seven, at least.

Q. Jim Courier used to talk about being on top, the intimidation factor in the locker room. In your mind is that a real or imagined factor when you're not winning titles and your opponents smell the blood in the water, as it were? Is that a factor in their success or lack of success against you?

PETE SAMPRAS: In the locker room or just in general?

Q. Carrying it out on to the court, of course.

PETE SAMPRAS: Sure, it helps, you know, being ranked 1 or 2 or having won titles. I would much rather come in here having had a better year.But I think guys know who they're playing, and that aura will always be there. You know, it was hard being No. 1 for all those years. It was hard staying there. You know, something has to give at some point. And this year has been, kind of like after breaking the record and after doing just about everything in the game, you know, I was kind of finding that motivation again.

But guys know who they're playing out there. Still feel like it's my ability against their ability, and I still feel like I can, you know, do well at every major for the rest of my career.So, you know, it's a different place in my tennis, where I'm at.

Q. For the people who are worried about you, you've talked about working on your fitness this year, is that something they console themselves with? Maybe you are fitter. You're stepping up a bit. Is that something that's in your back pocket?

PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah, definitely that's what's been frustrating this year is that I have been putting a lot of time on and off the court after losing the final last year to Safin and feeling a touch flat. I realized when you hit 29, 30, your body changes. Recovery isn't quite as good. I had a good heart to heart with Wayne Gretzky, who played until he was 35, 36. He said, "You need to work harder, lift heavier, run harder." I realize that's what I need to do.So I made a conscious effort after the final here to put a lot of time into my training. But I need to play matches. I mean, you can do all the training in the world, but there's no substitute for going out there and competing. That's what's been disappointing this year, is that I haven't got into a rhythm. But that's what's been most frustrating, is that I've put in a lot of time and haven't gotten quite the results.

Q. Did you call Gretzky? Did you run into him somewhere?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, I know Wayne for years. I mean, not for years, but for the last couple years, both live in LA, we play a little bit of golf together. We just talked about it, you know, a few days after the final here. And, you know, it was good to hear it from someone that I have a lot of respect for, someone that played till he was 35 and played at a very high level. And he's a champion. So there's a lot of --a lot came from that conversation.

Q. Do you find it ironic to have reached your high point, setting a record, and then from that point on, not winning a single title?

PETE SAMPRAS: Say again.

Q. Do you find it a little ironic that you would reach your peak by setting a record, then have to go through this long stretch without getting a single victory?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, let's just put it this way: breaking the record all that, there's no question it takes a lot out of you emotionally. Where I go from that point last year, I'm just trying to add on to, you know, what I had as far as majors are concerned, give myself the best schedule to do well at the majors. You know, it's been a little bit frustrating, haven't gotten a title. But I've won plenty of titles to be pretty happy with what I've done.But there's no question that Wimbledon took a lot out of me this year and last year, from an emotional standpoint, and it's difficult to kind of keep it going. But you have no problem -- I have no problem getting motivated for the Slams.

Q. Fitness question, Pete. Do you feel a little bit fortunate, you look around and see other top players, Andre and Pat, they've had surgery. You haven't had the surgeries during your career.

PETE SAMPRAS: Oh, it's been pretty fortunate to not have surgery. But I've got the bad back, three years ago when I herniated my disk. I've had my share of injuries. That was a pretty serious one that knocked me out. I haven't had anything that's kept me out for that long. I've been pretty fortunate not to have a surgery.

Q. Follow-up to the crowd question. It seems that everywhere you go this year the crowds have been more supportive, really validating you. I was wondering if, in a weird way --?

PETE SAMPRAS: Sympathy (laughter).

Q. Do you think it almost took you not winning Wimbledon or not winning a Slam for people to appreciate just how hard it is, the string that you did put together?

PETE SAMPRAS: To some degree, that's probably accurate, that I'm not as dominant as I once was. I've lost a few matches this year. And, you know when you're 1 in the world and favored to win every match, I've played matches where I'm playing someone from Europe and I'm not getting any cheers on my side. They always like an underdog. I wouldn't call myself an underdog. But people, I think, have kind of grown to respect what I've done and what it takes to do what I do and to be as consistent as I've been. And, you know, I feel that, when I played today I felt the crowd was really supportive, and it was a nice feeling to feel that respect. That hasn't always, you know, been there when I was early on, playing in my 20s.But as you get a little bit older, when Connors did well here when he was 50 or whatever he was (laughter), 39, people get to know you a bit better, and that's what's happened.


Back to Archives - 2001 | News