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Showdown with Rafter

September 1, 2001

Pete Sampras demolished Mikhail Youzhny 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 and reach the fourth round at the U.S. Open facing a showdown with old rival Patrick Rafter who dispatched Nicholas Lapentti in the night match.

PETE was not comfortable to begin with. In his first game he double-faulted, blew two easy volleys and dumped an overhead into the net. But he never looked back after that.

"Everything is in place," he said. "I'm very hungry. I'm mentally fine. I'm physically fine. Everything is in one piece. I can't complain about the way the first week has gone."

Although Sampras came into the tournament mired in a yearlong slump and saddled with a No. 10 seeding, his lowest since winning the first of his record 13 Grand Slam titles at the 1990 Open, he is playing like his old self. Through three rounds he has yet to drop a set, winning three tiebreakers, and he was particularly polished against Youzhny. Sampras lost only seven points on his first serve, never faced a break point and won 52 points at the net.

"The entire tennis world was waiting for a statement from Pete Sampras," U.S. Davis Cup captain Pat McEnroe said. "I think we got that statement today. It was a very impressive performance."

The road turns tougher next week. If Sampras defeat two-time champion Pat Rafter, he would likely next face two-time champ Andre Agassi, who also won Saturday. Rafter defeated Sampras in the 1998 US Open.

"I'm going to have my hands full," Sampras said. "It's a tough section of the draw for all of us. There are a lot of U.S. Open titles in that little section, but that's the way the draw went, and let's play it."

The conditions seemed to put extra spring into Sampras' 30-year-old legs. Because the wind played havoc with lobs and passing shots, he charged to the net behind every serve and many of his service returns, and Youzhny crumpled under the pressure.

"I decided I'm just going to come in until the cows come home," Sampras said.

He won't be able to do that if he plays Rafter, who like Sampras plays a serve-and-volley game that keeps opponents on the defensive. Sampras swept their past three meetings to take an 11-4 lead in the rivalry, but Rafter won their most recent U.S. Open match, which came in the 1998 semifinals.

"He's probably the hottest player coming into this year's Open," Sampras said. "Hopefully I can bring my A game and play well."

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US Open - Round 3
Post-Match Interview

Pete Sampras defeats Mikhail Youzhny
6-3, 6-2, 6-2

September 1, 2001

Q. On your return today you just kept coming forward, chipping and charging. Is there something consciously you wanted to push yourself to the net as much as possible?

PETE SAMPRAS: In these conditions, I wanted to. It was very windy down there, and it's very tough to pass and lob. And that's what I told myself, on his first serve just to put as much pressure as I could because it's tough to pass, as you saw. I mean, he was struggling a little bit. I was coming in on both serves. Every second serve I saw I was going to do something with it and be aggressive. As far as the conditions, it made me do that. Once I kind of realized the conditions were going to be as windy as it was, I decided I'm just going to come in until the cows come home.

Q. Is that something you can necessarily do if Pat Rafter wins his third-round match?

PETE SAMPRAS: I'm not going to be able to do that at all. Pat Rafter is going to serve and volley on both serves, so it's gonna be, you know, the match is going to be completely different. He's gonna be coming in on everything. I'm gonna be coming in on my serves. I'm not gonna have any opportunities to chip and charge. He's gonna be aggressive. I just hope I can kind of get his serve back and put some pressure on him if I play him. But, you know, he gave me an opportunity today to chip and charge, and Pat won't.

Q. How strange does it seem to be looking at Rafter as the likely opponent this early in the tournament for you?

PETE SAMPRAS: It's just the luck of the draw. I mean, I was gonna play someone that was in the top eight, and Pat is the man. He's probably the hottest player coming into this year's Open. To play him early on is pretty unusual. But, you know, the match, I think we're both looking forward to. It will be a good atmosphere out there. He beat me the last time we were out there on that court. So he's a great athlete, great competitor, and should be a good match.

Q. Conceivably you could have Rafter and Agassi back-to-back. What does that mean to have that this early in the tournament? Obviously, you don't look past it because you have to get through those guys. These two matches ahead, what are you thinking about?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, at this point I'm just worried about my next opponent, if it's Pat or Lapentti, I'm gonna have my hands full. Pat is obviously the favorite. Good chance he'll come through. I'm not looking ahead beyond my next match. You can't. Especially with who I'm playing and how strong this game is, you can't look ahead. So it's a tough section of the draw for all of us. You know, a lot of US Open titles in that little section, but that's the way the draw went, and let's play it.

Q. Is the physical wear and tear a concern? To have those guys back-to-back?

PETE SAMPRAS: Like I said, I'm not looking past my next match. If I get through it, then I'll worry who I play. Physically, I feel fine. It was a good day to kind of get through a pretty comfortable match. Everything is in place. I feel like this is where you need to raise it a level, second week of a Slam. I'm pretty happy with the way I'm playing the first week. Got through some tough matches. Hopefully, I can just raise it a touch because each opponent will get tougher.

Q. Given this place with you and Andre in your careers, people talk about the rivalry, if people came to you with an offer to go on a 15-city tour with you and Andre, is that something you'd like to do? Would it be interesting for you?

PETE SAMPRAS: As far as exhibitions?

Q. One-night-stands, winner take all. That kind of thing.

PETE SAMPRAS: That's interesting. I don't play any exhibitions at this point in my career. I will say playing Andre is very unique. To have a chance to play him, I mean, you like to play him in Slams or big tournaments. Exhibition doesn't quite have the same meaning to both of us. We obviously don't need the money. But, you know, it's hard to say how many times I'm gonna face him over the next number of years. But as far as actually doing exhibition tour, I don't think we have that in us anymore.

Q. Would it be a challenge to you, playing him that many times in a concentrated period?

PETE SAMPRAS: Sure. It's a huge challenge. Playing the very best. He historically has done that. He's been my biggest rival over the years. In today's game, the exhibition tour is pretty much over. But when we match up, it's as good as it gets.

Q. When you go -- if I have it right, you're scheduled to play him in the Elton John Fund Raiser in Sacramento. When you go out there, does the fire still burn? Are you going through the motions?

PETE SAMPRAS: We're there to have a good time and put on a show. But once we step on the court, I don't -- doesn't matter where we are; we're pretty competitive. And in that environment, you're going to have a good time for charity. You're not there to, you know, we're not playing in a major tournament, so it's more to have fun.

Q. Tim Henman's just been upset by Xavier Malisse. Somebody like you, who has capitalized on opportunities so many times, can you feel sympathy for somebody like Henman who has come so close so many times to fall back?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, Tim has the game. I've played Tim and I've practiced with Tim a lot. He's under a lot of pressure being a British guy at Wimbledon I think is the one tournament he wants to win more than any. He's come close. I mean, you know, lost a tough match to Krajicek here. He's on the verge there to possibly breaking through. He's got the game, it's just a matter of putting it all together. Seven matches in two weeks is not easy. I see Tim winning a major or two, especially Wimbledon where he has that support and that surface. But he's close. He just has to raise it a touch. It's just experience and good playing at the right time.

Q. Is it mental, do you think, with him at this point?

PETE SAMPRAS: I don't think it's mental. I don't think it's that mental. He's proven he can play and beat the top guys. He just needs to be able to do that at major tournaments. Wimbledon he was a couple points away from getting to the final, to win it. He's been really close. That's his best chance to win a major, is probably that one. US Open's probably a bit more difficult.

Q. Your confidence level coming in couldn't be the highest. An effort like today, which was a solid one, what does that do for your confidence?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, it helps winning 3-2-2 against a good player. I was happy the way I kind of adjusted my game today and realized how windy it was. I needed to come in a lot more. I feel like I'm playing fine. I mean, I had a couple tough matches early on. I'm hitting the ball well, moving well. You know, I feel like I'm -- got a pretty good shot to play a good match against Pat or Nicolas.

Q. Do you think people are prematurely not writing you off entirely, but not giving you the credit maybe that you should get as a contender here?

PETE SAMPRAS: It doesn't phase me. I mean, I've never really worried what happens in these walls or what's being written or said. I'm more concerned about what happens in between the lines. That's where I feel like I give my energy to that and not what's really going on in here. But the players know, my opponents know that I'm still right there and got to produce and do well.

Q. Can you talk about raising the level of your game. If I recall correctly, you said that your final against Andre at Wimbledon was one of the times that you were really most into it, most in the zone. Can you take a moment and say what it feels like when you're really at your highest level, how it is stroking your running forehand, your serve, what is that experience all about?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, it doesn't happen very often. Especially in a Slam final. But you just -- you wake up in the morning and you have a good practice and then just go out there and that match, you know, 3-all, Love-40 to the rest of the match, I just kind of got into the zone. You can't predict it. You can't plan on it. It just happens. It doesn't happen that often in a match that big. You know, couple things happen my way, then I just let it all hang out. That's a surface that I can do it on against Andre. And just kind of got in the zone there.

Q. Is it a feel? Does the ball seem bigger?

PETE SAMPRAS: The ball doesn't seem bigger. You just feel like you're just seeing the ball great, you're moving well. You're guessing the right direction. Everything just clicks. And it can happen. It's rarely happened to me in Slam finals, but that one it did. I, to this day, can't explain why or how it happened. It just did. It just kind of got in the zone.

Q. At this point in this year's US Open, overall how are you feeling mentally as well as physically? How hungry are you to win this?

PETE SAMPRAS: I'm very hungry. This is what I play for, is the majors. I'm physically fine. I'm mentally fine. Everything is in one piece. So I can't complain with the way this first week has gone. I'm just as hungry today as I was ten years ago. This is what I do all the training for. This is what I do all the practicing for - these moments.

Q. Your winning streak against Rafter is very good across your career. Over a good number of years you were -- when talking about his various opponents, Rafter's always seemed to put you above his other opponents. Do you want to hear that from an opponent? Secondly, do you think you have a mental advantage over Pat?

PETE SAMPRAS: It's always flattering to hear what Pat says. But there's no mental edge I feel like I have over Pat. Pat has beaten me a number of times. He's beaten me here a number of years ago. So he's a very, very tough opponent for me to play because of his serve, his volleys, the way he moves out there. I don't think I have a mental edge. It's going to be a very close match, like it always is. It's just a matter of a couple points here and there, and hopefully I can bring my A game and play well.

Q. Patrick McEnroe said a while ago there are holes in Pete's game now. Players don't fear him.

PETE SAMPRAS: He's the Davis Cup captain? Is that the Davis Cup captain? Fat chance I'm playing now. (Laughter).

Q. When you hear that criticism, does it motivate you, anger you?

PETE SAMPRAS: Doesn't really do either. Doesn't anger me or motivate me. You know, you're gonna have your critics and whatever. It's never phased me over the course of my career that much. It did when I was younger, but now it's, you know, I have nothing to prove anymore. But, sure, the year has been a little disappointing. Haven't played all that well. But I know what I can do out there. I've been showing it a little bit this week.

Q. You joked before the match that it takes you a little bit longer to recover now. This was physically not the most challenging match for you, but do you do anything differently after a match and also to prepare for this heat?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, wasn't that hot today. But when it does get hot, you just have to be more aware of your fluids, eating the right foods. You get to warm up a little more. I paid the price when I took my body for granted when I hurt my back a little bit there. As you get older, recovery isn't quite as good. But that's a case of knowing that you have to work a little bit harder. You know, put in the time in the weight room, put in the time on the track so you can recover as best you can.


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