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Don't Dismiss Pete Yet!

September 3, 2001

Never write Pete off! Back to his old self he overcame Patrick Rafter on Monday in four sets to set up a quarter-final showdown with longtime rival Agassi.

The first two sets went smoothly his way, with high percentage of second serves completed with both forehand and backhand winners. But not without a little help from Rafter, who did not wake up until the third set. From then on, the real match began.

Sampras' serve was flawless. He had 20 aces, just 14 unforced errors and ripped 60 winners. He lost just 14 points on his serve in the first two sets and Rafter never found a way to break through it. When the Australian had him at break point in the third set, Sampras came to the net for a cross-court return and punctuated the point with a shout.

Rafter, who is considering retirement after this year, perhaps playing his last Grand Slam match, picked up the pace of his game only in the third set, forcing Sampras to a tiebreak. He edged in front on a double fault by Sampras and went on to win 7-5, forcing the fourth set. It was the first set Sampras has lost in the tournament.

They battled on even terms through the fourth set, trading booming serves until the 10th game. Then Rafter's seventh double fault put him in trouble. He saved two match points before Sampras ended it on extraordinary exchange for the final point, with an overhead smash. Sampras raised both his arms in delight and shouted "yeah" to the TV camera.

The Sampras-Rafter matchup marks the first time since 1992 that former champions have faced each other in the fourth round. That year, Ivan Lendl defeated Boris Becker in five sets.

Sampras is now 12-4 against Rafter, but this was the first time Rafter has been the higher seed. In their last meeting at the U.S. Open in the 1998 semifinals, Sampras took a two sets to one lead before injuring his ankle and Rafter went on to win in five sets en route to his first Open title. Sampras defeated Rafter in four sets at Wimbledon to win his record 13th Grand Slam title. Sampras defeated the Australian in three sets in their last meeting at Indian Wells, California, in March.

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US Open - Round 4
Post-Match Interview

Pete Sampras defeats Pat Rafter
6-3, 6-2, 6-7, 6-4

September 3, 2001

MODERATOR: Questions, please.

Q. You looked like in total command the first two sets, a great third and fourth. Can you talk about how it felt? Was that the best you've played in a year?

PETE SAMPRAS: It certainly was a very tough match. Going into a fourth-round match, playing someone like Pat, who I have a lot of respect for, has beaten me out there the last time we played here. First couple sets, I just was on a roll. I mean, I was serving very well. I saw a lot of second serves. I was making him play. I knew once we got into the third he was going to pick it up a little bit. Came down to a tiebreaker. I thought I played a pretty good breaker. He came up with some good stuff at the right time. Started playing better third and fourth set, serve picked up a little bit. Last game of the match, I don't know if it was the nerves, but he kind of missed a few volleys I don't think he normally would miss, then it was a good match point. Not a lot that separates Pat and I, just a couple points here and there. I definitely set the tone early on with the way I was playing, the way I was returning.

Q. Was that the best you've hit your backhand in a long time?

PETE SAMPRAS: I mean, that was a big part of the match, you know, as far as my return, I needed to -- he's got that big kicker to my backhand, which has always given me problems. I was just making him play. I was taking it short and early. It was just something I was telling myself to do. I got into a pretty good rhythm out there in the first couple sets. It's hard to maintain that for three sets against someone like Pat. But a big part of the match was my return, being able to make him play. That 5-2 game, we had that long game, it was a good game for me, even though I lost it. I felt like I was making him work, which is something you have to do against Pat.

Q. At home do you have a collection of taped great moments in your career? If you do, would the last point of this match be one of those tapes you'd be keeping?

PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah, I mean, the match point, you know, could have easily gone into a tiebreaker there. Once I had a match point, I kind of felt the nerves a little bit. I missed a forehand by about ten feet out. I scrambled pretty good there at the end. Got a little bit lucky with the return. Ended up hitting an overhead winner. It was a good match point. Definitely wanted to end it, if I could, there. I didn't feel like going into another tiebreaker because, you know, anything can happen at that point.

Q. Did you anticipate his cross-court volley there?

PETE SAMPRAS: He was going against the wind. It was a tough volley on his part because he was stretched out pretty wide. I just kind of started sprinting down that area, showed some pretty good wheels there. Just wanted to make sure I made it. I was going downwind. After I hit it, I said, "I'm coming in." Got the overhead. That was it.
You know, I really felt like we were going to a tiebreaker. The way he was serving, the way I was serving, which I didn't really look forward to playing, to be honest with you. You know, it was nice to end it at that point.

Q. You looked as emotional or even more emotional than after some of your Wimbledon wins. How much did this mean to you?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, it's a huge match - playing Pat, who is worthy of a big match, a semi or final here. You have to emotionally treat it like a final, at least I did. I've got a lot of respect for Pat and his game. I wanted to show some emotion. You know, the way we both were playing, once you get that breakpoint, once you get that break, it's a huge part of the match. After thinking I was letting it slip away there in the fourth, just to have a chance to win it, to play a good match point, win from there, it was a good way to end it.

Q. The noise coming out of the crowd, people yelling things. There was a guy who yelled, "Come on, Pistol Pete." We haven't heard that. Do you feel like that?

PETE SAMPRAS: You mean the basketball player (laughter)? I can't shoot like him. The crowd was definitely very vocal today. Once Pat was struggling a little bit, they kind of got behind him and made it very interesting. But I feel like I've got a lot of support this week from the New York crowd. It was a good atmosphere out there. I don't necessarily hear everything everyone's saying. But "Pistol" is definitely a nickname that I've heard over the years.

Q. Does he bring out the best in you? How do you explain your great record against him?

PETE SAMPRAS: He definitely brings out the best in me. He's one of the best players in the world. I think coming in here, he was one of the strong favorites to go all the way. He's had a great summer. He's beaten me before. He possesses a game that I have had problems with because of that kick serve up to my backhand, his athletic ability, the way he competes. He doesn't give up. Just have a lot of respect for his game, what he possesses. He definitely is one of the best movers I've ever played, especially at net. There's no doubt I had to be ready from the first point on.

Q. When the tiebreaker got away, how disappointing was that? It was tight. You got back from 2-4 to 4-All.

PETE SAMPRAS: I was a little disappointed, but still up two sets to one. I was still playing fine. You know, it's a little disappointing. I mean, you can't dwell on it for more than two seconds. You know, you have to look forward to the fourth. You know, I still had a lead. I still liked my chances. And it would have been nice to have maybe won that breaker, but he came up with some good stuff at the right time. 5-4, he just missed a few shots. You know, he was serving so well. He threw in one double there. He gave me a chance to win the match. I went from there and won it.

Q. You beat one champion, now you face another. Talk about playing Andre.

PETE SAMPRAS: Doesn't get any easier, that's for sure. Another heavyweight that I'm up against in a couple days. What can you say? He's one of the best ever? He, like Pat, brings out the best in me. He's playing great. Seems like we're both peaking at the same time. Hopefully we can produce some good tennis out there Wednesday night. What can you say? I'm going to have to play very, very well to beat him. He feels the same way against me. There's a lot of respect. There's a lot of history we have. It should produce some good tennis.

Q. Was this your best match in 2001?

PETE SAMPRAS: It's one of them, yeah, definitely. It was a big match. Obviously it's a major event. Playing Pat, to play that well, it's probably one of my best matches of the year.

Q. When you prepare for Andre, when you're involved in a match with him, how much do you think about your whole history against him? How much do you think just about the recent matches you've had with him?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, you don't think of either one. You think of what I'm trying to do out there, you know, what he likes and doesn't like. And we know what's going to happen. I mean, he's going to stay back and return. I have to be aggressive, but be patient at the same time. It's going to be a good one. It's going to be hopefully a classic that we can all remember. Hopefully I can get through it. It's a pick 'em match. I don't see really any strong favorite on one side. I think it's going to come down to how well I serve, you know, how well he returns. It should be a good one.

Q. Can you talk a little more about that celebration at the end?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, it was, like I said -- I thought we were going into a tiebreaker, which at that point it's anyone's tiebreaker. To have a chance to win it there, the way Pat was serving, then all of a sudden I'm up 15-40, he got it back to deuce, got a match point. You know, tennis, it can come down to a couple points. Once I got into that net there, I felt like I had a good chance of winning the match. But the crowd was very supportive at the end. They gave me a nice ovation, which was nice. You know, you guys have been seeing me play for many years. There are certain times I do show emotion. It's not too surprising when you win a big match like that, play a great match point.

FastScripts (by ASAP Sports)


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