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Paul Annacone: An Honest View of Pete Sampras

November 2, 2001

There’s no denying that the year 2001 was a disappointing season for Pete Sampras and no one in Sampras’s camp is attempting to contradict this opinion. After all, this was the first year since 1990 that Sampras has walked away without at least one title to his credit – this from a player that owns a record 13 Grand Slam singles titles and has long been considered the greatest player that ever lived.

One person very close to Sampras is his coach Paul Annacone and intelligent as he is, Annacone offers a reasonable assessment for Pete’s lackluster 2001 and sounds extremely upbeat about what the 2002 season will bring.

A former player, Annacone was a friend of Sampras’s and enlisted as his personal coach in the mid-1990’s. A native of the Hampton’s, New York’s celebrity beach haven, Annacone was brought in when Sampras’s coach, the late Tim Gullikson, was diagnosed with brain cancer. The Sampras-Annacone tandem has been successful ever since that time.

On a phone call with from his home in Los Angeles, Annacone carefully discussed why Sampras failed to jumpstart his 2001 season, leaving the collection of his seventh Wimbledon title in July 2000 as his last trophy.

“This year was a bit of a crossroads for Pete and he just never seemed to get into a rhythm,” Annacone revealed. “What normally happens is that winning breeds winning. Pete experienced a few setbacks at the beginning of the year and it didn’t propel him to be successful the rest of the year.”

Annacone admits he supported Sampras’s decision to pack it in early this year after putting in a less than impressive performance at the Tennis Masters Series-Stuttgart last month. Sampras opted to pass on a wildcard offer for Basel and sent his regrets to the Tennis Masters Series-Paris event, putting himself out of contention for the year-end Tennis Masters Cup in Sydney later this month.

While many might criticize Sampras for not finishing out the year, the decision to call it quits in October seemed a prudent choice for the 30-year-old champion. Having gone through nearly 10 months with his only big moment coming by reaching the U.S. Open final, Sampras had nothing to prove and nothing to gain by playing a few extra tournaments except lend his weighty name to said events.

Even if he had done well the last couple of tournaments of the season, the only advantage could have been a berth in the season finale. But that could have been viewed as a disadvantage because it would have meant making a long trip down to Australia, then returning home to California for Christmas, just to turn around and go back Down Under for the Australian Open in January.

And there is the issue that Sampras recently revealed he is suffering with “dead arm” symptoms, a physical situation he says has cropped up at the end of the season the last few years. Resting his right arm that has long been responsible for delivering one of the best serves in the business can only be a benefit for Sampras. Let us not forget that it was “dead arm” that ended the career of four-time Grand Slam winner Jim Courier a couple of years ago.

“There’s nothing that resembles a structural problem with his arm, but it’s something that has come in the fall,” Annacone said. “After serving so much through the year, your arm starts to feel like it weighs 400 pounds every time you go to serve. You start to feel like you can’t lift it up and that started for Pete this year at Stuttgart. He’s had tests on the arm and there is nothing structural wrong, but we have to try and do a few things differently so the arm can stay fresher.”

“We have to go about it the right way to find the energy and motivation for 2002. It was a tough year for Pete this year – he doesn’t play for second place..."

With the year finished only a few weeks ago, Annacone and Sampras have already had discussions designed to dissect the year that’s just gone by and to make plans for an effective strategy for the upcoming New Year. In terms of 2001, both agreed that his run to the U.S. Open final where he upended Andre Agassi, Patrick Rafter and Marat Safin before falling prey to Australian Lleyton Hewitt was the highlight of the season.

“Pete’s fine and we’ve had a lot of helpful and educational conversations to gear himself up for next year,” Annacone said. “We have to go about it the right way to find the energy and motivation for 2002. It was a tough year for Pete this year – he doesn’t play for second place, although at the (U.S.) Open he played three matches that could have been three finals before losing the final.”

The big news regarding Sampras arrived in Lisa Dillman’s article in the LA Times last week – the American plans to re-enlist for Davis Cup duty in 2002. Sampras has already talked with Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe and told his good friend he’s available for the entire U.S. Davis Cup campaign next year. The first outing should be an easy commitment to meet since the U.S. will face Slovakia right here at home.

Skeptics might remember that Sampras had initially dedicated himself to Davis Cup duty in 2000, telling Patrick’s more famous brother, John, in his one-year outing as the captain, that he would be there for the team and country. In the end, Sampras only showed for the tie against the Czech Republic that was played practically in his backyard at the LA Forum. An injury kept him from the first round in Zimbabwe and he opted out of playing Spain on clay in Spain in the semifinals.

Hopefully, this time around Sampras will listen to Annacone’s reasoning on why he needs to step up and play Davis Cup and honor this important commitment.

Interestingly, Annacone said the decision about participating in Davis Cup in 2002 was made even before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon – a horrific occurrence that has brought a renewed patriotic spirit to America.

“I know it’s a romantic vision to think it’s a decision related to the terrorist attacks and certainly from the bottom of the heart that touches everyone,” Annacone said. There’s a patriotic sense to everything and from an emotional level I’m sure everything that happened played into Pete’s decision.

“We actually talked about Davis Cup early in the fall. I told Pete that at this stage in his career he needs to play something that motivates him a lot – he needs to find a way that tennis events transcend tennis for him. I’ve always been a strong advocate of Davis Cup even though I’ve always been disappointed in the scheduling of it. But I truly believe that Davis Cup answers all things in terms of motivation, especially from the historical perspective. It’s no disrespect to some of the smaller ATP events, but it’s tough for guys like Pete and Andre (Agassi) to get up for tournaments like San Jose, Scottsdale and Estoril.

“I know Pete has already talked to Patrick and told him he will play where he’s needed to play.”

Now in his thirties, Sampras is looking towards the final years of his career. Certainly an attempt to helping the U.S. recapture the Davis Cup in 2002 could only sweeten his already sweet tennis resume.


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