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Searching for past magic with coach

Pete Sampras hopes to win again with his new coach, Tom Gullikson.

By SHARON GINN
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 13, 2002


After ending 2001 without a Grand Slam title for the first time since 1992 -- indeed, without winning any titles -- Pete Sampras decided it was time to make a change.

So he did the same thing he did the last time his career needed a jump-start: He hired a Gullikson as coach.

This Gully is the twin of Sampras' old coach, Tim, who helped Sampras to five Grand Slam titles in the early 1990s but had to give up the job after being diagnosed with what proved to be a fatal brain tumor. Now, six years after his brother's death, Tom Gullikson is stepping in to help Sampras fine-tune the little things and recapture some of his old magic, starting with the Australian Open, which begins Monday.

The timing is appropriate. Though Sampras didn't win the Australian in 1995, his anguished run to the final -- he broke down in tears on the court the day after learning of Tim's diagnosis -- endeared him to the fans who saw him as an automaton. Former pro Paul Annacone began coaching Sampras that day as Tim flew home to Chicago for treatment. He helped guide Sampras to eight more Grand Slam titles.

But by December, Sampras said, it was clear his professional relationship with Annacone had run its course. So he called Tom Gullikson, who might have been Sampras' coach early in his career if Gullikson hadn't been committed as director of coaching for the U.S. Tennis Association.

Back then, Gullikson told Sampras, "I have a dear friend of mine who looks just like me and talks like me and says the same things I would say,' " Gullikson said. "The rest is history. They had a very special relationship. He helped his tennis ... and (Sampras) went on to be arguably the greatest tennis player of all time. Things have kind of come full circle."

Now it's his brother's turn. Tom Gullikson left the USTA in July, so he was able and willing to help Sampras recover from a yearlong slide that saw him fall to No. 10.

It could have been worse if Sampras hadn't played brilliantly at the U.S. Open, winning a four-set, four-tiebreaker classic against Andre Agassi and beating 2000 Open champion Marat Safin before losing to rising star Lleyton Hewitt in the final. If anything, his play in New York motivated him more.

"I'm going to give it a hard push," Sampras said last month. "I've been doing a lot of training."

Though he has won 13 Grand Slam titles, more than anyone in history, there is little question Sampras' career is winding down. At 30, he can no longer expect to be as dominant as he was two years ago. So he has had to shift focus, Gullikson said.

"As you get older, you have to train a little bit smarter," Gullikson said. "The idea is trying to peak at the right time. Obviously he wants to play well in the four Slams. Everything we've been doing here is getting him to play his best tennis starting Monday. He's not going to play great all the time, but he also has to play well leading up to the tournament."

So far he has. Since the pair met up in Australia in late December and started working together, Sampras has been "rounding into form pretty well," Gullikson said. "He's in very good shape." He won an eight-player tuneup last week, beating Agassi in the final.

At least a half-dozen other players are getting more attention than Sampras, but Gullikson said he is "cautiously optimistic."

"It would certainly make it pretty special if he could do something great down here," he said. "My goal is to try to help him finish his career in the style he wants to finish in."

More tennis

KOOYONG CLASSIC: Helped by 24 aces, Sampras beat Agassi 7-6 (8-6), 6-7 (6-8), 6-3 in an Australian Open warmup in Melbourne.

"At the end of the day, my wife can beat his wife," said Agassi, who married longtime women's No. 1 Steffi Graf in October. Sampras married actor Bridgette Wilson in September 2000.

"I've got a touch more hair than Andre," Sampras said.

Scott Draper beat Thomas Enqvist 6-4, 5-7, 6-4 in the third-place match.

ADIDAS INTERNATIONAL: Defending champion Martina Hingis beat Meghann Shaughnessy 6-2, 6-3 in Sydney. In the men's final, Roger Federer beat qualifier Juan Ignacio Chela 6-3, 6-3.

"It's more than I expected at first ... it gives me confidence going into the Aussie Open," Hingis said. "I'm here, I'm ready and I'm back."

In her first tournament back after three months off because of an ankle injury, Hingis exceeded expectations. She is looking for her first Grand Slam title since the 1999 Australian Open -- her third in a row at Melbourne Park.

HEINEKEN OPEN: Greg Rusedski beat Jerome Golmard 6-7 (0-7), 6-4, 7-5 in Auckland, New Zealand, for his 11th career title.

The title was Rusedski's first since March 2001 when he beat Agassi 6-3, 6-4 to win the Sybase Open in San Jose.

TASMAINIAN INTERNATIONAL: Martina Sucha won her first WTA Tour title, beating Anabel Medina Garrigues 7-6 (9-7), 6-1 in Hobart, Australia.

-- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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