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Volleying with Sampras

Pete Sampras has been enjoying life out of the spotlight since leaving tennis in 2002 as one of the best men's players in history.

By DAVE SCHEIBER
Published May 3, 2007


Pete Sampras has been enjoying life out of the spotlight since leaving tennis in 2002 as one of the best men's players in history. The perennial No. 1-ranked star - six straight years - and winner of a record 14 Grand Slam events has been enjoying retirement and raising his young family with wife Bridgette Wilson-Sampras in Los Angeles. We caught up with Sampras, 35, last week at Jim Courier's Mercedes-Benz Classic charity event at the St. Pete Times Forum, where he talked about a range of topics - including this generation's most dominant male player, Roger Federer, as he seeks an elusive French Open triumph next month in Paris.

What ways do you stay active these days?

I have two little boys - Christian, who's 4 1/2, and Ryan, 1 1/2 - so they keep me busy. I've been playing golf, and I've been playing a little bit more tennis. I play a once-a-week home poker game - a little Texas hold 'em. I play basketball twice a week. So I've been trying to keep busy, stay in shape, have some fun, spend some time with my kids and my wife.

Have you enjoyed playing tennis again?

Actually, playing tennis has been good for me, because I didn't play for about three years. I took some time off and actually got a little restless and maybe a touch bored. I believe every man needs to work. And I went from this crazy life of working a lot to not doing anything at all and it was fun at first. But after a while, it wears pretty thin. So I'm going to play a few events - (Tampa), Boston and one more in Charlotte. It gives me something to prepare for and focus on. I'll be playing on the Outback Champions Series (seniors). Competitively, it's not anything like it used to be as far as intensity, but we all have a lot of pride. And we all want to win and play well.

What impresses you about today's men's game?

Two things. Roger Federer's dominance and how great he is. Just the way he handles himself on and off the court is a real credit to all sports. The other thing is I think there are less great players today, but there are a lot more good players. After Federer and (Rafael) Nadal, you look at kind of three through eight -- they're really, really good players but they're not major championship winners, like (Boris) Becker and (Stefan) Edberg, or (Jim) Courier and (Andre) Agassi. Still, the guy ranked No. 50 today is probably better than the guy ranked No. 50 when I was playing.

Anything else about Federer?

He's dominated the game probably more than anybody in the history of the game. It's just amazing how consistent he's been. I think Nadal on clay is kind of his biggest challenge now. Maybe one day he can meet that challenge and beat him.

Agassi recently said Federer needs to win the French Open to complete his resume.

When you've achieved so much - and I fell into that a little bit winning Wimbledons and the U.S. Open and Australia - it's okay, what's next? For the last couple of years of my career, it was, 'Why haven't you won the French?' It's happening to Roger now. And as he gets older and guys get a little better, it does become a little tougher. He grew up playing on clay and he's gotten to the (French Open final). I think he can win it - things really need to fall into place.

What about your generation of tennis?

I was part of an American generation that might have been the best generation ever to play the game, for sure the best American generation. Jim, myself, Andre, Michael (Chang), we combined to win more than 20 majors, we all hit or got close to No. 1 - Michael was a match from doing it. Not only that, but consider the generation of guys we competed against: Edberg, Becker, Ivan Lendl for a little bit. These were truly legends of the sport. Those mid '90s, when I played Andre in the finals of a few majors, it transcended the sport. People who didn't watch tennis were into it when I played in the finals of Wimbledon, or the U.S. Open, and had great matches with Jim. We developed a rivalry. We always had one another to be compared to, but also to push. All of us fed off one another.

Would Federer have held up well in it?

Oh yeah. He would have done just fine. I think he would have more challenges, with guys coming in a little bit more and attacking more. But I think great players figure it out. If he had played in my generation, he would have been right up there.