PostHeaderIcon BANK OF THE WEST LEGEND PETE SAMPRAS ON WIMBLEDON, ANDY MURRAY, ROGER AND SERENA

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Ten years after his retirement from tennis at the US Open, "Pistol Pete" Sampras has still got game! He might be a step slower, and the hair might be a little thinner, but his serve is as lethal as ever; and so is the running forehand that many of us tried to copy in our own games. Best of all, his love of the game is as strong as ever!

Pete has certainly taken to playing/performing in exhibitions. Whereas many thought he lacked the humor and passion of Agassi during his days on the tour, he’s more than made up for it in retirement. His matches are the perfect combination of excellent play, personality, and great on-court quips. The crowd loves this 14-time Grand Slam champion more than ever.

But sometimes getting older as an athlete can have its’ challenges. Up a set and tied at all 5-all in the second, Pete was closing in on victory against Michael Chang during the first of three planned "legends" matches when he pulled up lame with a calf injury while running for a forehand. He tried stretching the leg after the point, but realized it was pointless to continue and limped to the net to concede the match.

The crowd was disappointed, but appreciative of the tennis that they’d seen from this great champion. As luck would have it, Pete wasn’t done just yet for the evening. He wanted the chance to talk with us in the media after the match, but couldn’t walk. Since Pete couldn’t come to us, they took us to him.

We met Pete in the men’s locker room off of the players’ lounge. He was laid out on a small couch with his leg elevated, and wrapped with an ice pack. It was one of the more surreal moments I’ve encountered as five of us writers huddled above this great athlete with our recorders in hand. It quickly turned into one of the greatest and funniest moments, as we peppered Pete with questions about everything from the state of the US men’s game, Roger’s Wimbledon victory, and Serena greatness.

I hope you enjoy this locker room chat with "Pistol" Pete!

Michael was hitting the ball pretty hard tonight against you. Any regrets about the comment you made earlier today in practice with Marion Bartoli when you said she was hitting the ball about as hard as he did in his prime?
Michael’s actually hitting the ball harder today because of technology than back in the day. But Michael still plays great. We don’t move as well we used to, but he still hit some great returns, and hit the ball pretty heavy. I thought we both played pretty well.

What’s your take on the state of American men’s tennis today (compared to the other guys in the world) given your past position as one of the last dominant US men?
Well, the world’s gotten a little bit better over the past ten years. People are playing from all walks of life, and it’s not just Americans dominating golf or tennis.
Look at Djokovic, and where he came from. [Also] Nadal, and Murray… These guys are hungry young guys, and I see them dominating for many more years. We’re okay. Roddick’s certainly slowing down. [There’s] Isner, Querrey… We’re a couple of levels below those guys, and I don’t have an answer why American tennis is struggling. I just think that the world’s gotten better.

Did you watch the Wimbledon men’s final?
Yes, I saw the last couple of sets. You know, when Roger found his game it looked like a heavyweight against a middleweight. He started playing and returning well. And it seems that it’s much harder for Murray to play at that level for a long time.
That’s what makes Roger great. I always felt that Roger would win another major, probably Wimbledon, and it did turn out to be Wimbledon. It’s a surface you can dominate on, and I certainly did in my day. He’s figured it out and he’s going to be a contender there for many years.

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When you played at the US Open did you ever feel the same kind of pressure as Andy Murray does when he plays at Wimbledon? Was it positive pressure or negative?
My only pressure was the pressure I put on myself. It’s not like Murray’s. It [would have been] like a national holiday if he had won. So it’s much bigger. I think when I played the US Open there was pressure, but it wasn’t anything from the fans or the media. Just myself.

Were you surprised that it took Roger this long to tie your record of 7 Wimbledon titles?
No. I’m not surprised. He hasn’t been winning the last couple of years. He lost to Berdych and Tsonga, guys who play much better on the grass. And even though he struggled a little bit throughout the tournament, but it seemed like he was really good in the end. I don’t see him stopping. I can see him winning Wimbledon again for many years. It gets tougher as you get older, but I just think he’s still very eager.

Have you seen Serena since you’ve been here?
Yes, I saw her when I walked out to the practice court to hit with Marion Bartoli. She was not happy with me. I was hitting with her competitor and she was a little jealous, let’s be honest. <laughter>  I promised I’d hit with her tomorrow and unfortunately I don’t think that’s going to happen. The hit with Marion was a little bit too much for me. I think that’s why I hurt my calf. So you can write that Marion is the reason why I hurt myself. <more laughter>
Serena is the best player in the women’s game in the lady’s game. It’s good to see her back. She’s the best athlete. She’s one of the greatest of all time, if not the greatest.

What do you think about her serve given all of the comparisons made between the effectiveness of her serve and your own serve? Do you see similarities?
Yeah, it’s a huge weapon! And on grass it’s going to help just that much more. It’s probably the biggest shot in the women’s game. She can serve 120 and hit it with accuracy. That’s a great weapon.

Did you know that Serena modeled her serve after yours? And she’s trying to chase your records, too, now that she has 14 Majors?
She did? That’s cool. Everyone’s breaking my records. <more laughter> It’s flattering when people look up to me. For some reason, Venus and Serena have both looked up to me. I think as long as Serena is motivated and continues to play she should win more majors. She’s that much better than everyone else.
It’s all about finding the motivation to keep going and keep practicing. She could stop tomorrow and be very happy with her career. But it’s miles to keep going…  I wish her all the best.

Have your boys picked up tennis racquets?
Yeah I got them doing tennis camps during the summer, and lessons during the year on the weekends. They’re into it, but I don’t know if it’s for them. I’m not going to push them on them. If they’re into it great, if not I’m okay with that as long as they’re active, (and) off the computer, off the Wii, off of all this technology we have today. I can’t stand it! I want them out playing.

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