Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Sampras on U.S. men: 'Rest of world has gotten better'

Pete Sampras is scheduled to play in the Champions Shootout next Wednesday
at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento. 2012 photo by Paul Bauman
   The reason for the United States' decline in men's tennis lies outside of the country.
   American legend Pete Sampras expressed that view in a recent interview on KHTK radio in Sacramento, where he's scheduled to play in the Champions Shootout next Wednesday.
   "I don't know if it is really us," Sampras mused, "but I think the rest of the world has gotten a little bit better. Through television and the Internet, it seems like there are just more people playing tennis.
   "You look at the top players in the world, you've got Rafa (Rafael Nadal) from Mallorca (Spain), Novak (Djokovic) from Serbia and Roger (Federer) from Switzerland. Twenty years ago, maybe tennis wasn't popular in those countries. Now it is, and the best athletes from these countries are playing tennis and not just soccer."
   By any measure, the U.S. men are struggling in singles. No Grand Slam champions since Andy Roddick in the 2003 U.S. Open. No one in the top 10. Recent first-round loss at home in the Davis Cup. At least Bob and Mike Bryan are ranked No. 1 in doubles with a record 15 major titles.
   The Champions Shootout, meanwhile, features three Americans with a combined 25 Grand Slam singles crowns plus former top-five player James Blake of the United States. Sampras ranks second all-time with 14 (behind Federer's 17), John McEnroe collected seven, and Jim Courier won four.
   In the one-set semifinals beginning at 7 p.m. at Sleep Train Arena, Sampras will face the recently retired Blake, and McEnroe will play Courier. The winners then will meet in a one-set final.
   "I still enjoy playing," said Sampras, 42. "I love hitting the ball and just getting a good workout in and going out and competing against some of these old friends of mine. It's fun, and I get to catch up with some friends, some old stories.
   "And for whatever reason, these people still want to see us play, so I'm excited. It keeps me busy, keeps me involved in the sport, and the sport has been good to me. I'm looking forward to hitting a few balls, getting in tennis shape and having some fun."
   It's easy to be cynical about sports these days, but Sampras remains a believer.
   "In life, in a lot of ways, you see a lot of people get breaks when they don't deserve them," he said. "I just feel that with sports, nothing is given to you. You have to go out there and earn it. There are a lot of good life lessons that you can learn from sports, and it's something I am trying to instill in my kids."
   Sampras enjoys sports in general, not just tennis.  
   "I love watching anything from the NFL to golf to college football," he said. "I think sports is the real deal. There are great stories. There are emotional stories. It's very real.
   "I love tennis because it is the ultimate one-on-one sport. It's one will against another will. You put it all out there. If you don't play well, you are going to lose. That's the way I kind of like it."
   Tickets for the Champions Shootout start at $25. For more information, visit www.powersharesseries.com.   

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