Sampras to return to action for first time in 3 years

Updated: February 28, 2006, 12:21 PM ET
Associated Press

Pete Sampras is returning to the tennis court, signing up for the World Team Tennis Pro League more than three years after his last match.

"This is more about just getting myself a little busier and focused on something I used to be good at," Sampras said in a telephone interview ahead of Wednesday's announcement by the league. "It's time this year to do a little more. Last year, I was kind of floating along."

Sampras' last professional match was the 2002 U.S. Open final, when he beat longtime rival Andre Agassi for his record 14th Grand Slam title. Sampras held a news conference a year later at the U.S. Open to say he was retiring.

As much as he says he's looking forward to playing in the WTT, he made one thing quite clear: Don't call it a comeback.

"I miss playing the game. I miss the majors. I miss competing. But to play at the level I used to play is a whole other animal. I've done that, and I know what it takes," he told the AP. "Me playing a little tennis this year is something I can control; there isn't any pressure. I can relax and have a little fun. Coming back is not something that crossed my mind."

The 34-year-old Sampras has never played in the WTT, a 12-team league that in recent years has featured such stars as Agassi, Steffi Graf, John McEnroe, Martina Navratilova, Andy Roddick and Venus Williams.

Sampras will be chosen by a team in the March 28 draft and expects to play about a half-dozen matches during the July 6-26 regular season.

WTT co-founder Billy Jean King unsuccessfully tried to persuade Sampras to participate in the league while he was on tour.

"He's definitely someone that we wanted," WTT commissioner Ilana Kloss said. "We're just thrilled that Pete's going to be back out there, and fans will get an opportunity to see him again."

Sampras also will be appearing in an exhibition match at Houston in April. He said he's thought about working as a TV commentator, but he's not interested in coaching.

"When you retire, you take time away, you don't want to have anything to do with tennis. After two years of having fun and not doing much in the sport, you get a little bored and want to know what's the next chapter in your life. Last year was a turning point -- 'What am I going to do next?' -- and I had to make a decision," Sampras said.

"Playing in front of some people -- you kind of look forward to it a little bit."


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press