Sampras commits to only the Boston stop of tour
BOSTON -- The last time Pete Sampras played competitive tennis in Boston, his doubles team notched the only victory for the United States in the Davis Cup quarterfinals against Australia in 1999.
The winner of a record 14 Grand Slam singles titles returns in three months for his first tournament since 2002 when he participates in the Outback Champions Series at Boston University from May 2-6. He wants to see how he feels there before committing to any of the other five tournaments in the series for players older than 30.
"I just want to see how it goes," Sampras said in a telephone interview Monday. "I don't want to commit to a bunch of them, just see how I enjoy the week, the playing. I didn't want to commit to something I wasn't 100 percent sure about."
His participation in the event was announced last Tuesday.
Boston is the second stop on the tour and Sampras prefers the hardcourt on which it will be played to other surfaces in the series. He said he enjoyed the city when he played in the Davis Cup where he teamed with Alex O'Brien for a five-set victory. Australia won the quarterfinal 4-1 and beat France in the final.
The 35-year-old Sampras retired after winning the U.S. Open in September 2002 with a victory over Andre Agassi. At first, he didn't miss the grueling routine of tournament tennis and practices.
"Initially, you enjoy it, you decompress, and it's nice not having to worry about tennis," he said. "The stress of trying to win the majors was gone. It was fun. I did some things I didn't get a chance to do."
One of those was golf.
"After a couple of years of that you kind of wake up as the mornings go on feeling you need to do a little bit more and feel more fulfilled," he said. "Getting up in the morning to play golf is fun, but you miss a little bit of the structured life you had."
One reason he's returning is his relationship with series co-founder Jim Courier, who also will be in the eight-man field in Boston along with John McEnroe. Total prize money is $142,000. To qualify for the series, now in its second full year, a player must have reached a Grand Slam singles final, been ranked in the top five, or played singles on a Davis Cup championship team.
"I almost in a way wish he came back and played [regularly]," McEnroe said Monday night after attending the Rangers' hockey game in New York. "I know he sort of in a way wants to preserve what he's already done. But no one can take that away."
Sampras said he won't return to the regular tennis tour but is ready for the competition again although it's "nothing as intense as it used to be."
"I know that he can beat most of these guys still -- certainly at Wimbledon -- so there's a temptation for him to want to do that," McEnroe said. "I know he's right. He can handle these guys but that's his call."
Sampras did play some exhibitions and World Team Tennis last year.
"I've been hitting the ball pretty well and using the bigger racket with the new technology string," Sampras said. "It's really given me the ability to hit the ball better today than I did in my prime."
For the first time in 4½ years, fans will get a chance to judge for themselves in a tournament setting.
"You still have a lot of pride and you want to play well and you want to win," he said., "Every time I step on the court I still want to hit that big shot, hit that big serve."
The series has tournaments in six cities -- Naples, Fla., in March; Boston in May; Newport, R.I., in August; Charlotte, N.C., in September; Dallas in October; and Houston in November.
Sampras, who spent a record 286 weeks ranked No. 1, will be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport in July.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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