Sampras ousted from seniors event but return to England brings flashbacks

Updated: December 6, 2008, 3:10 PM ET
Associated Press

LONDON -- The memories all came flooding back to Pete Sampras, even if a title didn't come with the nostalgia.

The seven-time Wimbledon champion, playing in a seniors tournament at Royal Albert Hall, lost to Cedric Pioline 7-6 (7), 7-6 (5) Saturday. But not reaching Sunday's final didn't diminish the enjoyment of his first trip to England since losing at Wimbledon in 2002.

"This place brings back memories ... just being here and seeing the British people," said the 37-year-old Sampras, who beat Pioline in the 1993 U.S. Open final and the '97 Wimbledon final. "It was good to be back.

"When you drive around the streets here, I think about my titles. I think about my wins. But unfortunately I couldn't win it here."

On Wednesday, Sampras had 19 aces and defeated John McEnroe 6-3, 6-4 in the opening match. Pioline had never beaten Sampras in nine matches on the men's tour, but he finally got the better of him as both players dropped serve once in each set.

"It was a dogfight," Sampras said. "Cedric is returning better today than he did back when."

Pioline also thought it was the return game that allowed him to win and reach the final, where he will face Greg Rusedski.

"I always had problems to return his serve," the 39-year-old Frenchman said. "Suddenly, I could read his serve. I don't know why."

Back in 1997, it was different story. Sampras was starting another winning streak at Wimbledon after falling to Richard Krajicek in the '96 quarterfinals. He would go on to win four straight and cement his status as one of the greatest ever to play on grass.

"He'd rather have the '97 Wimbledon than this one," Sampras joked.

McEnroe said Sampras would still be competitive if he played on the tour. But Sampras said "never."

"I could be competitive, and there's a big difference as far as being competitive and winning," Sampras said. "I could play Wimbledon and hold serve a few times, but that's not why I play the game. I play to win. I play to win titles."

Sampras did that in his last professional match, earning his 14th major title at the 2002 U.S. Open.

"I gave it every possibility after the U.S. Open to play again," Sampras said. "After six months ... after Wimbledon came and went, that's when I knew I was done. I didn't know what I was going to do next, but I knew was done with tennis."

But he has slowly returned to the game, playing a pair of seniors events this year and taking on Roger Federer in an exhibition match at Madison Square Garden. He said he'd like to face Rafael Nadal, who deposed Federer as the top-ranked player this year.

"I'd like to see Nadal's game, his sort of ball, his quickness out there," Sampras said. "If it's a match or practice I don't care. That'd be interesting for me."

Sampras even thinks he'd have a chance against the Spaniard, given the right circumstances.

"If I played him out here, on this court, I could be competitive. That's all I'm going to say," Sampras of the fast indoor surface at Royal Albert Hall. "He's the best player in the world and I'm not."

On this trip, Sampras entertained the idea of dropping by the All England Club but decided against it. After winning seven Wimbledon titles in eight years from 1993-2000, Sampras lost to George Bastl in five sets in the second round of the 2002 tournament.

"It just wasn't the right time," said Sampras, who would likely return if 13-time Grand Slam champion Federer can break his record of 14. "When it's all prime and pretty, I'll be back."


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press