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Champions chat: Sampras talks tennis

By Gary Morley, CNN
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri March 30, 2012
Tennis legend Pete Sampras met with his fellow Wimbledon champion Pat Cash, who is the host of CNN's Open Court show. Tennis legend Pete Sampras met with his fellow Wimbledon champion Pat Cash, who is the host of CNN's Open Court show.
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Sampras meets Cash
Peter Sampras on ...
Life after tennis
Playing Roger Federer
Serve and volley
2011 rookie of the year Milos Raonic
Retiring on a high
Passing Roy Emerson's record
The state of the men's game
Federer the champion
Being a father
Family man
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Pete Sampras: U.S. cannot expect to dominate men's tennis anymore
  • American legend talks to CNN's Open Court show about his glittering career
  • Nine years after retiring from top level, he discusses his career highs and lows
  • The 40-year-old is now focused on his family, having two sons with actress wife

(CNN) -- Pete Sampras is one of the legends of men's tennis, holding the record of 286 weeks as world No. 1 -- a position he maintained for an unprecedented six years in a row.

The American sat down for a chat with CNN's Open Court show host Pat Cash, who like Sampras is a former Wimbledon champion.

Sampras was still a boy when Cash won his only grand slam crown in 1987, but went on to notch a record seven championships at the British grass-court event and 14 majors overall -- which was a record until Roger Federer beat it in 2009.

Sampras, now 40, has been retired from top-level tennis for almost a decade, and has two sons with actress wife Bridgette Wilson.

He talks about his post-playing days, his record-breaking achievements, the state of the men's game and why the U.S. can't expect to dominate tennis anymore.

On life after tennis:

"I've been into golf, trying to get into the gym to stay somewhat fit. I've got two boys now, they're active kids.

On court with Pete Sampras

"Retirement is a work in progress. I try to figure out my day, and what I know about myself is that I need structure. I can't just wake up and watch TV and do nothing. I need a day off working out, seeing the wife, play a little golf, see my kids.

"I've worked hard my whole life, since I was a little kid. But now it's a point in my life now where I can just enjoy it, but at the same time I still need to work."

On his post-retirement exhibition clashes with Roger Federer in 2007 and 2008:

"It was pretty intense. When we signed up to do it, the last thing I wanted to do was play horrible and embarrass myself. I wanted to be respectful.

"Roger was really good, and he's a great guy ... I felt pretty comfortable, I was only 35 at the time, so I was still playing pretty good tennis, but I think the most important thing is that I really got to know Roger.

Michael Chang's historic French victory

"He's such a nice guy, good family man. He's quick and he's really good and he's got all the shots and he's a great player, but I just wanted to make sure I didn't make myself look like an idiot. I wanted to play well and I felt like I did that."

On the state of the men's game:

"To have Roger and Rafa Nadal playing -- and Novak Djokovic has now been the dominant player and Murray's getting closer -- it's a great time for tennis, an interesting year. Is there a guy coming through who is going to to dethrone those guys? I don't think so. Berdych, Tsonga? Yeah, they have their moments up to that level, but I think it's a little bit like the '80s with McEnroe and Lendl -- those guys played each other all the time, and we're seeing that today.

"I love watching Roger and Rafa play. I mean the lefty and the righty, the grinder against Roger, who is classic ... Djokovic being a great athlete ... I'm a huge fan of all those guys."

On America's lack of successors to Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, Michael Chang and himself:

"It was a freaky time, it really was, and for American fans and media to expect it every 10 years ... let's be realistic. It's unfair to Mardy Fish, Andy Roddick and John Isner. They are really good players but they're nowhere near Roger and Rafa and Djokovic.

Searching for the next U.S. tennis ace

"To get to where I was with Andre and Jim and Michael, it might take another 10, 20 years. I think the world has got a little bit stronger, a little bit better. Guys are pretty hungry out there ... the game has gotten bigger, more people are playing the sport around the world.

"Americans have been a little content, maybe a little soft. It's just not happening at the moment. It seems like Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Tom Brady, they're like major stars in our country and it seems like tennis has died down a little bit. I don't see anything changing anytime soon. The American media and fans expect Wimbledon winners, guys being number one -- it's pretty hard to do."

On the dying art of serve and volley:

"It's gone. I mean you (Cash), Bjorn Borg, Stefan Edberg, you were the guys that I grew up watching play, so I just developed this serve and volley game at a young age. You have to start young. I started at 13, 14 -- if you're 20 and don't serve and volley, it's too late.

Philippoussis: From serving to surfing

"And seeing you play Wimbledon, seeing Boris (Becker) play Wimbledon, it impacted on me -- if I was to win Wimbledon, I needed to get into the net. I decided to serve and volley and do it as a young kid, and at first it was difficult. I love watching Roger, Nadal, Djokovic but it's sad to see Wimbledon today with everyone staying back.

"Technology might be an issue because with these big Babolat rackets, they don't need to volley, you just hit the crap out of the ball. Whereas we grew up with the wood racket, so you had to hit it properly. It'd be nice to have someone come up that serves and volleys. It's definitely a lost art, and it's unfortunate."

On the ATP Tour's 2011 rookie of the year Milos Raonic, widely tipped to be the next Sampras:

"Huge serve, huge second serve. But again, he's not really looking to get in, he's looking to serve big and crack it and then get in. The feel isn't quite there with him, but he doesn't need to do it when you serve so big.

"It's a timing thing, it takes a certain rhythm, practice. (Players) like Milos or Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Tomas Berdych, they serve big, but they're not willing to get into the net on their serve. I'm a fan of all these guys, but serve and volley tennis, unfortunately, has pretty much gone."

On bowing out at the top by winning the 2002 U.S. Open, his final tournament:

"I broke the (grand slam) record when I was 29 -- I went through the next two years trying to find motivation. I just felt week in week out I didn't have it in me anymore, I just wanted to win one more major. I switched coaches, didn't really work out very well with that. I went back to Paul Annacone over the summer, and I just knew I had the game, I just needed to put it together and play that last U.S. Open.

"It was raining a lot that first week, so I had to win five matches in seven days at 31 -- a lot of work at the U.S. Open. To beat Andre (Agassi) at the end was a great ending. Quite honestly, I wasn't planning on retiring, but once Wimbledon came and went for me, I knew I was done -- my heart wasn't in it. I didn't want to practice, I didn't want to play any tennis.

"But it was a great way to end it. It wasn't really my plan, and from being as low as I could be -- losing second round at Wimbledon against (world No. 145) George Bastel, I was like almost in tears -- to come through two months later..."

On being No. 1, beating Connors' record of five successive years at the top of the rankings, and passing Roy Emerson's mark of 12 grand slams in 2000

"The No. 1 was a big deal for me -- six years in a row. I played in Europe for about two months to do it. That was huge for me, that's a big record. To beat Roy Emerson at Wimbledon with my parents there, beating Patrick Rafter, a great Australian, it was great way to do it. It was 9 o'clock at night, it was a storybook ending, quite an emotional time for me.

"So yeah, it was all about being No. 1 and winning majors, that was my goal, and I created a certain lifestyle to really create that. I was very focused, very single-minded. I just needed to be a certain way as far as my personality, so I felt I wanted to win majors and break some records and be world No. 1 as long as I could."

On being a father:

"Right now they are nine and six. They are great kids, I love them. I want them to listen a little better, I want them to do their homework and not give me a hard time and do what I say. I'm taking it in small steps, but I'm not sure they are going to be into tennis. I got them doing tennis lessons every week, and I have them doing golf lessons every weekend, just to try keep them active, get them out of the house.

"We live in a day and age of a lot of computers, Wiis, and iPods -- so much technology -- so I want to get them out of the house. I just want them to be good kids, respectful kids, be nice to people. If they play tennis great, if not, I'm okay with that."

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