Exclusive Pete Sampras interview: Sampras tells The Tennis Space that his friend Roger Federer will carry on playing, and challenging for grand slams, “for many, many years” as he will avoid burnout. The Californian argues that Federer “is a young 30 who is very eager, plays a lot and loves the lifestyle of being on the road – I don’t see any decline”.
Sampras also talks about the influence that his former coach, Paul Annacone, has had on Federer, and how he is “getting used to Roger breaking my records” – this summer, Federer could go level with Sampras on seven Wimbledon titles, and one more week as the No 1 would see him match the American’s record of 286 weeks at the top of the tree.
Sampras on whether Federer can win another slam. “Yes, I still think Roger can win a slam. He still seems very motivated. He loves to travel, he loves to play. He’s sort of a young 30-year-old. He’s very eager, he plays a lot, he loves the lifestyle of being on the road. When I was his age, I just felt a little more tired and burnt out after the years of travelling. He enjoys the lifestyle, and as a result he’s going to play for many, many years.
“His level is still very high and he could very easily….winning in Paris is a tough one but I still think he’s the favourite at Wimbledon and the US Open in a few months’ time is still a realistic win for him. I don’t see any decline, I just think some guys have stepped it up in the last three or four years and they’re in their prime now. But Roger still has a great attitude, he’s still playing great and he loves it out there. I don’t see him getting burned out or tired, he’s still very eager.”
Sampras on Federer’s chances at Wimbledon. “Listen, he’s a strong favourite, as is Novak, as is Rafa, it’s really, not a lot separates the top three or four guys. At Wimbledon this year you’ve got a few guys who are stepping it up a little bit but when push comes to shove I still like the top three or four guys to be in there in the last weekend. Roger’s been there so many times, he knows what to do. It’s really anyone’s. The top four guys are so much better than the rest it really just comes down to when they play, getting the breaks and playing a little better, feeling better, who’s had the easier first week. But I still like Roger on the grass. He has the best game for the surface, but we’ll see.”
Sampras on Federer breaking his records. “Roger’s very eager, willing to put in the work, is still training very hard and I see him being a contender and a favourite at Wimbledon. I don’t think being No 1 again is as important to him as a Wimbledon would be but obviously everything goes hand in hand. So, I’m used to Roger breaking my records, that’s the way it’s been for a number of years. There’s nothing I can do about it. I would just sit here being impressed at what Roger’s been able to do.
“I know how hard it is to stay on top for many years, and I think it’s easier to have my records broken by a guy who I admire and who I consider a friend. It’ll make it a little bit easier. When we all play, we want to keep our records for ever but we know that records can be broken and most likely will be broken. Roger’s done incredible things on and off the court and really deserves all the accolades of being a great champion.”
Sampras on the influence of Paul Annacone, his former coach, who is now working with Federer. “I think Paul’s very smart. He knows what it’s like to be out there. He coached me for many years, he’s smart with different personalities, what I might want to hear, what Roger might want to hear, or Tim [Henman], for a few years. He’s not a guy who is going to need to tell Roger a lot of things but to have Paul in his corner can help him figure out a few things, like how to play a lefty in Rafa, how to cope with Novak and his speed, try to think of different ways to beat these guys, if it’s coming in a little more, being a little more strategic, because Roger played one way and he was so much better than everyone.
“Now the guys are moving a little better, playing a bit better, he’s got to find new ways. Paul’s very smart, he knows the players. He’s been with Roger quite a while now so he knows what Roger can do and what he can say. It’s been a good fit. I know from talking to Paul, he really likes Roger and enjoys the time they have together, and it’s a good match.”
Sampras on how Annacone stays calm. “He is very relaxed, doesn’t get too wrapped up on anything, and he’s there for you. But when he needs to step up, he’ll step up and say what he has to say, be very honest. But he does it in a very calm demeanour, he’s not a distraction to Roger. When I was playing I never thought, ‘God, he’s scheduling interviews, he’s doing…..’ Paul was about the job and about the player. In a day and age, when you have coaches looking to do other things, looking at other opportunities, Paul was always in my corner and I always liked that loyalty.”
Coming soon on The Tennis Space: Pete Sampras on how Roger Federer needs to approach his matches with Rafael Nadal.