Pete Sampras arrives in Beijing this month for an exhibition match at the China Open with Marat Safi. Time Out catches up with the centre court legend to discuss comebacks and predictions.
The ATP and WTA tours appear more competitive than in recent years. Is this what the sport needed?
It is good to have a handful of players competing for championships. There are some new faces coming up and challenging the top players for these titles and that is healthy for any sport.
2010 China Open champ Novak Djokovic is now top of the ATP rankings. Do you foresee him dominating like you and Federer did?
I think he has had an unbelievable year and to get to number one is a great accomplishment. It is too early to see if he will dominate or not. There are a number of factors involved: one’s ability to compete at a very high level for an extended period of time, your health and how others respond all factor in to it. I still think that Nadal, Federer and a few others will raise their game and compete.
You’re playing Marat Safin in Beijing this month. Is the rivalry still there?
It is a bit different from when we used to play on the Tour. Today, my priority is playing well so that we can put on a good match and the crowd enjoys it. When we do get on the court, my competitive juices come out, but it doesn’t drive me like it used to.
What do you miss about the Tour?
I miss walking on to centre court of a Grand Slam final.
You’ve played a lot of players still active on the circuit in your retirement and beaten a lot of them. If offered a wild card into a Grand Slam now, would you take it?
I would not because I have too much respect for the sport. Playing an exhibition match against one player is a lot different from playing a tournament. I enjoy competing against some of the players of today, but I don’t think I can maintain that over a number of days.