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Sampras won't be joining coaching ranks

By Chris Pike
31 January 2014 03:48PM EST

PETE Sampras won't be joining the list of former tennis greats taking a shot at coaching and nor will he attempt a short-lived comeback like Pat Rafter did recently at the Australian Open.

The American might no longer be the Grand Slam record holder with his 14 titles overtaken by Roger Federer, but Sampras certainly can still lay claim to being the greatest player of all-time even if he does continue to hide away from the spotlight.

He did return to the 2014 Australian Open for the first time since his last appearance as a player in Melbourne in 2002 and presented the winning trophy, which he won in 1994 and 97, to Switzerland's Stanislas Wawrinka after Sunday night's final on Rod Laver Arena.

In recent times, more and more of Sampras' peers from his playing days have taken up coaching roles as well even though it's hardly a new phenomenon.

Tracing back, Billie Jean King coached Martina Navratilova, Mats Wilander coached Marat Safin and Jimmy Connors even coached Andy Roddick, but over the past 18 months several of the men that Sampras had plenty of battles with have come into the coaching field.

The first, and most successful so far, was Czech-turned-American Ivan Lendl taking over coaching Scot Andy Murray and helping to guide the three-time Australian Open runner-up now into an Olympic gold medallist, and two-time major winner.

Former world No. 2 Magnus Norman took over coaching Wawrinka in April last year and firstly helped the Swiss to his first Grand Slam semi-final, and now to No. 3 in the world and to the Australian Open title.

Then coming into 2014, former world No. 1 pair Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg have also stepped up to help coach two other former world No. 1s, Novak Djokovic and Federer.

Becker, a winner of six Grand Slams, is looking to help Djokovic get back to winning major titles and the No. 1 ranking while Edberg, a winner of six majors, is looking to help 32-year-old Federer get the most out of his career as he edges towards retirement.

Sampras' American compatriot Michael Chang is also into the coaching game looking to turn Japan's Kei Nishikori from a competitive player around the top-10 mark to being a genuine Grand Slam contender.

Sampras had plenty of battles against Lendl, Norman, Becker, Edberg, Becker and Chang during his remarkable playing career, and while the 42-year-old winner of 64 ATP Tour titles is happy to see those men giving back to the game, he has no interest whatsoever in joining them.

"No, no, no. It's not for me. I've been asked by a couple guys. But the travel, to go on the road, do all that they're doing is not something that I'm interested in," Sampras said.

"I think it's a good match with Stefan and Roger. Stefan is a great guy, first of all. He knows the game. He's very relaxed. He's not one of those personalities that is so upbeat. He'll be good for Roger. And he knows the game. He's been in those situations like tonight.

"Roger's obviously a great player, won 17 majors, doing pretty well with his coaches and stuff. Sometimes you just get to a point where you need to hear a different voice. Like I said, Stefan knows the game, he's a smart guy. It's a good match."

This year's Australian Open also saw another of Sampras' peers, Australia's Rafter, make a brief return to Grand Slam tennis teaming with Lleyton Hewitt in the doubles before losing in the first round.

That is of no interest to Sampras either.

"No, no (laughter). I'm very relaxed coming in here. I miss the moment. I miss the last weekend of a major. I miss the excitement," he said.

"I don't miss the stress. I don't miss the pressure, the expectations I put on myself. I miss the game, but I don't miss the stress of it. It's a tough sport. I feel like I walked away at the right time.
But to come and play doubles is fun for Pat. Fun here obviously. But it's not something I see myself doing."

Sampras did enjoy his chance to return to Melbourne, though, and he is still keeping in good shape and playing the odd exhibition or legends match.

He has also expressed interest in playing in the Indian Tennis Premier League later this year, but overall he is happy, and busy enough, with his life back home in California.

"Well, I got married, 13 years. Two kids, 11 and 8. They keep my energy up. I play a little bit occasionally, a couple exhibitions here and there. I still get in the gym. I work out a touch. I play a lot of golf. Just enjoy my life at home. Don't really travel too much," Sampras said.

"But I'm happy to be back in Melbourne. I want to thank Tennis Australia for inviting me back. As you know, I don't make too many appearances at majors. I'm excited to watch a little tennis this weekend. This place brings back some memories. It definitely is a place I've enjoyed playing. I won a couple times. Felt I could have done better, but it's good to be back."

Sampras was perhaps the last of the truly great serve-volley players, along with Rafter, but not everyone has his incredible serve either.

He does miss seeing players come to the net more in the modern game, but if he was playing he would still be doing exactly what made him such a dominant force.

"The game certainly has changed the last 10 years. The serve and volley tennis is a lost art. No one is really doing it. Everyone is staying back and hitting the crap out of the ball, which is fun to watch," he said.

"You look at Wimbledon these days. It is one dimensional. It's just the nature of technology, maybe the nature of how everyone is growing up with technology. They're used to not having to volley, serve and volley. It takes time. It doesn't happen overnight.

"Seeing Stefan, he was a great serve and volleyer. Boris, Goran Ivanisevic. Now everyone plays the same way; there's just four or five guys that are a lot better than the rest.

"But I think serve and volley tennis, it would have been just fine today. I just think you need to know how to do it."

As for American tennis, there currently is no male player ranked higher than John Isner's No. 13 in the world with just seven players from the USA in the top 100, and none of them realistic Grand Slam winners.

Long gone are the days where Connors, John McEnroe, Sampras, Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, Chang and then Roddick were all at the top of the sport, but Sampras believes that is more to do with the rest of the world improving rather than anything the USA is doing wrong.

"You know, I think the world just got better. I think the game got more global. You know, we're doing okay, but we're a couple levels behind the top guys," Sampras said.

"Just I think the world got more exposed to tennis. You know, you look at where Rafa is from, Roger, Novak. This is maybe a sport they wouldn't have played 20 years ago. Now all these great other athletes from other countries are playing tennis, not just soccer.

"I think that's part of it. I think maybe their satellite tour is stronger than our American college tour, where it's maybe not as strong. There's a bunch of reasons. I just think the world has gotten a little stronger."

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