Sampras in Agassi's court

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The Independent Online
Tennis

Pete Sampras, summarising the amount of wear and tear he experiences during the course of a year, said: "Some days you feel too sore to walk down and go to the bathroom.''

The Wimbledon champion was offering a modicum of support to his rival Andre Agassi's radical suggestion that the season should end in September, after the United States Open.

Commitment to the sport has become the subject of much debate during the Lipton Championships here, triggered by the refusal of the leading American players, Sampras, Agassi, Michael Chang and Jim Courier, to participate in the nation's defence of the Davis Cup.

While a second string, comprising Todd Martin, MaliVai Washington and the doubles team of Patrick McEnroe and Pat Galbraith, prepares to travel to Prague next week for the tie against the Czech Republic, Sampras and Agassi continued to press their argument that the Davis Cup ought to be suspended during Olympic Games years and played every two years.

Agassi acknowledged that the notion of closing the whole show after the four Grand Slams was a non-starter, "because a lot of people basically are spoiled with the convenience that tennis offers them." He added: "I think the maximum you should take the year is to the ATP Tour World Championships. You can do that within six or seven months, no problem.

"The bottom line is there's hundreds of players that vote. It's going to require the top 10 players to get together to put some pressure on the ATP.''

A year ago, after contesting the Lipton final, Agassi and Sampras journeyed to a Davis Cup tie in Italy. In September, Agassi damaged a chest muscle during the semi-final against Sweden, which, he says, ruined his end to the year.

Sampras, the hero of the final against Russia in Moscow in December, reckons that the "physical and mental toll" had a knock-on effect which resulted in a third-round defeat at the Australian Open in January.

"If I could be guaranteed a week off before and after Davis Cup ties, I could see myself being more committed," Sampras said. "I don't see that happening.''

Calling a halt after the US Open "sure would be nice," he said, adding: "I don't need four months off at the end of the year, but a couple of months would be nice. All the top players kind of agree on maybe having some time off. But it seems like since the ATP is making good money and the players are making good money, the schedule hasn't changed. I'd give up all the extra money just to have some more time off.''

How does he reconcile that philosophy with his appearance at the $6m (pounds 4.05m) Grand Slam Cup in Munich, directly after the Davis Cup final? "I got $600,000 a show," said Sampras, who collected a $500,000 bonus as the winner of Wimbledon and the US Open plus $100,000 for playing in the first round in Munich. "That's a lot of money to turn down, basically playing an exhibition for tons of dough.''

Courier reasoned that money would dictate that there would be tennis even if the regular season finished early. "If we end the season in October we wouldn't lose tournaments per se," he said. "There would still be exhibitions, and there could still be challenger events. But we're a partnership with the tournament directors, and they're not going to give in.''

Mats Wilander and Karel Novacek have failed in their High Court appeal against the International Association's anti-drug procedures. The players will face an independent tribunal next month to answer accusations that they tested positive for cocaine during last year's French Open.

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