Tennis: Pistol Pete's Lipton target

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The Independent Online
LAST YEAR Pete Sampras complained that he was playing too much. This year he says he is not playing enough. After taking a two-month break, during which time he missed the Australian Open, Sampras rejoined the ATP Tour last month. But in just six matches he has failed to reach the final in three consecutive tournaments.

"Pistol Pete" will try to get back on track at the Lipton Championships, which begin today. "It's just a matter of getting the confidence back. It's going to take time, but I'm an impatient guy. I want to win everything I play," he said.

Sampras, twice Lipton champion, brings a modest 4-2 record and a two-match losing streak to Key Biscayne. He withdrew at San Jose because of a strained tendon in his ankle. He lost at Scottsdale to Jan-Michael Gambill and lost at Indian Wells to Felix Mantilla, then lost the No 1 ranking to Carlos Moya.

Sampras is seeded second behind Moya at Lipton. The women's field includes the top-ranked Martina Hingis, Steffi Graf, the defending champion Venus Williams and her sister, Serena, who has won her last two tournaments.

Many question Sampras's motivation at 27, an age when some players - Michael Chang and Jim Courier, for example - are in decline. Sampras spent much of last year complaining about the grind of the ATP Tour schedule and refused to play in the Davis Cup. He won his 11th Grand Slam title at Wimbledon, leaving him one behind Roy Emerson's record of 12.

"It gets harder as you get older," Andre Agassi told Tennis magazine. "And I have this feeling that Pete is close to the point where he's just going to say, `Enough of all this.' But he's certainly capable of winning two more Grand Slams."

Sampras claims he is not close to quitting. He said the break at the beginning of the year left him rejuvenated and ready to reassert himself as the world's best player. "I'm not going to be done with this game anytime soon," he said. "I still enjoy playing. Travelling for 10 years, 30 weeks a year, gets a little tiring, but I love competing.

"These next four or five years, I'm going to give myself an off season - two or three months just to chill out, like the guys do in other sports. That will hopefully help me to have a long career."

Sampras has a chance to regain the world No 1 position this week. Others who could emerge from the event with the top ranking are No 3 Yevgeny Kafelnikov, No 4 Alex Corretja and No 5 Patrick Rafter.