Tennis: Sampras' put-down for the Davis Cup

PETE SAMPRAS will not play for the United States against Britain in the first round of the Davis Cup World Group at Birmingham's National Indoor Arena next Easter (2 to 4 April). The world No 1 has told the United States captain, Tom Gullikson, that his quest for individual honours comes before playing for his country.

"Winning the Slams and staying No 1, that's my priority," Sampras said in an interview with the New York Times, "and I feel if I try to play Davis Cup, those other things will be in jeopardy. I'm in a special situation here with these records, and I hope people can understand that, though I know some won't."

Sampras, world No 1 for a record six seasons, has won 11 Grand Slam singles titles, one short of the record held by the Australian Roy Emerson. The 27-year-old Californian, a member of victorious Davis Cup teams in 1992 and 1995, declared himself unavailable this year when the Americans were beaten in the semi-finals by Italy, 4-1, in Milwaukee.

Andre Agassi also missed the Italy match because it clashed with his annual charity show in Las Vegas. Agassi has been at odds with the United Tennis Association, but it is hoped that a change of administration will persuade him to play in Birmingham. In Sampras's absence, Agassi and Todd Martin may provide the opposition for Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski in the singles.

Sampras has traced some of his past injury problems to Davis Cup matches. He has also been critical of a perceived lack of interest in the tournament among Americans, and was particularly disappointed with the response to his courageous display in the 1995 final against Russia in Moscow.

Britain last played the United States in the 1978 final in California, John McEnroe making his debut in a 4-1 victory for the home nation. The original Davis Cup match was between the United States and the British Isles in Boston in 1900. Sampras has been "feeling some heat to play" because of the historical context of the match in Birmingham

The United States will mark the Davis Cup centenary with a match in Boston in July, whether they beat Britain and meet Australia or Zimbabwe in the second round, or are involved in a tie to avoid a relegation play-off.

Sampras said he would not play in the first round merely to help the Americans reach the second. "I can't commit to something unless I'm going to finish what I start," he told the New York Times.

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