Tennis: Sampras rejects negative reaction: The new Wimbledon champion defends himself in the debate over the power game

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The Independent Online
IF the British media has been less than effusive about Pete Sampras, the Wimbledon champion and world No 1, the response is mutual. 'I think the British press definitely didn't help things much,' Sampras said from his home in Tampa, Florida, last night. 'With two Americans being in the final on the Fourth of July, there weren't too many positive articles.'

It will be remembered that Sampras won the All England Club title for the first time 17 days ago, defeating Jim Courier in the final, 7-6, 7-6, 3-6, 6-3. Neither player was taken to deuce in the opening set and there was no sign of a break point until the ninth game of the second set. The tie-breaks helped rouse spectators from somnolence, Sampras winning both as a cushion against Courier's punishing groundstrokes and the onset of fatigue. Rallies were sparse, spectacular reminders of what the audience had been missing.

'What kind of position can I take?' Sampras said. 'Jim and I basically go out there and try to win. And that's really it. That's what we're all about. And people just don't understand that. As far as the power in the game, I've been using the same racket since I was 14. Look at the guys in the top 10 and top 20 over 6ft tall. Jim and I are pretty strong guys who hit the ball very hard. The balls I'm hitting have been the same for the last five years. I'm using the same racket, I'm not using a big wide-body.

'The grass court is a fast court. The last day of the tournament it was lightning. We had a couple of baseline points, but what can I say? I was disappointed in the way it came across, but my name's on that trophy for ever, and you can't take that away.'

Announcing a 20-year redevelopment plan in March, the All England Club reaffirmed a commitment to grass courts, so Wimbledon will remain a shooting gallery unless something is done to slow the pace.

Administrators have shown little enthusiasm for radical change, and attempts to restrict the size and constituents of rackets would be resisted by manufacturers. The International Tennis Federation, while opposed to altering the dimensions of the court and the notion of one serve, would not be averse to restoring the foot-fault rule to the 1959 version: one foot on the ground behind the baseline before the ball is hit. Wimbledon experimented by using balls with reduced pressure in 1987, the year Pat Cash defeated Ivan Lendl in the final, and nobody appeared to notice.

The debate was adjourned last year after Andre Agassi had captivated crowds with his personality while confounding opponents with the potency of his service returns. It appeared to be overlooked that only a couple of shots in last year's final separated Agassi and Goran Ivanisevic over five sets.

Had Ivanisevic been the one to take his chance in the deciding set, the Croat's 206 aces for the tournament - 37 against Agassi - would have presented a powerful argument for change. Agassi's triumph muffled protests about the speed of the game then, just as a fortnight of sunshine this year put the lid on speculation about adding a retractable roof to the Centre Court. Both subjects are easily revived, one by a series of heavy showers, the other by a fusillade of hefty serves.

Sampras is for the status quo. 'I don't think there's going to be any change, at least while I'm playing the game, as far as one serve, as far as leaving one or both feet on the ground. I see it being pretty much the same type of tennis on the grass for a lot of years to come. I don't see any drastic changes. I'm sure Wimbledon is not going to change. I hope it doesn't'

Andre Agassi, who has parted from Nick Bollettieri, his coach for 10 years, is now working with Pancho Segura, the Ecuadorean once famous for his showmanship and unorthodox strokes.

(Photograph omitted)

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