Sampras to join pro league to stay busy

Wednesday, March 1, 2006

All those comparisons between Roger Federer and Pete Sampras are right on the mark. Sampras himself says so.

"They're all very valid: Not only is he winning majors, but the way he's winning them -- with pretty much ease. He's pretty much the favorite in every major for the rest of his career," Sampras said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.

"Clearly, he's head and shoulders above the rest. I don't see anyone pushing him over the next three or four years."

Sampras knows his record of 14 Grand Slam tournament titles could very well be threatened by Federer, who has seven so far. Time for the 34-year-old Sampras to come out of retirement and try to add to his total? Not quite.

Sampras is returning to the tennis court, though, signing up for the World Team Tennis Pro League more than three years after his last match.

"This is more about just getting myself a little busier and focused on something I used to be good at," he said ahead of Wednesday's announcement by the league. "It's time this year to do a little more. Last year, I was kind of floating along."

His last professional match was the 2002 U.S. Open final, when he beat longtime rival Andre Agassi. As much as he says he's looking forward to playing in the WTT, Sampras made one thing quite clear: Don't call it a comeback.

"I miss playing the game. I miss the majors. I miss competing. But to play at the level I used to play is a whole other animal. I've done that, and I know what it takes," he told the AP. "Me playing a little tennis this year is something I can control; there isn't any pressure. I can relax and have a little fun. Coming back is not something that crossed my mind."

While it's tough for him to watch Wimbledon, where he won seven championships, Sampras keeps tabs on the game.

And he's impressed by the top-ranked Federer.

"He moves great, does everything very well. He's gotten to a point that when he's not at his best, he's finding ways to win, and that separates him from the rest," Sampras said, a moment before making sure to bolster his own credentials a tad.

"There are less great players today than there was when I was playing," he saidd.

Sampras has never played in the WTT, a 12-team league that in recent years has featured such stars as Agassi, Steffi Graf, John McEnroe, Martina Navratilova, Andy Roddick and Venus Williams. Sampras will be chosen by a team in the March 28 draft and expects to play about a half-dozen matches during the July 6-26 regular season.

WTT co-founder Billie Jean King unsuccessfully tried to persuade Sampras to participate in the league while he was on tour.

"He's definitely someone that we wanted," WTT commissioner Ilana Kloss said. "We're just thrilled that Pete's going to be back out there, and fans will get an opportunity to see him again."

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