Champions chat: Sampras talks tennis

Story highlights

  • Pete Sampras: U.S. cannot expect to dominate men's tennis anymore
  • American legend talks to CNN's Open Court show about his glittering career
  • Nine years after retiring from top level, he discusses his career highs and lows
  • The 40-year-old is now focused on his family, having two sons with actress wife

Pete Sampras is one of the legends of men's tennis, holding the record of 286 weeks as world No. 1 -- a position he maintained for an unprecedented six years in a row.

The American sat down for a chat with CNN's Open Court show host Pat Cash, who like Sampras is a former Wimbledon champion.

Sampras was still a boy when Cash won his only grand slam crown in 1987, but went on to notch a record seven championships at the British grass-court event and 14 majors overall -- which was a record until Roger Federer beat it in 2009.

Sampras, now 40, has been retired from top-level tennis for almost a decade, and has two sons with actress wife Bridgette Wilson.

He talks about his post-playing days, his record-breaking achievements, the state of the men's game and why the U.S. can't expect to dominate tennis anymore.

On life after tennis:

"I've been into golf, trying to get into the gym to stay somewhat fit. I've got two boys now, they're active kids.

"Retirement is a work in progress. I try to figure out my day, and what I know about myself is that I need structure. I can't just wake up and watch TV and do nothing. I need a day off working out, seeing the wife, play a little golf, see my kids.

On court with Pete Sampras
On court with Pete Sampras


    On court with Pete Sampras


On court with Pete Sampras 08:03

"I've worked hard my whole life, since I was a little kid. But now it's a point in my life now where I can just enjoy it, but at the same time I still need to work."

On his post-retirement exhibition clashes with Roger Federer in 2007 and 2008:

"It was pretty intense. When we signed up to do it, the last thing I wanted to do was play horrible and embarrass myself. I wanted to be respectful.

"Roger was really good, and he's a great guy ... I felt pretty comfortable, I was only 35 at the time, so I was still playing pretty good tennis, but I think the most important thing is that I really got to know Roger.

"He's such a nice guy, good family man. He's quick and he's really good and he's got all the shots and he's a great player, but I just wanted to make sure I didn't make myself look like an idiot. I wanted to play well and I felt like I did that."

Michael Chang's historic French victory
Michael Chang's historic French victory


    Michael Chang's historic French victory


Michael Chang's historic French victory 06:16

On the state of the men's game:

"To have Roger and Rafa Nadal playing -- and Novak Djokovic has now been the dominant player and Murray's getting closer -- it's a great time for tennis, an interesting year. Is there a guy coming through who is going to to dethrone those guys? I don't think so. Berdych, Tsonga? Yeah, they have their moments up to that level, but I think it's a little bit like the '80s with McEnroe and Lendl -- those guys played each other all the time, and we're seeing that today.

"I love watching Roger and Rafa play. I mean the lefty and the righty, the grinder against Roger, who is classic ... Djokovic being a great athlete ... I'm a huge fan of all those guys."

On America's lack of successors to Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, Michael Chang and himself:

"It was a freaky time, it really was, and for American fans and media to expect it every 10 years ... let's be realistic. It's unfair to Mardy Fish, Andy Roddick and John Isner. They are really good players but they're nowhere near Roger and Rafa and Djokovic.

"To get to where I was with Andre and Jim and Michael, it might take another 10, 20 years. I think the world has got a little bit stronger, a little bit better. Guys are pretty hungry out there ... the game has gotten bigger, more people are playing the sport around the world.

Searching for the next U.S. tennis ace
Searching for the next U.S. tennis ace


    Searching for the next U.S. tennis ace


Searching for the next U.S. tennis ace 04:04

"Americans have been a little content, maybe a little soft. It's just not happening at the moment. It seems like Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Tom Brady, they're like major stars in our country and it seems like tennis has died down a little bit. I don't see anything changing anytime soon. The American media and fans expect Wimbledon winners, guys being number one -- it's pretty hard to do."

On the dying art of serve and volley:

"It's gone. I mean you (Cash), Bjorn Borg, Stefan Edberg, you were the guys that I grew up watching play, so I just developed this serve and volley game at a young age. You have to start young. I started at 13, 14 -- if you're 20 and don't serve and volley, it's too late.

"And seeing you play Wimbledon, seeing Boris (Becker) play Wimbledon, it impacted on me -- if I was to win Wimbledon, I needed to get into the net. I decided to serve and volley and do it as a young kid, and at first it was difficult. I love watching Roger, Nadal, Djokovic but it's sad to see Wimbledon today with everyone staying back.

Philippoussis: From serving to surfing
Philippoussis: From serving to surfing


    Philippoussis: From serving to surfing


Philippoussis: From serving to surfing 03:24

"Technology might be an issue because with these big Babolat rackets, they don't need to volley, you just hit the crap out of the ball. Whereas we grew up with the wood racket, so you had to hit it properly. It'd be nice to have someone come up that serves and volleys. It's definitely a lost art, and it's unfortunate."

On the ATP Tour's 2011 rookie of the year Milos Raonic, widely tipped to be the next Sampras:

"Huge serve, huge second serve. But again, he's not really looking to get in, he's looking to serve big and crack it and then get in. The feel isn't quite there with him, but he doesn't need to do it when you serve so big.

"It's a timing thing, it takes a certain rhythm, practice. (Players) like Milos or Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Tomas Berdych, they serve big, but they're not willing to get into the net on their serve. I'm a fan of all these guys, but serve and volley tennis, unfortunately, has pretty much gone."

On bowing out at the top by winning the 2002 U.S. Open, his final tournament:

"I broke the (grand slam) record when I was 29 -- I went through the next two years trying to find motivation. I just felt week in week out I didn't have it in me anymore, I just wanted to win one more major. I switched coaches, didn't really work out very well with that. I went back to Paul Annacone over the summer, and I just knew I had the game, I just needed to put it together and play that last U.S. Open.

"It was raining a lot that first week, so I had to win five matches in seven days at 31 -- a lot of work at the U.S. Open. To beat Andre (Agassi) at the end was a great ending. Quite honestly, I wasn't planning on retiring, but once Wimbledon came and went for me, I knew I was done -- my heart wasn't in it. I didn't want to practice, I didn't want to play any tennis.

"But it was a great way to end it. It wasn't really my plan, and from being as low as I could be -- losing second round at Wimbledon against (world No. 145) George Bastel, I was like almost in tears -- to come through two months later..."

On being No. 1, beating Connors' record of five successive years at the top of the rankings, and passing Roy Emerson's mark of 12 grand slams in 2000

"The No. 1 was a big deal for me -- six years in a row. I played in Europe for about two months to do it. That was huge for me, that's a big record. To beat Roy Emerson at Wimbledon with my parents there, beating Patrick Rafter, a great Australian, it was great way to do it. It was 9 o'clock at night, it was a storybook ending, quite an emotional time for me.

"So yeah, it was all about being No. 1 and winning majors, that was my goal, and I created a certain lifestyle to really create that. I was very focused, very single-minded. I just needed to be a certain way as far as my personality, so I felt I wanted to win majors and break some records and be world No. 1 as long as I could."

On being a father:

"Right now they are nine and six. They are great kids, I love them. I want them to listen a little better, I want them to do their homework and not give me a hard time and do what I say. I'm taking it in small steps, but I'm not sure they are going to be into tennis. I got them doing tennis lessons every week, and I have them doing golf lessons every weekend, just to try keep them active, get them out of the house.

"We live in a day and age of a lot of computers, Wiis, and iPods -- so much technology -- so I want to get them out of the house. I just want them to be good kids, respectful kids, be nice to people. If they play tennis great, if not, I'm okay with that."


    • Rafael Nadal of Spain watches the ball in his match against Martin Klizan of Slovakia during during day seven of the China Open at the National Tennis Center on October 3, 2014 in Beijing, China.

      What does 2015 hold for Rafa?

      Rafael Nadal's body might be giving him a few problems, but his mind remains as strong as ever. Will the Spaniard add to his haul of 14 grand slam titles?
    • LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 17: Wimbledon champion Andy Murray and his long time girlfriend Kim Sears arrive at Buckingham Palace on October 17, in London, England. Murray will become an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) and receive his medal from the Duke of Cambridge. (Photo by John Stillwell - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

      Love game: Andy Murray to tie knot

      The Scot has served up a few changes to his support team in 2014 but there's one person who isn't going anywhere -- his new fiancée Kim Sears.
    • Despite being forced to retire at the age of 24 due to health problems, Lacoste remained in the game and went on start the "Lacoste" brand in 1933, which specialised in tennis products. The inspiration for the company's logo came from his nickname as a player, "le crocodile."

      'Crocodile' who broke all the rules

      His distinctive crocodile logo is seen on clothing all over the world, but Rene Lacoste also left a lasting legacy in the development of tennis.
    • Serena Williams of the US holds the US Open trophy after defeating Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark during their US Open 2014 women's singles finals match at the USTA Billie Jean King National Center September 7, 2014 in New York. AFP PHOTO/Stan HONDA (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)

      Serena savors U.S. Open win

      Serena Williams is without peer in the modern women's game and now she is on a par with two American tennis legends from the past.
    • American tennis player and golfer Althea Gibson (right) receives a kiss from compatriot Darlene Hard, whom she beat in two sets to become the first black woman to win the Women's Singles Finals at Wimbledon.

      The amazing life of Althea Gibson

      Over the course of her remarkable life, Althea Gibson was many things to many people -- but it was tennis where she really left her mark.
    • Courting couple at match point

      "I didn't cry once when I practiced in front of the mirror," says Martin Emmrich. But the nerves kicked in when he got down on one knee on court.
    • LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - JULY 03: Tennis / Frauen: Wimbledon 2004, London; Finale; Siegerin Maria SHARAPOVA / RUS 03.07.04. (Photo by Bongarts/Bongarts/Getty Images)

      'Baby' Sharapova's big moment

      It's 10 years since a teenage Maria Sharapova became the darling of Wimbledon's hallowed Center Court, launching herself as a star.
    • 'Swiss Miss' follows mom's lead

      Five-time grand slam champion Martina Hingis has followed her mom into a coaching role, setting up a new tennis academy in Barcelona, Spain.