Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
The legendary Pete Sampras will make his return to Davis Cup play for the first time in almost two years when his American squad battles the Slovak Republic in Oklahoma City this weekend.
The 30-year-old star hasn't appeared in a Cup tie since April 2000, when the United States stopped the Czech Republic 3-2 in a second-round match in Los Angeles, with Pete going 1-1 in his singles activity. Later that year, Sampras decided that he no longer wanted to play Davis Cup tennis, citing, among other things, scheduling conflicts, much to the chagrin of then-U.S. captain John McEnroe.
But clearly the great star has had a change of heart and will now spearhead a team that is currently captained by McEnroe...Patrick McEnroe, that is. As a matter of fact, Sampras has had a change of heart about a lot of things over the past several months, having changed coaches and agents, having mutually terminated his relationship with the sporting giant Nike, and having revamped his schedule in order to play for the Cup.
As far as his Davis Cup decision is concerned, Sampras understands that his tennis legacy would be better served by playing for the flag once again.
"I need to feel inspired out there and the last couple of years there have been moments throughout the year where, playing certain events, I felt I had a hard time getting going," said Sampras. "Davis Cup means something. You are playing for your team mates and you are playing for your country and you prepare like a Grand Slam. It means something and I need to go out there and feel inspiration and motivation and Davis Cup has always done that for me."
The 30-year-old Sampras hasn't appeared in a Davis Cup tie since April 2000, when the United States stopped the Czech Republic 3-2 in a second-round match in Los Angeles.
The seven-time Wimbledon champion and four-time U.S. Open titlist will be joined on the American squad by the "next Sampras," 19-year-old Andy Roddick, as well as doubles hopefuls Todd Martin, James Blake and Mardy Fish.
Sampras always looks forward to the prospect of playing with the young Roddick.
"I think anyone who has the potential and that game, I think he is the best young player we have in the U.S.," said Sampras. "He has a lot of power out there and a lot of confidence. He plays with a lot of energy out there. I think most Americans should be pretty excited about his potential."
Despite all the recent Davis Cup controversy surrounding Sampras, this will mark his eighth year as a representative for the U.S.. He helped the Americans secure Cup championships in 1992 and 1995, with his three match victories in the '95 final against the host Russians in Moscow regarded as one of the greatest performances in Davis Cup history. He teamed with Martin for a big doubles victory in the '95 final, and paired with John McEnroe in doubles in the U.S. victory over Switzerland in Fort Worth in '92.
Oddly enough, the super Sampras' 1995 heroics in Moscow came on that dreaded red clay -- his equivalent to kryptonite.
Sampras hopes he can lead the U.S. to a record 32nd Davis Cup title, and its first in seven years, this year, as the Americans have failed to hoist the chalice since his remarkable efforts in '95.
Obviously, the great Sampras is best known for his Grand Slam prowess, a prowess that has him at the top of the all-time Slam titles list, with 13.
The former world No. 1 has performed in 14 Davis Cup series' all told, posting a 14-7 singles record and an even-better 4-1 mark in doubles action. However, he fails to even crack the top-nine all-time American Davis Cup singles winners list, which is headed up by McEnroe (John, of course) and Andre Agassi, who recently said that he's done with his Davis Cup ventures.
Sampras currently needs to rebound from his four-set, fourth-round loss at the hands of Russian stalwart Marat Safin at the recently-concluded Australian Open. He worked hard to get into excellent shape for this 2002 season, which made his loss to Safin all the more disappointing.
"It was a tough, tough defeat," Sampras said. "I felt like I could have gone all the way there (Melbourne)."
It was the big Safin who sent Sampras into a bit of a tailspin after spanking him in the 2000 U.S. Open final. In that particular final, Sampras was going for his second Grand Slam event title of the year, but instead, he now finds himself seeking his first singles title of any kind since blowing away the field at Wimbledon 2000.
This week's dangerous Slovakian team will feature Dominik Hrbaty and Karol Kucera at the Myriad Convention Center, but Sampras is a combined 9-2 lifetime versus the two. Jan Kroslak could also end up playing singles for the Slovakians, but Pete is a perfect 3-0 all-time against him.
Sampras, who made his Davis Cup debut in 1991, has never met a Slovakian in Cup play, but that will change on Friday.
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