Home court is relative to Sampras

July 16, 1994|By Lori Van Lonkhuyzen | Lori Van Lonkhuyzen,Sun Staff Writer

For Pete Sampras, next week's Legg Mason Tennis Classic in Washington, D.C., might offer him something of a home-court advantage.

Then again it might not.

One thing's for sure, the tournament will be an unusual experience for Sampras. Those boisterous fans cheering on the No. 1 tennis player in the world? Oh, just 40 or so of Sampras' relatives.

But Sampras doesn't seem to mind. He's happy to be returning to the area where he was born and spent the first seven years of his life.

Sampras, 22, was born about 15 minutes from Washington in Potomac. His mother and many relatives still live there, and they intend to see him make his Legg Mason debut. Sampras believes his cousins alone total more than 30.

"I think it will feel a little different, going back and seeing my cousins and my mom," Sampras said during a conference call from Rotterdam, Netherlands, where yesterday he beat Jacco Eltingh, 6-2, 6-2, 6-0, in a Davis Cup quarterfinal match. "I'll have to get a lot of tickets. I don't think it will be a distraction. We're going to have a big get-together. I'm looking forward to seeing where I was born and raised. I'm going to go back to the old house I lived in for seven years."

This will be one of the few times Sampras' mother has seen him play. The last time Sampras visited the area was 1990. He said his schedule hasn't allowed him to play in the Washington tournament until now.

Sampras will arrive on Monday and will have one day to prepare for the heat and humidity that has become a trademark of this tournament.

"I think [the heat] will probably affect me," he said. "I hope I play at night, because it's going to be hot. If you're not used to it, it can be a factor in the outcome of a match."

He likely will avoid the worst of the heat, as a tentative schedule has him playing his first match Wednesday evening.

Sampras, who now calls Tampa, Fla., home, is one of the most celebrated players to ever participate in the tournament. He has five Grand Slam titles to his name -- the 1990 and 1993 U.S. Open, 1993 and 1994 Wimbledon and the 1994 Australian Open.

"[In choosing a tournament] you hope to get some good other guys playing," said Sampras, who two weeks ago beat Goran Ivanisevic to defend his Wimbledon crown. "Guys who really test you. You can see where you're at, see what you have to work on."

And he'll get plenty of competition. Expected to participate in this year's tournament are former No. 1's Stefan Edberg, Mats Wilander and Ivan Lendl and 1992 Wimbledon champ Andre Agassi.

In addition to spending time with his family, Sampras said he would like to check out the set of "Crossfire," a CNN talk show, "not to talk politics, but to tell them what I thought of the show," he said. Sampras said he often watches the program when it's on late in Europe.

"I get a kick out of it," he said.

Sampras has been criticized by some for being too quiet and thereby not helping promote tennis. But Sampras has responded that people should support him for the way he plays. After all, he's winning.

"I think what I do is just fine," he said. "I'm not going to change my personality. . . . for anybody. I'm a nice guy, just going out and trying to win.

"I'm a very shy guy. I'm not going to go into a press conference and be a Dave Letterman."

FACTS AND FIGURES

What: Legg Mason Tennis Classic.

When: Today through July 24.

Where: William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center, Washington.

Tickets: Prices vary depending on day and time. Individual session tickets can be ordered by calling (202) 432-SEAT. For box seat and group sales information, call (703) 276-4274.

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