STANFORD, Calif. — What was turning out to be a nice competitive affair between two legends ended when Pete Sampras was forced to retire with a calf injury to Michael Chang on Wednesday night in a legends exhibition at the Bank of the West Classic. And we all have Marion Bartoli to blame.
Bartoli, a champion here in 2009, saw a dream fulfilled earlier in the afternoon when she got the call to help warm up Sampras in advance of his match. Giddy like a schoolgirl, Bartoli stepped up to the challenge, showing off her flat power on Stanford’s quick courts, much to the amusement and bewilderment of Sampras.
“I’ve dreamed of this since I was 6 years old,” Bartoli said, laughing, never hiding her idol worship.
And, to her credit, she left a lasting mark on Sampras.
“Tell her it’s her fault,” Sampras said with a laugh after the match as he spoke to reporters with his left calf iced and elevated from the locker room. “Make her feel really bad. She was grinding and hitting the balls really hard and I had just got off the plane.
“The hit was a little too much for me, that’s probably why I hurt my calf. So you can write that Marion was the reason why.
“No, don’t,” he laughed. “It’ll crush her.”
He’s probably right.
Despite the injury, which has forced him out of any further exhibition matches at the Bank of the West (he was scheduled to play Jim Courier on Thursday), Sampras was in good spirits and happy to talk about the two newly minted Wimbledon champions, Roger Federer and Serena Williams. Sampras, who now shares the record of seven Wimbledon titles with Federer, says he watched the last two sets of the men’s final and wasn’t all too surprised by what he saw.
“When Roger found his game, it just seemed like a heavyweight against a middleweight,” he said. “Seemed like it was much harder for [Andy] Murray to play at that level for a long period of time, and that’s what makes Roger great. I felt like Roger would win another major and if you look back, you’d think it’d be Wimbledon, and obviously it turned out to be Wimbledon. It’s a surface you can dominate on. I certainly did in my day, and he’s figured it out.”
Sampras said he could envision Federer’s breaking their tie for most Wimbledon titles.
“I don’t see him stopping. I can see him winning Wimbledon the next few years and get eight or nine,” Sampras said.
“He’s eager. He loves to play, he loves to travel. Grass is a surface that you can play a little bit as you get older. Not as hard on the body. And it’s a surface where there’s only a few that can play good on it. I still think he’s the best grass-court player, fast-court player, in the world. I see him as the favorite every year at Wimbledon. I don’t see how you can’t; he’s won seven.”
Nor does he see Williams stopping anytime soon. Sampras said that Williams — who idolized his serve growing up and even has a dog named after him — is the best in the game, and the only question is whether she can stay motivated.
“She’s the best athlete out there,” Sampras said. “You saw that at Wimbledon. She’s one of the greatest of all time, if not the greatest.
“As long as Serena’s motivated and eager to play, she should win more majors. She’s that much better than everyone else. At the U.S. Open, she’s going to be the strong favorite. It’s all about — when you’ve done so much like she has — to really find the motivation to keep going to keep practicing. She could stop tomorrow and be happy with her career, but you might as well keep going. That’s what I would try to do.”