Pete Sampras, winner of the U.S. Open last September and the richest purse in tennis history last Sunday at Munich, is still able to walk down the street without most people recognizing him.
"(Andre) Agassi’s got the long hair,” Sampras said Tuesday at the Forum, before beating Michael Chang, 2-6, 6-3, 7-6 (9-7), in an exhibition.
“I’m more normal-looking.”
Sampras was among the major surprises in tennis in a year in which he became the youngest man to win the U.S. Open and climbed to No. 5 in the rankings.
“I want to maintain my high ranking,” said Sampras, who capped a big year by winning the Grand Slam Cup in Munich, earning a record $2 million. “I’m hoping to remain in the top five and show that this year was no fluke.”
Against Chang, Sampras looked sluggish at the start--both players arrived in Los Angeles Monday after long flights from Germany. Chang broke him in the first and fifth games, easily winning the first set, but Sampras then held serve until the 12th game of the third set, when Chang broke him again to force a tiebreaker.
In the tiebreaker, Sampras squandered a 5-2 lead, losing four consecutive points, before winning on two unforced errors by Chang.
Sampras, 19, will start the new year without a coach. He split recently with Joe Brandi, who told Sampras that spending more than half the year away from home had put too much of a burden on Brandi’s family.
Sampras was accompanied to Munich by his brother Gus, 23.
“It’s tough at my age not to have a companion,” Sampras said.
It will also be difficult at his age for Sampras to defend a major championship, Chang said.
“In the two weeks before, there was quite a bit of pressure,” Chang, 18, said of his experience last spring at Paris, where a year before he earned distinction as the youngest French Open men’s winner. “It’s definitely a learning experience. Some people handle it better than others. I think for Pete, the timing is about right and he’ll be able to handle it well.”
Chang first played Sampras in a junior tournament 11 years ago and most recently lost to him in straight sets last Saturday in the semifinals of the Grand Slam Cup. He said Sampras is vastly improved since he won the U.S. Open.
“He doesn’t have a particular weakness,” Chang said.
“His groundstrokes are not only consistent, but they’re penetrating now. His volleys have always been good. Right now, he’s been able to combine everything. A serve-and-volleyer, it always takes a little more time for his game to mature.”
But Sampras will face new pressure in 1991 as the reigning U.S. Open champion.
Chang faced it this year.
“Before, it was, ‘I beat that little squirt,’ ” Chang said. “Now, it’s, ‘I beat Michael Chang, who won the French Open.’ There’s a lot more pressure to go out and perform.”
Pete Sampras on Boris Becker, who called the prize money “perverse” and pulled out of the $6-million Grand Slam Cup: “He’s in a situation where he doesn’t have to play because he has all the money in the world.” . . . A resident of Rancho Palos Verdes, Sampras said that he is considering a move to Florida for tax purposes and because he spends a lot of time there. . . . Michael Chang said that he will not play in the Australian Open. . . . In an early match, Anne Mall, 15, of Liguna Niguel defeated Ditta Huber, 14, of La Jolla, 6-0, 6-2.