Holding Court

September 2007By Comments

Pete Sampras
Photograph by Timothy Clary/Getty Images

Beaumont, Frisco No, it’s not a comeback (unfortunately), but Pete Sampras, who hung up his racket in 2003, is back in the game. The 36-year-old tennis legend, who was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in July, has stayed busy in his retirement by playing a few select exhibitions. And he’ll be making two stops in Texas this month, at the Christus Pro/Celebrity Classic, in Beaumont, where he’ll go up against Todd Martin (Anna Kournikova, meanwhile, will take on Chanda Rubin), and the FedEx All American Tennis Shootout Series, in Frisco, where he’ll spar with Robby Ginepri.

Congratulations on the Hall of Fame. I think we saw more emotion from you during the twenty minutes of your acceptance speech than we did in the fifteen years of your professional career.

Thank you. It was a lot more emotional than I thought it’d be. It brought me back to my younger years and the first time I picked up a racket. Since I retired, I’ve been so wrapped up in family life that I hadn’t really looked at my career, and that weekend it hit me all at once.

Did your wife [the actress Bridgette Wilson-Sampras] give you any tips on delivering your speech or handling the emotional moments?

We worked on the speech together. I rehearsed it in front of her. But it wasn’t like she was giving me any acting tips. I wanted to do something heartfelt and thank the people who helped get me there. Her advice was more about taking your time and trying to do it conversationally. I’d much rather give a speech about anything other than myself. But she was helpful throughout the whole process. It was a fun bonding experience for us.

Is it strange to be back in the spotlight after lying pretty low for a few years?

Yeah, a little bit. Ever since I picked up a racket again and started playing a few expos—and with all the comparisons between Roger Federer and me—it seems I’m getting more interview requests to- day than I did in my prime.


Well, I meant that sarcastically, but people still want to know what’s going on and what I think about the sport. The Hall of Fame has brought a lot of attention to my career again. It’s not like I ever craved the limelight, but it was nice for me to feel that respect. Because in my prime I didn’t feel totally embraced or appreciated in some circles.

Is it true that you barely played for the first couple of years after you retired?

I didn’t do anything—didn’t pick up a racket, didn’t watch tennis. I spent those years doing some things I never had a chance to do. But after about three years of that, I felt a little bit unfulfilled from a work standpoint. So I picked up a racket and started to get myself in the gym, and it really felt good to wake up a little bit sore.

What’s it like to play in under-the- radar cities like Frisco and Beaumont?

You know, I’ve only played in a handful of U.S. cities, so to go to a couple of smaller markets is great for the game, and it’s always exciting to see different cities.

I’m sure those two will be exciting, but they can’t beat going to Asia this November to play three games against Roger Federer. How did this matchup happen?

Someone from IMG gave me a call six or eight months ago and said that Roger was playing some exhibitions after the World Championships and asked if I would consider playing with him. And I’m flattered. I would only consider making the trip if it were Roger and probably not anyone else. Originally it was just one city, but I said if they could put two or three cities together it might be worth the trip, so they put three together and we’re going to do it in a week. Obviously, Roger had a choice about who he wanted to do it with, and he wanted to play against me. I think it’s great for the game. People are asking about it all the time. Unfortunately, it’s not in the U.S., but hopefully we can do that sometime in the near future.

That would be a huge draw, to say the least.

It would. And if there’s a time to do it, it’s now because I’m still somewhat competitive. I can hold my own for a little bit. Roger’s obviously in the prime of his career, and I haven’t played at that level since I retired, so we’ll just kind of have to feel it out as we go. Roger is one of the all-time greats who will eventually break my records, so I’m just looking forward to being on the same court with him and seeing what I can do.

Are you going to ask him to take it easy on you?

I think Roger’s a lot like me. We want to have fun and play well, but we didn’t get to where we are today without being competitive. So there will be a competitive side to it. And I’ll make him feel guilty before we go out and say “Listen, Roger, I haven’t played this way in eight years. I’m old and out of shape, so just take it easy on me.” Hopefully he’ll feel sorry for me.

You’ve said it’s pretty lonely at the top. Is there any advice you’d give to Roger?

He’s got a pretty good grip on what he’s doing, and I’m sure he feels the same way. It is a little lonely at the top, and you have everyone gunning for you. But he’s been on top for a few years now, and he’s dominating much more than I ever did, so he doesn’t need too much advice.

You very graciously speak of when, not if, he’ll surpass your records. What do you imagine that will feel like for you on the day that happens?

I’d love for my records to stand the test of time, but in sports it’s just a matter of time before someone breaks records—Barry Bonds is going to break Hank Aaron’s home run record and Tiger is going to break Nicklaus’s and Roger is inevitably going to break mine—so I’m okay with it. But I think I’d feel differently if Roger beat me six out of eight major finals and overtook me. We’re kind of playing in different generations, different eras. The way I looked at it when I broke the record was that it was a number. When I won fourteen it wasn’t like, “Wow. I’m the greatest player of all-time today.” It was more like this is a great accomplishment, and I made some history. And I think that’s the way Roger looks at it. I don’t think he thinks he’s any bigger than he was a few years ago. He’s humble, and if there’s a person I want to see break this record, it’s someone with that sort of mentality.

Do you see some similarities between the two of you?

Oh yeah. I see a lot of that just in our mentality. We don’t get too up or down on wins or losses or good points or bad points. He’s pretty even-keeled and that’s how you need to be to stay on top of your profession. I think we’ve both made it look pretty easy. We’re both good athletes that are pretty smooth, though our games are a little bit different. I was more of an attacking player, whereas Roger’s more apt to stay back, but our approach to the game is pretty similar. We just go out there and play, and we don’t rub it in. We let our rackets do most of the talking.

Speaking of attacking, are there any more attacking players left in the game?

I don’t see any. Look at Wimbledon these past couple years—no one’s really looking to come in to the net. It’s sad for me to see that the serve-and-volley game is pretty extinct. The best tennis to watch, in my opinion, is two contrasting styles—like myself and Andre. Now guys are pretty much all playing the same, and there’s not a lot of variety out there, which is unfortunate. But that’s just the nature of the sport and where it’s going.

So is there anyone else aside from Federer you’d like to go up against?

Rafael Nadal is right behind Roger. I love his attitude, and he’s a great competitor. And he’s the one guy who actually believes he can beat Roger. A lot of these guys go out there against Roger and are resigned to the fact of not beating him. But Nadal’s got a great competitive drive—he works hard, he’s fast, and he’s a great athlete. He’s a modern-day Borg—he really is that good. At Wimbledon this year he played seven days in a row—even on grass, which isn’t his best surface—and didn’t complain about it. And I admire that.

Do you ever see yourself becoming involved with the USTA’s junior development programs?

Over the past year I’ve hit with some of these young kids, and I realized that I actually liked hitting with them and playing against them but also giving them some advice and seeing what they can improve. My brother, who works for me, approached the USTA about doing something more officially, but they don’t seem interested, which is a reflection of how unorganized and how naive they are about what I could bring to the table. And you have to go through the board and through this and that, and I said, “Listen. I can help out some young kids here, and, if you want, let’s work out a deal.” They seem to not want to do it.

Have you ever entertained the notion of starting your own junior organization?

I was close to doing an academy, but it’s tricky because I don’t want to do some of the grinding stuff. I just want to work with some young guys that are going to college and thinking about turning pro. I think I could give them some advice. I do get it. I know the sport, and I know what it takes. I like sharing some of my thoughts, but I’m not sure the academy business is a business I want to get involved in, but we’ll see what happens.

Are we going to see you in the coach’s box like Jimmy Connors one day?

Never say never. I’m sure when Jimmy was 35 or 36 he didn’t think he’d ever travel. But when you turn 50 and you have a young kid that has the potential to win some majors, who knows? Right now going overseas and going through that grind is not what interests me, but you never know. If I see something special in the next ten or twelve years and I could really make a big impact on someone, I could coach. It’s not likely, but I’ll never say never.

Speaking of Connors, his pupil, Andy Roddick, is another favorite topic. What do you think he needs to break through the wall and finally win another Grand Slam?

Andy’s got a great attitude. He competes hard, he works hard, and it seems like he’s doing all the right things. But I told him this a year ago after he lost to Federer at the U.S. Open: He’s got this big serve and big forehand, and he’s opting to stay back, but in order to beat the Federers he needs to be unpredictable. He needs to figure out that transition game from the baseline to the net. He needs to work on serve-and-volleying a little bit and he needs to work on doing a chip and charge, even though he might be a fish out of water. He just needs to try it in practice and try it against some of these guys he knows he can beat. The only way he’s going to improve and get to the next level is to add to his game. Right now he’s getting to a certain point, but if he wants to start winning Grand Slams and competing with Federer and Nadal, he needs to feel more comfortable getting up to the net. But time is running out. Now’s his prime.

Being as competitive a person as you are, do you ever imagine what it will be like as you get older and really can’t serve like you used to?

I’m competitive to a certain degree. Even today when I’m hitting, I still want to play well and serve well, but as you get older everything kind of gets a little bit slower. When I’m fifty I’ll still feel like I can go out and play well. You gotta face facts: When Father Time hits you, it’s not going to get any better. At sixty and seventy, I’ll probably be hitting with my kids and grandkids.

Your two sons are still pretty young, but will you teach them how to play?

If they’re into it and it’s fun for them, I’d absolutely try to help them out in any way I can. If they’re not into tennis, that’s totally fine too. We’ll see what intrigues them over the next five to ten years. I want to be their dad, not their tennis dad, but I do know how to hold a racket.

Coming back to your Hall of Fame speech, you said you didn’t know how or why you picked up a racket at seven years old. So when did you—or more accurately, your parents—realize that you might be really good at it?

I picked up a racket and some people told my dad, “Your son has excellent eye-hand coordination,” and he saw that and gave me some lessons. And I think the teaching pro said “I’ve never seen anything like this.” Then I just kind of wowed people as a kid, being able to do what I was able to do at seven, eight, and nine years old.

But were you aware of what that meant?

Yeah, a little bit. I heard things. But when we moved to California, that was when things got more serious and I got involved in the junior leagues and I was flourishing. That’s when things became a little bit more real.

About how many exhibitions do you do in a year?

In the past year I’ve probably done close to a dozen, not a ton, but enough to keep me sharp.

Do you foresee keeping a similar schedule over the next few years?

I’d like to play a few events and have something to look forward to every couple of months. It’s been good so far. Sep 21: Ford Park, 5115 I-10S, Beaumont; 409-833-7747; ford parktx.com. Sep 22: Dr Pepper StarCenter, 2601 Avenue of the Stars, Frisco; 214-467-8277; prolinkplanet.com Interview by Jordan Breal

Around the World in Thirty Days

San Antonio When Fotoseptiembre USA was launched in 1996, it was a modest affair with a dozen exhibits. By 2000, the free photography festival had grown substantially, with 180 artists showcased in some 50 exhibits and conferences. Fast-forward another two years and those figures were up again: 230 artists, 75 exhibits, and 62 venues. But this homegrown forum has never sacrificed quality for quantity, nor has Fotoseptiembre USA—which was inspired by the biennial Fotoseptiembre Internacional, held in Mexico City—strayed from founder Michael Mehl’s mandate that it be a “vernacular festival without academic or elitist pretense.” And though its subject matter is head-spinningly global, it has managed to keep its grassroots charm. Even a cursory flip through this year’s program, which can be downloaded from the official Web site, feels like a trip around the world. But the best way to get a taste for the sorts of cross-cultural perspectives that will be on view is to first peruse the Web galleries, which include a Frenchman’s series on the people and places of Cuba, a Wimberley resident’s spare images of Romanian and Georgian children, and a Mexican American bassist’s snapshots from his travels around the globe. As for what’s on view at the physical galleries, the larger institutions, such as the San Antonio Museum of Art, the McNay Art Museum, and the Southwest School of Art and Craft, are showing works by Allen Ginsberg (of the Beat generation), Trish Simonite, and Richard Kline. The more obscure spaces (some of which are in Boerne and New Braunfels) will be displaying artwork just as interesting: The Louis J. Blume Academic Library Gallery at Saint Mary’s University will be exhibiting “Refugees From Darfur,” by local artist Caesar Ricci, who traveled to Chad last December; and Jim Rider and other members of Flickr-Club-SA (an online photo-sharing site) will be showing off shots they’ve taken of the streets of San Antonio at the Blue Star Arts Complex (well, an upstairs nook of it, anyway). Another don’t-miss at a venue you might otherwise overlook is the Doug Fogelson showcase at the City of San Antonio International Center; the Chicago-based artist’s signature is to take overlapping multiple exposures of, say, the Tate Modern, in London, or a busy crosswalk or a frothy ocean and make long, cinematic panoramas. Diversity, whether in locale or vision, can be quite picturesque. Sep 1—30. Various locations, fotoseptiembreusa.com, safotofestival.com

Green Thumbs-Up

Austin Forget Bob Dylan. This year’s Austin City Limits Music Festival is going to have recycled toilet paper and biodiesel-run generators! That’s right, ACL has gone green (but then again, who hasn’t?). With merchandise sacks made of corn, LEDs and CFLs (that’s light-emitting diodes and compact fluorescent lights), compostable or biodegradable paper plates, and not an iota of Styrofoam (it’s banned), organizers are hoping the festival will leave less of an ecological footprint. Which means you can jam to Spoon, Kelly Willis, and LCD Soundsystem and do your part to help Mother Nature. Of course, saving the world isn’t the real reason the crowds flock to ACL. This year’s lineup is particularly loaded, with Björk, the Killers, Joss Stone, the White Stripes, and—taking the stage last but definitely not least—Dylan and His Band. And the underlying story lines are equally irresistible: Will M.I.A., the Sri Lankan rap sensation, run into any more visa troubles? Will this be the breakthrough for local favorite Ghostland Observatory, whose fan base keeps getting bigger and bigger? Will British soulstress Amy Winehouse even show up? With 130 acts playing on eight stages over three days, there will be a few tough calls (Blonde Redhead or Peter Bjorn and John? Wilco or My Morning Jacket?), so don’t get your heart set on seeing and hearing it all. Sep 14—16. Zilker Park, 2100 Barton Springs Rd; aclfest.com

Walk of Art

Dallas We all know about the Dallas Museum of Art and the Nasher Sculpture Center, but there’s far more to see at the smaller independent galleries in the city’s other, less official arts districts. If you need a little help navigating the neighborhoods—Uptown, Deep Ellum, the increasingly popular Dragon Street (a swarm of creatives has recently relocated there), to name a few—check out the Dallas Art Dealers Association’s Fall Gallery Walk on September 15. The 37 member galleries and nonprofit art spaces who will be offering free looks at their exhibits—several will also be hosting artist appearances and receptions—may not be in the cultural epicenter, a.k.a. the Dallas Arts District (which the convention and visitors bureau touts as the largest of its kind in the U.S.), but they are at the heart of Big D’s expanding art scene. There are too many to see in a single day (oh, and you’ll need to drive, not walk, to most of them), but we’ve singled out a handful to get you on your way. Goss-Michael Foundation: The venue formerly known as Goss Gallery is still in the same small corner lot in Uptown, but it has recently been recast. The art on the wall will no longer be for sale but will instead be taken from the private collection of founders Kenny Goss and George Michael (yes, that one). With the goal of introducing Texans to the work of young, emerging Brits, they’ve already installed some of Tracey Emin’s famous—and famously bawdy—pieces (they come down on September 15, so this is your last chance to see them) and plan to spotlight Damien Hirst, another of the so-dubbed Young British Artists, in the fall. (2500 Cedar Springs, 214-696-0555, gossmichaelfoundation.org) Craighead Green Gallery: One of the first to flee Uptown’s high rents for Dragon Street, two years ago, CG now has nearly six thousand square feet in which to display its arsenal of contemporary artists. On view from September 7 through October 13 is a three-pronged exhibit featuring Yrjo Edelmann, a Swede known for his deceptive paintings of parcels wrapped in paper (they only look 3-D); Arturo Mallmann, whose acrylic-and-resin landscapes on wood glow eerily; and Jay Maggio, a Texas-dwelling Louisiana native whose signature subject matter—trees—is an homage to both states. (1011 Dragon, 214-855-0779, craigheadgreen.com) Kettle Art: This self-described “little Deep Ellum gallery that could” is just shy of two years old, but its anti-establishment vibe and “shake things up” modus operandi have been hard not to notice. Opening on September 15 is “Another Little Piece of My Art,” an all-woman show featuring twenty artists, such as self-taught photographer Erica Felicella, whose conceptual images illuminate body language. (2714 Elm, 214-573-7622, kettle art.com) Photographs Do Not Bend Gallery: It’s been a year now since PDNB moved into its new Design District digs, and owners Burt and Missy Finger have been busy filling the space with knockout programming. Swing by to see selections from the much-lauded oeuvre of American landscape photographer Frank Gohlke, on view September 8 through October 13; this intimate showing will complement the mid-career retrospective of the Wichita Falls native’s work that will be opening at the Amon Carter Museum, in Fort Worth, on September 15. (1202 Dragon, 214-969-1852, pdnbgallery.com) Sep 15. Various locations, 214-943-1099, dallasartdealers.org

Power Play

Dallas The Dallas Stars’ latest quest for the Stanley Cup doesn’t officially begin until October 3, but the blogosphere is already aswirl with predictions and previews. September’s seven preseason games (four of which are on home ice) may not count toward the Stars’ final record, but they’re worth keeping tabs on as this year’s plotlines begin to unfold. Center Mike Modano may be the Stars’ ultimate star—he’s entering his seventeenth year with the organization—but he’s (relatively) old at 37, so even though he’s under contract till 2010, now’s the time to see the league’s highest-scoring American-born player. The 2007—2008 team seems to be even more of a motley crew than usual, with lots of veterans (Marty Turco, Brenden Morrow) and almost enough Fins (Antti Miettinen, Jere Lehtinen) and Swedes (Loui Eriksson, Joel Lundqvist) to field a baseball team. But the question remains: Will this be the year that coach Dave Tippett’s men don’t fizzle in the postseason, like they have the past three go-rounds? In a recent interview with ESPN, Modano was asked what impact the team’s first (and only) Stanley Cup victory, in 1999, had in Dallas. “It established a level of hockey that people were expecting every year,” he said. Maybe the Stars will indulge us once again. Sep 18: St. Louis Blues. Sep 20: Colorado Avalanche. Sep 27: Phoenix Coyotes. Sep 29: Tampa Bay Lightning. American Airlines Center, 2500 Victory Ave; 214-467-8277; stars.nhl.com

Space Crusaders

Fort Worth A quartet of artists who were at the forefront of two post-WWII movements—Abstract Expressionism and color-field painting—will be shown together in “Declaring Space,” opening at the Modern Art Museum this month. Here, a before-you-go primer on these pioneers of space and color. Artist: Mark Rothko. Known for: Oversized canvases with rectangular blocks of bright, usually contrasting colors. In May an anonymous collector snapped up one of his iconic works for a cool $72.8 million, making it the most expensive piece of postwar art ever to be sold at auction. On view: Six canvases, including White Band No. 27, a roughly seven-by-seven-foot stunner. Artist: Lucio Fontana. Known for: Painting a canvas a solid color and then slicing it … or tearing it or gouging it or otherwise puncturing it. On view: Attessi, a famous knife-cut work, and a rare installation that features an all-white labyrinth. Artist: Yves Klein. Known for: International Klein Blue, a moody hue he developed, and the monochromatic series he created using that shade. On view: Several works from his Monochrome Propositions series, including a sprawling floor piece made of pure pigment. Artist: Barnett Newman. Known for: His characteristic “zips,” or areas of color separated by thin vertical lines, which he even incorporated into his sculptures. On view: The seemingly all-black Abraham (look closely and you’ll see dark green) and the nuanced white-on-white The Name II, along with Here III, a steel sculpture. Sep 30—Jan 6. 3200 Darnell, 817-738-9215, themodern.org

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