Sampras on Nadal: He's in Federer's Head
Add Pete Sampras to the chorus of observers that believe Rafael Nadal has muscled his way into Roger Federer’s cranium. Speaking Monday night after his exhibition versus Tommy Haas in San Jose, the 14-time Grand Slam champion discussed his reaction to Federer’s devastating defeat to Nadal in Australia.
“It’s not like he's getting killed by the kid,” said Sampras to a group of reporters at the SAP Open. “But it’s just not happening. Mentally, I think he’s in his head. I think we all know that.”
Sampras knows what it's like to be in someone's headspace. He managed to get into most of his rivals' psyches, and unlike Federer, who has a 6-13 record vs. Nadal, Sampras had winning records against Agassi, Courier, Chang and Becker, to name few. While brushing aside that 13-time major champ Federer needs a coach as an unnecessary “magic pill,” Sampras said Federer has to “figure out how to beat this kid.” His advice: Mix it up with forays to the net to keep Nadal guessing. “I’d try to come in a little bit more,” said Sampras, 37. “Rafa stays so far back. As soon as Rafa gets one ball to (Federer’s) backhand, he’s controlling the point. It’s tough for Roger to sort of keep it up.”
Sampras, who Tivoed the Melbourne final and watched it in between the Super Bowl, expressed surprised at Federer’s emotional outpouring during the on-court trophy ceremony. “He was really hurt in some way,” said Sampras, who called it “pent up frustration.” The six-time year-end No. 1 added: “I’ve been emotional on the court for different reasons, but after a loss you sort of keep it together. I felt for him at the time. He’s frustrated and wants it so bad. To be at that breaking point – it’s affecting him a lot more than I thought. It’s hitting home.”
Sampras said he empathized with Federer, since he, too, internalized his emotions. Still, “It kinda caught me off guard when it happened,” he said of Federer’s post-match sobbing, “but it shows me how much he cares, how much he wants it. He’ll be fine. He’ll recover.”
While holding court with reporters at HP Pavilion, Sampras spoke with a sense of inevitability that Federer will eclipse his record number of majors. He said that it would be tough for the 27-year-old Swiss to keep focused in the weeks ahead now that his main goal is to tie and then break the Grand Slam mark. Those chances only come four times a year. “Motivation will be a tough thing for him the next couple of months,” he said.
Sampras, who spends time golfing, playing a few exhibitions (including several with Federer last year) and taking his two kids to public school in L.A., had plenty of praise for Nadal. He called the Spaniard a constantly improving “animal” possessed with the best mental fortitude he has seen since Bjorn Borg. “And now he has a fear factor,” Sampras said.
The victory on hardcourts in Melbourne also has thrust the mashing Mallorcan into the conversation of all-time greats before his 23rd birthday – no small feat. “You have to look at Nadal now as someone who can win as many majors as anyone,” he said of the Spaniard, who owns four French Opens and one Wimbledon along with his Australian title. “Six majors at 22. You do the math. He’s going to be right there.”
The March edition of Tennis Magazine that landed in my mailbox the other day contains a laudatory, six-page spread by my esteemed colleague Peter Bodo on famed Florida academy guru Nick Bolliettieri. Unfortunately, the timing couldn’t have been worse. The Bradenton academy suffered a major shakeout the last few weeks (Bodo visited in December) and some of the loyal figures in the piece were shown their walking papers. According to news reports, they include long-time junior tennis director Gabe Jaramillo, vice presidents Ted Meekma and Greg Breunich, and CFO Jeff McNeil. Jaramillo had been with Bollettieri for three decades; Breunich is Bolliettieri’s son-in-law.
Very little has been reported about the caused of the shakeup. IMG has not commented and the four high-ranking executives mentioned above received payouts and signed nondisclosure/non-compete contracts that prohibit them from talking publicly.
I was told by a source in Australia that security came in and escorted the executives off the grounds in handcuffs. I could not verify that account, but comments I’ve seen on the Web suggest the men were removed from the grounds. I was also told, again unconfirmed, that the reason the four were dismissed was due to large sums of money that went missing.