Sampras' dismantling of Haas highlights San Jose tournament

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- By beating Roger Federer in an exhibition last year, Pete Sampras showed he still has some of the game that made him one of tennis' greatest players and led some people to wonder whether he retired too soon.

Sampras isn't one of them. He's content with his decision to step away age 31 in 2002 with a record 14 Grand Slam titles.

"I could still play a little bit, still play at a pretty high level, but coming back is a whole different ballgame, whole different lifestyle, a lot of work," Sampras said. "The day-in, day-out grind of tennis isn't in me any more. I still enjoy playing a few exhibitions here and there, but to come back, I don't really necessarily play just for the limelight or for the money. I play to win."

Sampras' latest stop was at the SAP Open in San Jose, where he vanquished the former No. 2 player in the world, Tommy Haas, in an exhibition Monday night, 6-4, 6-2.

That match kicked off a tournament that features most of the top American players, led by Andy Roddick and James Blake.

Sampras, though, is still the biggest U.S. star more than five years after he left the tour.

"Pete's obviously a guy you look up to, you respect for what he's done," said Haas, who has practiced a few times recently with Sampras on visits to Southern California and said Sampras still has one of the best serves in the game.

"It's nice to see him play some exhibitions with Roger and getting him back into the tennis world because he's such an icon in the tennis world," Haas said. "For us tennis players, he's somebody we really look up to. Having a chance to talk to him every now and again is obviously great."

After staying away from the game in his first years of retirement, Sampras has been more involved recently, playing on the senior tour, World Team Tennis and exhibitions. Sampras will face Federer again at Madison Square Garden on March 10.

Sampras held his own in the three matches he played against Federer in November. Federer won the first two matches before Sampras pulled out a 7-6 (8), 6-4 win in the final meeting on the fast indoor surface at the Venetian Macao arena. That generated talk about how good Sampras would be if he tried to make a comeback.

"You hear a lot, but also it's rough, you see a lot of stuff about how he'd step in and be top five right away, all that stuff," Roddick said. "He wasn't top five when he left the game. And you know, and it's tough to imagine someone kind of sitting on the pine for three years or four years and coming back and being better. If anybody could pull it off, it's probably Pete."

Sampras retired after winning his record 14th major title at the 2002 U.S. Open. It's a mark that might not last long. Federer won his 12th Grand Slam title at last year's U.S. Open and will be the favorite once again this summer at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

Sampras figures it's just a matter of time before the 26-year-old Federer passes him.

"He's young enough. He's fresh enough. He's not 30," Sampras said. "Having a few years left, I see him doing it. But there are going to be a few guys that are going to push him. It's just inevitable that he's going to do it here in the next probably year."

Federer's dominance has contributed to the struggles by American men in Grand Slam tournaments. Since Roddick won the U.S. Open the year after Sampras, no American man has won a major.

The 17-slam drought matches the longest in the Open era. Ten times during that stretch, Federer knocked top Americans Roddick, Blake or Andre Agassi out in a slam, including four wins in the finals.

Roddick has lost 11 straight matches against Federer since winning in Montreal in 2003. Blake has never beaten Federer, losing all eight meetings.

Sampras said Roddick and Blake don't have the all-around games like Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic to be able to beat Federer.

"Andy's got the power but maybe doesn't have the athletic ability, and someone like James, who has the athletic ability, but doesn't have the power," Sampras said. "It's kind of a tough matchup for them, for both those guys.

"Seems like James can stay with Roger. I just think they play similar games and Roger is a little bit better than James at it. And Roddick can overpower Roger at times, but at the same time doesn't move well enough from the back court to really get into these exchanges, that someone like Djokovic can."

Michael Chang ended the previous drought with a win in the French Open in 1989. That was followed by other victories in Grand Slams by Sampras, Agassi and Jim Courier.

The question is whether the upcoming Americans this time around like Sam Querrey, Donald Young and John Isner -- all of whom will be in San Jose -- can compete on the world stage.

"It's hard to predict," Sampras said. "When I was 18-years old, 19, no one saw me doing anything really special in the game. Even I didn't know what I was going to be doing. It all happened. So it's hard to predict. It's hard to see it. But we're going to know shortly."