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Thursday, May 21, 2009
Sampras, Agassi to play exhibition

Associated Press

HONG KONG -- Pete Sampras thinks his record of 14 Grand Slam titles will be tied by Roger Federer at Wimbledon this year.

Sampras made the prediction Thursday while discussing an October exhibition match against his old rival Andre Agassi in Macau.

Federer needs one more major title to match Sampras' mark. Sampras never managed to win the French Open before he retired. Federer hasn't won the title at Roland Garros, either, leaving Wimbledon as the most likely opportunity for him to tie Sampras.

Federer's five-year winning streak at Wimbledon ended last year in a five-set final loss to Spaniard Rafael Nadal, who also won the French Open last year and the Australian Open in January.

"It will be interesting for Rafa to come back as defending champion as before he was always just a contender, so there will be a bit more pressure on him this year," Sampras said of the looming Wimbledon tournament. "Roger is very hungry for the title and he came so close last year.

"If I was to put my money on it, I would say Roger, but he's not a shoo-in," he said.

While Sampras was mulling over Federer's prospects, he was reliving his own past clashes with Agassi.

The two Americans will face off on Oct. 25 at The Venetian Macao casino in the Chinese territory and gambling enclave.

Praising Agassi's service return and passing shots, Sampras said in a telephone conference: "We always had really tough matches and we brought out the best in each other."

When the duo were top- and second-ranked men's players in the world in the mid-1990s, the rivalry "transcended the sport," Sampras said.

"When people ask me who my great rival is I always tell them Andre," he said.

Sampras won 64 singles titles and Agassi took 60, including being the last man to win all four Grand Slam titles over his career.

In 34 meetings between the two, Sampras won 20, including the finals of the U.S. Open in 1990, 1995 and 2002, plus Wimbledon in 1999. Agassi beat Sampras in the 1995 Australian Open final.

The Sampras-Agassi exhibition recalled brighter times for American tennis, but Sampras said the presence of Andy Roddick (No. 6) and James Blake (No. 16) in the world's top 20 showed the U.S. game was not in bad shape.

"It tends to go in cycles," Sampras said. "In the early 1990s people were saying the same thing and then Andre, Jim [Courier], Michael Chang and myself came along."