Sports: Grasscourt specialists declining: Pete

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Lods Angeles, July 4 : Five years after retiring from top-level tennis, Pete Sampras is confident he can still challenge the best over three sets on his favourite grasscourt surface.

The former world number one bemoans the dearth of serve-and-volley players in the modern game and is eager to take on Roger Federer in a series of exhibition matches later this year.

''Grass is such a unique surface, I can probably still be competitive against anyone in a two-out-of-three (sets) match,'' Sampras said during a World TeamTennis conference call yesterday.

''I can still hold serve and I am volleying pretty well. Grass is definitely a surface that is a bit of an advantage (considering) the guys staying back like they are today, you know.

''I would like to play a set with one of these guys and see,'' added the 35-year-old, who retired after winning the 2002 US Open final against fellow American Andre Agassi in his last professional match.

''Certainly a hard court would be a little bit different. But on grass, when I was playing, when I saw guys stay back, that's when I started licking my chops.'' Sampras, who won 14 grand slam titles and more than 43 million dollar in prize money during his 15-year career, regrets the disappearance of genuine serve-and-volley players from Wimbledon.

''It is sad for me to see everyone staying back, to see that sort of game being extended,'' the seven-times Wimbledon champion said. ''There is not one serve-and-volleyer playing.

''I felt grasscourt tennis is the attacking guy, the serve-and-volley guy. In my generation, that's what everyone did.'' Sampras, an unabashed fan of Federer who is bidding to win his fifth successive Wimbledon title, is looking forward to locking horns with the Swiss in Asia later this year.

The two men are scheduled to compete in a series of exhibition matches, starting in Malaysia in October.

''People are going to be interested in the outcome,'' Sampras said. ''I don't think I am going to win any of these matches but if I can push him to a few (tie) breakers, I would feel ecstatic.'' Sampras, who will be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame on July 14, acquitted himself well in a practice match with Federer in Los Angeles earlier this year.

''I was serving quite well and holding serve pretty handily,'' the American added. ''If there is anything Roger doesn't like to see it is someone coming in and serving and volleying, someone putting pressure on him.

''I think my game matched up reasonably well against his."


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