Sampras looking forward to Cup return

Tuesday, January 29th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Pete Sampras figures playing in the Davis Cup this year might help him avoid the kind of disappointment he had on the court last season.

Sampras, 30, finished last year at No. 10, his lowest ranking since 1989. Winner of a record 13 Grand Slam singles titles, he got shut out for the first time since 1992.

He made a good showing at the Australian Open earlier this month, reaching the round of 16, and said Thursday he hopes playing on the U.S. team, beginning with its first-round match with Slovakia next week, will serve him well.

``It was a feeling that I had last year a little bit,'' Sampras said on a conference call. ``I felt like there were certain times of the year that I had a hard time getting going and Davis Cup definitely _ it means something. You're playing for your teammates, playing for your country, and in these situations it inspires me.''

This will be the eighth year that Sampras has played Davis Cup, but his first series since April 2000, when the United States beat the Czech Republic in the second round. Sampras is 14-7 in singles and 4-1 in doubles in 14 Davis Cup series.

Other members of the U.S. team are Andy Roddick, Todd Martin, James Blake and Mardy Fish. Roddick is 19, Blake 22 and Fish 20. Martin is 31 and has played Davis Cup every year since 1994.

``I'm looking forward to a fun week with a couple of the older guys and some of the young guys,'' Sampras said. ``It's just a unique event that I need to put myself into because there's no question you get motivated to play Davis Cup.''

In announcing the team earlier in the week, captain Patrick McEnroe said he was encouraged by Sampras' play at the Australian Open.

``When you come to a Slam, if Pete is ready, has played some matches that have given him some confidence _ which I think is where Davis Cup comes into play _ he's going to be a factor,'' McEnroe said.

Sampras said he has worked to get into excellent shape for this year, which made his loss to Marat Safin at the Australian Open all the more disappointing. Safin went on to reach the finals.

``It was a tough, tough defeat. I felt like I could have gone all the way there,'' Sampras said.

``The drive is still there. The focus is still there. It's just a matter of going out there and winning tennis matches. And that's my goal and that's what I am hopefully going to have it click this year a few times and win a major or two.''

The first-round Davis Cup matches will be played Feb. 8-10 at the Myriad Convention Center. The United States-Slovakia winner will play the Spain-Morocco winner in early April.