Yep, it’s inevitable. Pete Sampras, one of the tennis world’s gifted former champions, soon will lose the handle, “all-time greatest” to Roger Federer, an incomparable phenom who’s only two shy of Sampras’ record for most Grand Slam titles (14).
So what are you going to do about it, Pete? Make a comeback at Wimbledon, maybe? Why not try to extend your record a bit to make Federer at least break a sweat before he breaks the record? Obviously, no pro currently on tour can stop Switzerland’s ball striking juggernaut. But you can. Say it’s so, Pete?
I caught up with Sampras in Charlotte, N.C. Wednesday night standing at court side, just as he was about to face Mikael Pernfors The Championships at the Palisades, a 30-and-over seniors event. As I was about to fire off a quick ‘comeback’ question, he turned away, apparently sensing the intent of my query.

Except for a thinning head of hair, Sampras, 36, looked tournament tough, trim and fit. Here’s why.
“Throughout my daily life I try to get to the gym to get some form of exercise every day,’’ Sampras said. “I do the treadmill, do the bike. I try to hit three times a week. I’ll hit two days, and then take a day off to play golf. It feels good to be at a good weight.”

Playing on a clay surface, Sampras lost only five points in the first five games, defeating Pernfors quite handily 6-0, 6-2. His trademark bushel of aces and service winners were expected, but Sampras also showed a stronger ground game, especially from the backhand side. Better technology, bigger racket, he explained.

“It doesn’t really matter how well I play, he’s just that much better,” said Pernfors, 44, of Sampras. “He’s got so much pace on the ball. He’s just that much better of a tennis player than I am. I am just hoping to hit the ball and not look like an idiot.”

Sampras seemed a bit concerned about the possibility that he, too, might look like an idiot when he faces Federer, 26, in a series of exhibitions, beginning Nov. 22 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. They also are set to meet next spring at New York’s Madison Square Garden. How did the past master vs reigning master match-ups come about?

“(Ivan) Lendl called me out of the blue,’’ Sampras said. “He said ‘I hear you’re playing okay, how do you feel about playing Roger?’ I said I don’t know, I feel okay, I’m playing okay. I told him I wouldn’t do it unless I felt I could be competitive. It went back-and-forth, about the schedules, the money, blah, blah blah. So Lendl put it all together, they got the date (March 10, 2008) for the Garden. And here we go, S—-. I’m playing good, but he’s playing great.

“I’m curious as to how it’s going to do as far as crowd participation in the Garden. I’ve played there before, Roger hasn’t. I hope there will be some buzz about it and that it’s good for the game. It should be fun.”

So what happens if Sampras gets the best of Federer in the exhibitions. Would that lure him back?

“I’m not coming back,” Sampras said adamantly, giving me a don’t-you-understand English look. “It’s the farthest thing from my mind. I enjoy doing what I’m doing now. It’s fun to play a little bit. I don’t want to go back to that lifestyle, that every day grind. I will say that when I play Roger in Asia, I will step up my tennis, and actually start playing sets, start playing a lot of points. That’s the hardest part, the practice. Playing is the easiest part. In my day, I did it because I had to do it. Now I don’t have to do it.”

The only thing he has to do now is change diapers. Sampras and wife, actress Bridgette Wilson, have two sons, Christian Charles, 4, and Ryan Nikolaos, 2.

“My two-year-old is still in diapers, so I’ve changed quite a few,’’ Sampras said. “More than my dad.”