Originally created 12/18/97

Sampras nets USOC SportsMan of Year



Pete Sampras became the first tennis player to win the U.S. Olympic Committee's SportsMan of the Year on Wednesday. Now he wants to become the first man to win 13 Grand Slams.

"I've set my goals for next year: I want to break the majors record, win the French Open and be No. 1 again," said Sampras, who won his ninth and 10th Grand Slam titles in 1997, two behind Roy Emerson's record.

Sampras received 400 points in voting by the media, the USOC Board of Directors and the organization's Athletes' Advisory Council. Track star Allen Johnson was second with 376 points and figure skater Todd Eldredge was third with 315.

"It's very flattering to be picked among all athletes that were in the running," Sampras said during a conference call from his home in Tampa, Fla. "Tennis doesn't have the history in the Olympics like swimming, track or gymnastics. There are so many big tournaments in tennis, but those guys work four years for one moment."

Sampras, who lost in the third round of the 1992 Olympics and withdrew with an injury in 1996, would like a different Olympic tennis format.

"I think it should be more of a team atmosphere, like the Davis Cup," he said. "Now its a 128-player draw like the U.S. Open. A team format would be more fun to play and people would be more into it."

Sampras won eight titles this year, including his second Australian Open in January, his fourth Wimbledon title in July and his fourth ATP Tour Championship in November. He has won 52 career titles and was voted the best men's player of the past 25 years.

Sampras, also the U.S. Tennis Association athlete of the year, finished the season ranked No. 1 on the ATP Tour for a fifth consecutive year, tying the record set by Jimmy Connors from 1974-78.

But his year ended on a sour note, when he injured his calf at the Davis Cup final against Sweden in November, drawing questions about whether he will play Davis Cup again.

"The Davis Cup will be a situation I will have to deal with for the rest of my career -- when to play and if I will play," he said. "I wasn't a happy camper at the end of the year, especially when I knew I would have to spend my two to three weeks off getting therapy."

Sampras, who will go to Australia in three weeks to prepare for the Australian Open, had hoped to be practicing already. But the injury is taking longer to heal than he expected.

"I hope to hit this weekend," he said. "If not, I'll start to worry a bit. I still have a month to get ready for the Australian Open."

In 1990s, the USOC SportsMan honors have gone to wrestler John Smith (1990), track's Carl Lewis (1991), swimmer Pablo Morales (1992), track's Michael Johnson (1993, '95, 96) and speedskater Dan Jansen (1994).

Sampras and figure skater Tara Lipinski, selected the SportsWoman of the Year on Tuesday, will receive their awards April 4 in Portland, Ore.

The USOC will announce the Team of the Year on Thursday.