Marcelo Ríos

Marcelo Ríos and a fight that almost came to blows with Sampras: “He’s stupid… it would have been nice to hit him”

They fought for the number one ranking in 1998. Marcelo Rios cut off Pete Sampras’ longest streak at the top of the world rankings: 102 consecutive weeks, one of the longest in history. And they fought fiercely in the locker room ten years later in an exchange that almost came to blows: “Pete Sampras is stupid. He’s a fool.”

In July 2008 Ríos invited Sampras to an exhibition in Santiago de Chile, to commemorate the Chilean’s rise to number one. The match was won by Ríos in a third-set tiebreak. Then everything got messed up in the locker room. “After the match he was looking for me. That’s when all got messed up. I told him ‘for me you are not the Sampras of the past, for me you are just Pedro, no one knows you here’, that’s when the fight started,” said Ríos in an interview with TV show Podemos Hablar in Chilevisión.

“He got angry because he lost. I thought about hitting him, I thought about punching him, but someone stopped us. What happened is that, at the beginning, in the exhibition there are times when you arrange the matches; you win the first set, I win the second and the third we play hand to hand. Then, when he calls me in the dressing room and tells me that Pete Sampras doesn’t lose, I tell him ‘but you are not Pete Sampras anymore’, that’s it. I told him ‘before, when I came to ask you what to do, you would have told me let’s arrange one set each, that’s all fine , but now don’t come to tell me that because I beat you you’re angry’. The guy who organized the exhibition arrived and stopped me before, he separated us, but it would have been nice to punch him. To get into a fight with Sampras… that has a story, it would have been nice to hit him. He got away with it,” said Marcelo Ríos.

Marcelo Ríos and Sampras after the exhibition they played in Santiago de Chile in 2008

The Chilean has always had a bitter relationship with colleagues, fans and officials. He never got along very well with the North American contingent that inhabited the tennis powers in the 90s and 2000s: “The thing is that I never got along with the ATP. The ATP were all gringos at that time, I got along very badly with them“.

Nor with journalists. At the French Open he won the sour lemon award five times, the media recognition for the most bitter and unpleasant competitor of the tournament: “I don’t know why they give it, they should give money, they don’t give you anything. If they paid me I’d try to win 20. Kafelnikov won it six times.”

“You lose a match and two seconds later you’re in a press conference and they ask you ‘Hey, why did you lose’, and at that moment you were among the best in the world. So, if they ask you stupid questions, I would answer stupidly. I kept quiet or answered something that had nothing to do with it, so they didn’t like me”, said the Chilean.

And with John McEnroe?

“McEnroe… did you like him or not?” the interviewer asked him. Rios recalled his time on the ATP Champions Tour and the seven-time Grand Slam champion, then the main promoter of the veteran circuit.

“He kicked me off the tour, off the veterans tour, he was like the owner who organized it, and since I did well, he thought I was too young and everything, he told me I couldn’t play anymore. I was kicking everyone’s ass, so he said goodbye to me. I don’t talk to him much when I see him, I don’t have a lot of things to say. It’s not that I don’t like him, but I hate that he talk on TV that I never won a Slam, he always insisted on that”.

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Clay’s general producer has been covering the world of tennis for more than 10 years, with experience in Grand Slams, ATP tournaments, Olympic Games and Davis Cup.