PARIS, OCT. 31 -- The last time Pete Sampras saw Paris, it was through the eyes of a struggling player who had to survive a qualifying match to make the main draw of the Paris Open. He was bounced out in the second round.
A year later, Sampras is coming off a stunning victory in the U.S. Open and is ranked fifth in the world. A lot has changed -- too much, according to Sampras.
"I don't feel any different, I'm just being treated differently," Sampras said in an interview today. "People I haven't seen in five, ten years are calling me up like they're my best friend and it's really pretty disappointing.
"Where were they a year ago when I was ranked 80th in the world?"
Sampras, a champion at 19, says he's still the same: a high school dropout with no immediate plans to resume his studies, living with his family in Southern California when he's not on the Association of Tennis Professionals Tour and relaxing when he can on the golf course where there are "no fans, no reporters, just me and my buddy."
Privacy is a particularly prized commodity these days for Sampras, the youngest man ever to win the U.S. singles championship.
"I've gone from being recognized around the tennis world to being recognized by anyone around the world," he said. "Your private life isn't private any more."
Since the Open, Sampras said he has spent time decompressing as well as giving his shin splints a chance to heal. His favorite moment since the Open? Tennis at the White House with President Bush.
"I had the best time of my life," Sampras said. He played doubles, teaming with the president, for two hours. "He wanted to play all day," Sampras said.
This week's Paris Open is Sampras's second ATP tournament since the Open. Last week, he advanced to the semifinals of the Stockholm Open before being eliminated by Boris Becker, himself a one-time Boy Wonder with a booming serve.
In the Open, Sampras served 100 aces, including 13 in the final against Andre Agassi. Looking back, Sampras says it seemed his performance was "a little bit of destiny."
Perhaps so, because he followed that by losing to Jay Berger in the opening match of an exhibition tournament in Florida a week later. Now, he's trying to get over a cold and get back to dedicated training.
But he doesn't want to overdo it. He blames his tight schedule the past season for his shin injury -- recalling seven straight weeks of tournament competition over the summer -- and says he will cut back in 1991, building some three- and four-week layoffs into his schedule so he can enjoy his success.
His next goal is Wimbledon. "That's the one tournament I really want to win," he said. "It's like the Masters in golf, it's real prestige."
He doesn't mind not being included on the U.S. Davis Cup team that will play Australia in the finals on the last weekend in November in St. Petersburg, Fla. The matches will be played on clay, and Sampras says that's not his best surface. Plus, he doesn't mind a little respite from pressure.
"It's a different pressure because you're playing for your country, so if you lose you're letting down your country," he said. "On the tour, if you lose you're letting down yourself."
And sometimes your family. Sampras, who started playing in his home town of Potomac, Md., before moving to California when he was 7, says his family has paid a price for his success and that of his sister, Stella, a senior playing at UCLA.
"It's been a sacrifice for the whole family," he said. Emotionally, it has been difficult for older brother Gus and younger sister Marion, Sampras said, because they found themselves "overshadowed by Stella and me." And his parents' nerves still keep them home when he is on the road playing a match.
Sampras travels only with his coach, Joe Brandi. "I don't like a big entourage with me," he said. And although much was made during the Open of Sampras's friendship with Ivan Lendl, whom he beat en route to the title, Sampras says they are not particularly close.
In fact, the only player on the tour with whom Sampras said he is close is Jim Courier, his doubles partner. Certainly not Michael Chang or Agassi, the other two formidible young American male players. Chang is more reserved than Sampras and Agassi is, well, Agassi.
"We're just not the same kind of people," Sampras said.
And they are not likely to ever be. "I'm not flashy," Sampras said. "I'm not going to grow my hair long or wear earrings."
He's not planning to change from the stoic, disciplined player who captured the fancy of a nation less than two months ago. "I don't like to show my emotions on the court," he said. "I think it gives a little edge to my opponent if I get ticked off."
The next great hope of American tennis, in fact, doesn't want to be another Jimmy Connors or John McEnroe. He wants to be another Rod Laver or Ken Rosewall, the great Australians who were his boyhood idols because of their controlled, gentlemanly demeanor.
"I want to be a good role model for young kids growing up," he said, "so when they watch Pete Sampras they'll say, 'I want to be like Pete Sampras.' "
And what of Pete Sampras when he grows up, or grows too old for tennis or too soon tired of the crush and media for his time? He says he wanted to be a tennis pro since he was 12 and hasn't "the slightest idea" what else he might have tried. Now, he says he wonders how long he will find it remotely amusing to find "twenty-five or thirty people waiting for you outside the hotel."
"As of right now, it's worth it," he said. "Maybe six months to a year from now, it won't be. . . . I'm only 19."