Pete Sampras believes that Andy Murray can once again challenge for major honours when he returns from the pesky hip problem that has plagued the Scot all year long.
The 14-time major champion feels that Novak Djokovic will also be back amongst the sports biggest prizes when he returns next year, having pulled out of all tennis for the rest of 2017 due to a persistent elbow injury.
Djokovic and Murray are possibly the only players capable of challenging the Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal empire, with the two greatest players of all time enjoying a remarkable resurgence in 2017 - sharing all four major titles between themselves.
Federer took the plaudits in Australia, while cruising to yet another title on the famous grass courts of Wimbledon. Meanwhile, Nadal showed the world once again why he is the undisputed king of clay, winning at Roland Garros before claiming the top prize at Flushing Meadows last weekend taking Federer and Nadal's combined tally of grand-slam titles to a staggering 35.
But Sampras is certain that Murray and Djokovic will be desperate to get back amongst it as soon as they can.
“Oh yeah, I think if you take that much time off, they’re going to be very eager and determined [to succeed],” the 46-year-old told The Independent.
“I’m sure Novak and Andy are going to be right in the mix next year and compete for majors.”
Murray came into 2017 on top of the world, having enjoyed a scintillating 2016 that saw him win at Wimbledon and the Rio Olympics. However, the 30-year-old has had a torrid 2017, winning only once in Dubai and it looks as though he will spend the rest of the year watching from the sides due to hip injury that prematurely ended the defence of his Wimbledon title.
But Sampras firmly believes that Murray can return to the form that saw him race to the top of the rankings in 2016.
“Can he be the same force as he was before? Without a doubt.
“I don’t see anything stopping Andy from a tennis-playing standpoint. He’s one of the best in the world.
“It’s just a matter of playing well at the right time. The only thing that can hold him back is injuries, because he does rely so much on his movement. Once you can’t move and grind out the matches like he can, it’s tough for him. It’s tough for anybody.
“But as soon as Andy gets back playing, he will compete for all the majors and be right in the thick of things. I just hope he recovers and gets back to being 100 per cent.”
Sampras also addressed the biggest question on tennis fans' lips at the moment, that being whether or not Rafael Nadal (16) can overhaul Federer's tally of 19 grand-slam titles.
“Can Rafa beat Roger’s record? Basically it’s up to Rafa and how much he wants to play and how much he loves the game,” said the American, who now sits behind Federer and Nadal in the all time Grand Slam winners list.
“If he said: ‘Hey guys, I’m gonna play until I’m at least 35’, I’d say he’s got a pretty good shot at doing it.
“If you do the maths, he’s going to have many chances to win majors and he has the heart and mind to continue winning them. He will always be a favourite at the French and while Wimbledon will be a stress, at the other two [Slams] he’s always going to be in the top-two favourites. It really is entirely is up to him if he wants to play into his mid-30s like Roger.”
Sampras also felt that, despite his early exit at the US Open, Federer is capable of still adding to his own tally.
“There’s the age gap [between him and Nadal]. Five years is quite a bit in tennis. It just depends on how much longer Roger wants to go on, if he’s enjoying it and how his body holds up.
“I just think it’s great for the sport to see the [revival] of their rivalry. It’s quite remarkable.”
Last, Sampras expressed his joy and admiration for the young contenders coming through, namely Dominic Thiem, Denis Shapovalov, and Alexander Zverev while reserving special praise for 20-year-old Canadian Shapovalov.
“I really like his attitude. He’s got a lot of energy out there, has a big game and has got all the shots.”
WIth regards to his own future in the sport, Sampras reiterated his desire to stay well clear of coaching.
Sampras find no attraction in all the global travel and time away from his family that comes with being a full-time coach but would be happy to help out "here and there" with anyone who should ask for it in his home town of Los Angeles.
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