NEW YORK: Pete Sampras says Rafael Nadal can break Roger Federer’s record of 16 Grand Slam titles if he stays healthy and maintains a smart playing schedule.
The 24-year-old Nadal, known for his grinding style, recently won his ninth major at the U.S. Open to complete a career Grand Slam.
“If he’s smart with his schedule and the fact that he has so many at such a young age, he could very well do it,” Sampras said in a conference call Thursday for the BNP Paribas Showdown.
Sampras will meet former rival Andre Agassi for a best-of-three sets match Feb. 28 at Madison Square Garden. John McEnroe and Ivan Lendl, rivals from the 1980s and ’90s, will play one set.
Sampras called Nadal “a beast” on the court and thinks Nadal can chase Federer’s record. Federer surpassed Sampras’ record of 14 Grand Slams in 2009.
“The only question with Rafa is physically how much his body can handle the pounding with how hard he works for every point,” he said of Nadal, who has been sidelined with knee injuries and a pulled abdominal muscle in the last few years.
Federer was 25 when he earned his ninth Grand Slam at the 2006 U.S. Open. Since then, the 29-year-old Federer has won seven major titles.
Nadal also won the French Open and Wimbledon this year.
“(Nadal’s) in the middle of his career, so he could do a lot more great things,” Sampras said of the top-ranked Spaniard.
But the former No. 1 player added that Nadal doesn’t need to break the Grand Slam record to prove himself.
“He’s won all the majors, won the Olympics and has a winning record against Roger,” Sampras said of the 14-7 career edge.
He also predicts Federer “is going to win a few more majors.” Sampras said he had dinner with former coach Paul Annacone, who now coaches Federer.
“They’re implementing coming in and being a little more unpredictable,” Sampras said.
Sampras last played an exhibition at the Garden against Federer in 2008. He’ll renew his rivalry with Agassi after exchanging verbal volleys with him at a Hit for Haiti exhibition in March.
Agassi apologized for poking fun at Sampras during the match at Indian Wells, Calif. After Sampras mimicked Agassi’s pigeon-toed walk, Agassi repeated the criticism in his book “Open” that Sampras was a poor tipper.
Sampras responded with a high, hard serve that forced Agassi to duck.
“As competitive as we were in the ’90s, we got along quite well,” Sampras said. “Obviously, he said a few things in his book; we had a few moments. But it’s fine.”
Sampras said they recently spent time in Costa Rica and will play an exhibition match in South America. He’ll also play Andy Roddick in Omaha, Neb., in his training for the showdown.