By Charles Bricker

Sampras still trying to figure out the French

For eight years Pete Sampras has tried different methods of preparing for the French Open, the only major he has never won.

He has played multiple clay court lead-ups in hopes of coming to Paris ultra- sharp. And flopped.

He has stayed home in Tampa and practiced hard, then gone to Europe a week before the French to play only one warmup. And flopped.

This might be his final play. Here is Sampras' game plan for 1998:
Intense practice at home with only two clay tournaments (Atlanta, April 27-May 3 and Rome, May 11-17), then go to Paris one week early and soak up the environment instead of playing that final week before the French.

Why go to Paris a week early?
IN SAMPRAS' MIND, HE HAS never really been able to get comfortable going to Paris at the last moment -- arriving on Friday, practicing at Roland Garros during the weekend and playing his first match Monday or Tuesday.

Maybe it's the joie de vivre that's missing. Sampras has never had trouble feeling at home at Wimbledon. But it's easier for him in London. He's comfortable on grass and the natives are friendly. They speak his language.

Paris is a real foreign culture to him and he has never been able to feel at home. So he's going to spend a week in Paris largely relaxing. Maybe even seeing the sights.

If it sounds as if he's groping for a solution to his ongoing French frustration, he probably is. But he's not going to leave any possible solution on the table because winning the French could be the difference between going down as the greatest player ever and being one of the greatest players ever.