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Re: Pete Sampras beat Jim Courier 6:1,6:4 during an exhibition match in Carson

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Older Sampras still owns Courier

Tuesday, August 8, 2006

CARSON – The meeting Monday night between Pete Sampras and Jim Courier was more of revival than an exhibition.

The legends returned to the hardcourt. One looked balder. Both looked older. Both played slooooower, but nobody who waited past 8:30 p.m. for the last match to begin at The Home Depot Center came to measure the greats against their past greatness.

This was about seeing flashes of the familiar, remembering what tennis used to be. The Americans winning the titles, the Grand Slams. The American men kissing silver trophies after hard-fought matches and starring in the world's best rivalries.

Like Sampras-Courier, this rivalry that hobbled onto the court smelling of mothballs as a kickoff event for week's WTA Tour JPMorgan Chase Open.

It was strange that the biggest draw for this women's event might just turn out to be two men who have left the game. But that's another subject.

On Monday night, the big names delivered a show with Sampras winning, 6-1, 6-4, in 64 minutes.

Sampras, who just picked up the racket in May for the first time since his 2003 retirement, still had his powerful serve and his powerful second serve, his spinning forehand, his slice, his drop shot, his return, and every other weapon that Courier remembered used to hurt him.

The last time the two played in front of a crowd was in 1999 in Key Biscayne, Fla. To them, Monday night felt like getting a classic-rock band back together for reunion concert.

And there was a Rolling Stones farewell-tour quality to the exhibition between the retired pair who combined for 87 career tennis titles, including 18 Grand Slams.

"I enjoyed it (the match) a lot too, except for the losing part," said Courier, who has let his red hair down.

He probably didn't like Sampras' first serve, an ace that tore across the court at 125 mph. Or Sampras' slicing volley that juked him out of his white Nikes. Or Sampras' five-love first-set lead "that happened before I could even blink," Courier said.

"When Pete plays like that he's hard to beat. He was serving right and returning right, and when you put those two together, he's, well, Pete."

This "Ultimate Tennis Celebration" kickoff event for the pro women's tennis event presented an opportunity for the wily Courier, loser to Sampras in 16 of their 20 pro meetings, to exact a mild form of revenge to carry into the sunset - or at least, the poolside happy hour at Leisure World.

Stories had surfaced in the past few months that Courier, who hung up the racket in 2000 with 23 titles, two French Open and two Australian Open championships, had committed himself to training for this trumpeted grudge match.

Meanwhile, the same Internet sources reported Sampras' lackadaisical approach to the publicity-stunt of a tennis match.

While some were typing that Courier was fastidious in his preparation for this match, birddogs apparently nesting in camouflage outside Sampras' Los Angeles compound filled the World Wide Web with reports alleging that the greatest tennis player of his generation - the holder of a 762-222 career record, the top-ranked player for an ATP record 286 weeks from 1993 to 1997, the winner of 64 singles titles (14 Grand Slams) - was going to wing it.

After all, Sampras is only playing three or four days a week now, spending time changing diapers on a second child a little bigger that a can of Wilsons and didn't play many of his greatest hits this summer as part of World TeamTennis' Newport Beach Breakers.

Sampras, who turns 35 Saturday, didn't come out with a walker, but he did some interesting pre-match stretches that begged for Geritol.

Courier, who turns 36 on Thursday, looked more spry, but Sampras kept him rolling from corner to corner, before a breathless blast wide or into the net or at the side panel of the Land Rover parked in the corner of stadium court.

In the second set, Courier put the racket in the hands of a ballboy after he buried a textbook overhead smash in the center of the net. Losing - it was happening again.

Of their 20 meetings, Sampras has met Courier in only one Grand Slam final, defeating him, 7-6, 7-6, 3-6, 6-3, on the grass at Wimbledon in 1993.

Monday night didn't even count for anything. Except to prove these players' legendary status is timeless.

Source: OC Register
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