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

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Change of pace, Sampras back into tennis three years after retiring

By: Arash Markazi, Sports Illustrated.
August 8, 2006

Pete Sampras had grown restless. While changing diapers and helping his wife, Bridgette Wilson-Sampras, around the Beverly Hills home they share with their two sons, Christian and Ryan, Sampras was getting tired of his routine of waking up in the morning and watching cartoons with the kids, then playing golf.

"I wanted to get myself busier," said Sampras, who turns 35 this week. "I wanted to have a little more structured day. It was a general feeling I had within the past year. I was looking around, trying to see what was next."

When he retired from tennis three years ago, Sampras shut the sport out completely. He didn't pick up a racket, watch a match or read a single sentence about the sport that had been his life for the past 25 years.

"When I retired, I just wanted to decompress and get away from the game," he said. "I didn't want to talk about it, read about it; I just wanted to get away from it. It had been my life for so long. I didn't pick up a racket for almost three years after I left. It's like Joe Montana -- I doubt he throws the football around much these days. It's something you just do to move on."

Slowly, though, as the mundane schedule of SpongeBob SquarePants and tee times grew tiresome, Sampras began to think twice about that Wilson ProStaff Original racket sitting in his closet.

"Enough time goes by and then you miss it a little bit," he said. "You don't miss the lifestyle, but you miss the competitive juice when the majors come and go. So a few months ago I said, 'OK, let's hit a few balls and see how it feels.' It came back pretty quickly. It's kind of like riding a bike, and I used to own every bike."

Sampras returned to the court four months ago for the first time since his 2003 retirement to play Robby Ginepri in an exhibition match in Houston. Since then he has played for the Newport Beach Breakers of World Team Tennis and played exhibitions around the country. Monday night he helped kick off the JP Morgan Chase Open at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., with a match against his former rival Jim Courier, whom he defeated 6-1, 6-4 in a match that was vintage Sampras, with blazing serves and killer volleys.

"It's a mystery every time I step out there. I don't know what I'm going to do," Sampras said. "I felt good out there tonight. I know Jim's game and I knew what he was going to do, and then I just got into a rhythm and served big and I played very good. I'm not killing myself, I'm practicing three to four days a week and getting back in shape, but it was pretty encouraging, the way I was hitting the ball tonight. It was a little bit of my old self."

During the match, Courier could only nod his head in acceptance and touch the brim of his cap after every Sampras point as the crowd cheered on the seven-time Wimbledon champion and arguably the greatest male tennis player of all time. Sampras laughed during the match and turned to the crowd at one point and said, "How come no one was rooting for me when I was kicking everyone's ass?"

While tennis fans might not have appreciated Sampras' greatness while he was playing -- the 14-time Grand Slam champion was often criticized for being too businesslike on the court and too reclusive off it -- he is beginning to win them over as he rediscovers his appreciation for the game.

"Its good for me to get back, just for my kids to see me," said Sampras, who says he has no intention of returning to the ATP. "My oldest is almost four now and he's beginning to grasp the concept of Daddy playing tennis and people watching him. It's fun for me and it's one thing I do regret that he never did get the chance to see me play at Wimbledon or any other place. But now that I'm playing a few here and there, it gives him a taste of what I used to do."

Source: CNNSI - Sports Illustrated
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