Sampras exhibition was short on entertainment
JOSH KRUEGER COLUMN
- So (yawn), has everybody who attended Sunday morning's Hall of Fame Classic exhibition tennis match woken up yet? If you were there, watching one of the least dynamic athletes ever desperately try to entertain a sellout crowd at the International Tennis Hall of Fame, you probably could have used a pick-me-up not long after the first point.
A day after fighting back tears for most of his Hall of Fame induction speech, Pete Sampras took part in an exhibition match against fellow retired pro, Todd Martin. Sadly, Sampras' speech was more interesting.
No one should have been expecting the level of entertainment we saw three years ago, when Andre Agassi and John McEnroe squared off in an exhibition doubles match here. As far as entertainers go, Agassi and McEnroe are big leaguers. Sampras is a batboy.
But I hoped, as I'm sure many did, that in a match that meant nothing, Sampras might shed his cold, robotic image and have some fun and give the fans a show.
No such luck.
Both players wore microphones on their shirts with the idea that they'd banter a bit during the match. Someone, though, should have double-checked to make sure Sampras' mic was working properly.
Throughout his career, Sampras chose to let his tennis do the talking. He did the same on Sunday when people came to see and hear more than just two retired tennis players whack the ball back and forth.
Granted, the matchup wasn't exactly a recipe for comedy. Martin is the nicest guy I've met in sports, but he didn't have enough charisma to carry the show.
To his credit, however, he tried. He hit up a few big, fat lobs - both actual and verbal - for Sampras to smash home. Sampras, time and again, whiffed.
"Is that all you got?" Sampras asked Martin early in the one-set exhibition. Seriously, Pete, is that all you got? Trash talk is an art form, but Sampras was bringing stick-figure drawings to the gallery.
Martin even tried to set Sampras up for some hilarity that required no words. After one of Martin's attempted drop shots sailed right into Sampras' wheelhouse, Martin turned his back to the net and bent over.
There it was. A perfect opportunity for some physical comedy, teed up for Sampras. He could have drilled the ball into Martin's flesh - like David Ortiz playing badminton in the Vitamin Water commercial - or even lightly hit Martin in the backside. Instead, Sampras merely won the point with a nicely placed inside-out forehand.
Perhaps Sampras' wife, actress Bridgette Wilson, who played Adam Sandler's love interest in "Billy Madison," could have pulled some strings to get Sandler to sub for Martin - or Sampras, for that matter.
The most entertaining thing Sampras did was, at one point, hand his racket to a ball boy, who then played a point with Martin as Sampras sat in a linesman's chair.
He should have stayed there and let the kid finish the match. A couple more linesmen were needed, anyway, and Sampras sitting in a chair would have been about as fun to watch as Sampras hitting tennis balls.
Josh Krueger is a Daily News sports writer. Send him e-mail at Krueger@NewportRI.com