Sampras plays Prague
Pete plays Prague
Big money draws big player for December exhibition match
By: Frantisek Bouc
The Prague Post
October 29th, 2008 - There are few things U.S legend Pete Sampras has not done in tennis. One is to make an appearance on a Czech court.
This will soon change. Six years after officially retiring from professional tennis, Sampras will take on Czech Radek Stěpanek Dec. 1 at Prague O2 Arena.
"We`ve got a chance to introduce a sports legend to our tennis fans," says Miroslav Černoek, owner of Česk sportovn, the promotional company staging the event.
The winner of 14 Grand Slam tournaments, who for 260 consecutive weeks ranked No. 1 in the world, will become the most expensive individual athlete that Česk sportovn has ever brought to this country. Two years ago, Česk sportovn staged Europe�s most prestigious men�s basketball tournament, the Final Four, in Prague. In October, it organized the NHL games between the New York Rangers and the Tampa Bay Lightning.
"Bringing Sampras over will cost us about one-seventh of the sum we paid to have the Rangers here," Černoek said. Sampras� appearance money will be an estimated 4 million Kč ($201,511).
"But it will be worth it," assures Stěpanek. "Pete is still in top shape, and he would give a hard time to many of the active professionals on the tour."
Sampras will cost more than star Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt now of triple gold medal and triple world record fame in Beijing who Česk sportovn brought to a race in Ostrava in May.
Petra Langrov, who negotiated Sampras� Prague appearance, says the 37-year-old should be in top shape.
"From Prague, he will travel to a Tour of Champions event in London, where he wants to succeed," she said. "He had no special demands other than to have a masseur�s table in his hotel room. It proves that he`ll take the game seriously."
Indeed, Sampras alluded to his ambitions when speaking of the London event.
"It`s still fun for me to compete. It`s still a challenge, and I still want to hold that trophy up at the end," he said.
Sampras, nicknamed "Pistol Pete" for his trademark big serves occasionally takes on active players in exhibition events. He drew the most attention playing then world No. 1 Roger Federer in a three-match tour of Asia in November 2007, beating Federer once.
"I made it competitive, and I am serving very well," Sampras said at that time.
In February, Sampras defeated German Tommy Haas, a former world No. 2 6-4, 6-2 in just 43 minutes.
Only four Czech players were ever able to beat Sampras on the ATP Tour: Petr Korda, Jiri Novak, Bohdan Ulihrach and Karel Novaček. Only Korda beat Sampras more than once. Stěpanek, who has never before played Sampras, pins hopes on being the fifth.
"I`d like to beat him, too," said Stěpanek.
Stěpanek, who, like Sampras, prefers the serve-and-volley style of play, expects a top-quality match.
"Hopefully, we`ll be able to squeeze in some exhibition stuff on top of that," Stěpanek said.
Sampras agrees: "I still want to play well and still want to win. But now, I`m a little more relaxed. The crowd still wants to see me serve and volley the way I used to and pull off my shots, but with a slightly lighter atmosphere."