Sampras beats McEnroe in return to England
By CHRIS LEHOURITES, AP Sports Writer
LONDON (AP)—A fast court, plenty of fast serves and a straight-sets win. It was all vintage Pete Sampras.
The seven-time Wimbledon champion played tennis in England on Wednesday for the first time since 2002, beating John McEnroe 6-3, 6-4 in a seniors match at the Royal Albert Hall.
“To be retired six years and still play in front of good crowds is an honor,” the 37-year-old Sampras said. “It was a fun night of tennis.”
On the court, Sampras dominated.
Wearing a dark blue shirt and white shorts—instead of the usual all-white attire he used to don at the All England Club in his heyday—Sampras served 19 aces, including three in the final game.
“That serve is just scary,” said the 49-year-old McEnroe, who wasted four break points in the opening game of the match. “It’s not often you get a chance to break a serve like that.”
In true McEnroe fashion, however, the seven-time Grand Slam champion wasn’t happy with all the calls.
“At 30-40 (in the first game), that serve, to me it was clearly out,” McEnroe said.
In the final game of the first set, McEnroe thought another of Sampras’ serves was out, but his opponent was all too happy to show him where it landed.
The record 14-time Grand Slam champion walked toward the net with a tennis ball held over his head, mimicking the trajectory of the previous shot. He approached the net, then hopped over it, continued walking toward the center service line and placed it down, right on the line.
“The ball was clearly in,” Sampras said later.
Despite the result, McEnroe played well, too, impressing the much younger Sampras with his fitness and his serving ability.
“I had a hard time sort of picking up his serve,” Sampras said. “To be 49 and be able to serve and volley and be effective, and has the hands and the movement.
“Forty-nine’s not young in tennis.”
McEnroe was even more impressed with Sampras, saying again he thinks the American great still has the ability to be playing on tour with Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.
“They wouldn’t want to play him,” McEnroe said.
Sampras won three of the world’s four major tennis tournaments and McEnroe won two, but neither could claim a Grand Slam title on clay at the French Open. Sampras, however, was wishing for a little of the red dirt on Wednesday because the court at the Royal Albert Hall was too fast.
“Everyone thinks I like fast courts. I really don’t,” said Sampras, who also won five U.S. Opens and two Australian Opens. “I need time to break. I don’t need time to hold.
“Not to criticize it, but let’s put some clay on it or something.”
Sampras will next face Jeremy Bates on Friday before finishing Group A play against Cedric Pioline on Saturday.
That will give Sampras a day off on Thursday and a chance to visit the grass courts of Wimbledon for the first time since he lost to George Bastl in five sets at the 2002 tournament.
Sampras asked no one in particular if he needed to wear anything special to get into the club, and he was answered with a round of laughter.
“I know I’m a member,” said Sampras, obviously still bitter about losing in the second round at his final Wimbledon. “I haven’t been there since I was humiliated.”