Give Pete Sampras credit: He didn't sugarcoat his performance Monday night.
"I felt a little old," the 38-year-old tennis great said.
Sampras' serve is still explosive — he had nine aces — but his return game was no match for the younger and more polished Fernando Verdasco in a charity exhibition that kicked off the SAP Open at HP Pavilion.
Making his third straight appearance at the San Jose tournament, Sampras lost 6-3, 7-6 (7-2) to the 11th-ranked player in the world. The match was over in just under an hour before a crowd of 5,948.
"It was a little frustrating, because I was obviously having a hard time getting to his service games," Sampras said. "His serve is tricky for me to get a hold of. Sometimes he'd spin it in. Sometimes he'd crack the whip pretty flat, so I was sort of off balance."
Verdasco is 12 years younger than Sampras and at an entirely different stage in his career. Verdasco, seeded second in the main draw this week, has steadily climbed the rankings, reaching No. 7 last spring after reaching the 2009 Australian Open semifinals.
Sampras, meanwhile, spends much of his time at home in Los Angeles, raising his two boys (ages 7 and 4) and trying to find something to take the place of pro tennis.
Playing exhibitions "gives me focus at home, which is great," Sampras said. "I don't like to not do anything. Playing someone like Fernando makes me want to practice hard. It makes me want to work and do the things I need to do to play well."
Like Sampras' visits to San Jose the previous two years, the tennis Monday was more show than high drama. When one call went against Sampras, the 14-time Grand Slam champion jokingly noted the age difference between he and Verdasco, drawing laughs from those seated near the court.
It was far from a perfect night for Sampras on the court. He hobbled through much of the first set after tweaking his calf but never called for a trainer.
"It took me a few games to figure it out," Sampras said. "By the second, I (told myself) I'm not playing a match for a few more months, so go for it."
For Verdasco, the match was an opportunity to share a court with one of his all-time favorite players.
"He's still serving so good," Verdasco said. "Of course, he's not in the shape he was in as a professional. But for me, it was the experience to play against him. It was special."
For Sampras, the trip was quick and mostly light-hearted. An hour before the match, he held court during a VIP dinner at the arena, sharing that he has recently started playing the popular poker game Texas hold 'em.
"These guys have more money than sense," Sampras said of his playing partners.
He isn't kidding. The buy-ins for some of his games: $30,000.
"I'm down for the year," Sampras said, "so I had to come up here to break even."
Andre Agassi, in his controversial book, mentioned that tennis was at times not particularly fun for him. Sampras said he hardly shares that opinion.
"It's been pretty good to me," Sampras said before heading to the airport. "I'm flying home in a private jet. I'm not going to complain about it."