Sampras wins LSU benefit match
By SCOTT RABALAIS
Published: Oct 30, 2006
Advocate staff photo by EMILY SCHWARZE
Pete Sampras returns a ball to Todd Martin during the ‘Duel Under the Oaks’ on Sunday in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
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It was championship-caliber tennis mixed with Southern hospitality and charm.
In the end, the dominant color was green. Green as in the special green-set court laid down on the floor of the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, and the color of money raised for a worthy cause.
More than 6,800 tennis fans filled the purple PMAC seats and courtside chairbacks Sunday to watch 14-time major champion Pete Sampras take on old rival Todd Martin in an exhibition match billed as the “Duel Under the Oaks.”
Sampras won in three sets, taking the first set on a tiebreaker 7-5 while Martin won the second on a tiebreaker 7-2. Sampras won the third set (strictly on points, not games) 12-10.
But none of those numbers mattered as much as the more $400,000 event organizers said was raised to offset expenses incurred by LSU Health Sciences Center students in the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
“I’m almost in tears I’m so excited,” said Paula Pennington de la Bretonne, the primary organizer behind the event.
“It’s such an unbelievable day. The money we could raise for these students, the support of the Baton Rouge community. The students have been coming up to me and thanking me. It’s just a beautiful day.”
The day started with a youth tennis clinic attended by hundreds of kids at LSU’s W.T. “Dub” Robinson Tennis Stadium.
Sampras, Martin and Sampras’ sister Stella Sampras Webster (women’s tennis coach at UCLA) led the clinic, which included each young tennis player getting to play a point against Sampras and Martin.
“Todd and Pete really went above and beyond what they had to do by hitting with each kid,” LSU men’s tennis coach Jeff Brown said. “Those kids have something they will always remember.”
After a pair of early exhibition matches, the second featuring TV actor Scott Foley and Baton Rouge native and actor Wes Brown, Sampras and Martin took their temporary center court.
Unlike their often taut and tense matches on tour, both seemed at east throughout.
I want to play well and win but at the same time you want to lighten up a little bit,” said Sampras, now 35. “When I was competing I had tunnel vision that made me stay on top of the game.
“People want to see me serve hard but they want to see you have fun with the kids or the umpire.”
Martin may have lost the match but won on showmanship points. Once he ran from his side of the net to Sampras’ side, pointing to a spot where he thought a ball ruled out had been in.
Another time, unable to reach a Sampras service ace smoked up the sideline, Martin went over and started shaking hands with fans seated nearby.
“When I get aced I’m going to come over and shake hands,” Martin explained.
“It’s a community in need and it’s always rewarding to do something for people who need it,” Martin said. “To have it supported like this and to hear over $400,000 going to the health sciences division of LSU, that’s great. I’m glad to be a part of it.”
Asked if he enjoyed himself, Martin deadpanned: “Not really, I lost, so it’s never that much fun. But it’s great to be on the court with Pete again. Hopefully we’ll do it again soon.”
Sampras, who retired in 2003, only began playing exhibition matches earlier this year. But he said more could be in his future.
“When you’ve been retired for a number of years you get a little restless,” he said. “It’s a work in progress being retired at 35. It sounds great, but on Monday morning you need to get up and go to work.
“Sometimes I have those moments when I’m lost playing golf or doing other things. But playing tennis is something I love to do. I’m good at it. The fans seemed to enjoy me playing again and I look forward to doing it more next year.”
Does that mean this could become an annual event? Could Sampras return for Duel Under the Oaks II?
“I don’t know,” de la Bretonne replied. “What did Pete say?”
And one photo from this match