Getting Sampras Is Coup For Courier
By JOEY JOHNSTON The Tampa Tribune
Published: Feb 20, 2007
- Fifteen years ago, when they were atop the tennis world, Jim Courier and Pete Sampras played a charity exhibition match at the USF Sun Dome.
"That was a long, long time ago," Courier said.
Nearly 18 Grand Slam tournament singles championships ago, to be exact. Both players, once ranked No. 1 in the world, have retired from active play on the ATP Tour. Courier already has been inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame, and Sampras will go in this summer.
Courier, 36, is now a sports and entertainment entrepreneur living in New York. Sampras, 35, lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two children.
But in a way, they never gave up their old racket.
The longtime friends and rivals are still playing tennis - and still giving back.
Courier, Sampras and Chris Evert are headliners for the fourth annual Mercedes-Benz Classic tennis exhibition, set for April 28 at the St. Pete Times Forum.
All proceeds from the event will go to Raymond James Courier's Kids Foundation, which assists children through mentoring, academic help and tennis programs through the St. Petersburg Tennis Center and First Serve Program.
Courier said the previous three events have raised more than $500,000 for the program.
"Having Pete play is a major, major thing and it continues a run of great names for this event," said Courier, the Dade City native, pointing out the past participation of Andre Agassi, John McEnroe, Jennifer Capriati, Monica Seles, James Blake, Andy Roddick and Mardy Fish.
"Pete has been taking a bit of a hiatus from the game, but he has been curious about what we're doing and is starting to get back in it [Sampras will begin play this year in the Outback Champions Series for over-30 players]. It's obvious he'll add interest here because he's one of the game's all-time greats. And considering he used to live in Tampa, it will be a nice homecoming of sorts."
Courier said the players accept no money for the event - all funds go to charity - so the event's timing is largely based on gaps in their schedules. This year, with a Saturday night date, he's hoping for the largest crowd yet.
What will be on display?
Probably some fun, some trick shots, players wearing microphones and displaying their personalities.
But the event finale - Courier vs. Sampras in a best-of-three match - will be the real thing.
"Legitimate tennis," Courier said. "Pete will come out guns-a-blazing - and they'll be pointing directly at me."
Courier said his relationship with Sampras has evolved since their teenage years. In some ways, they're closer than ever.
"We were kids banding together in the world of pro tennis," Courier said. "We played doubles together, ate every meal together, practiced together, played video games together, chased girls together.
"Then we started running into each other at major championships and certainly had a more professional relationship then. Now we've come to a place in our lives where we've established ourselves as players, and we're playing for the love of the game and the competition. There are very few people in the world I have more in common with than Pete Sampras. There's so much common ground."
Reporter Joey Johnston can be reached at (813) 259-7353 or firstname.lastname@example.org.