Pete Sampras joined tennis’ senior tour and took up where he left off, winning the title.
For Pete Sampras, it was a day to live dangerously.
First, the future Hall of Famer faced a triple match point against Todd Martin in the final of the Champion’s Cup event at Boston University on Sunday. Then, between beating Martin and grabbing the first-prize check of $50,000, Sampras shared some bad news with the Red Sox fans in the crowd. “I don’t know if you guys heard, but I believe the New York Yankees just signed Roger Clemens,” Sampras said during the trophy ceremony as the crowd of 3,560 erupted in boos. “I’m serious.”
On the day that the 35-year-old Sampras made a successful return on the seniors tour, another old-timer announced that he would be making a comeback that was much less welcome in Boston. Clemens, 44, said during the seventh-inning stretch at Yankee Stadium that he chose New York over the Red Sox for his latest comeback. The fans at Agganis Arena probably missed the news while watching Sampras play Martin. So Sampras, a Dodgers fan, took the opportunity to tweak them.
“I’m just having fun,” Sampras said after the match. “You know what, it’s not that fun in this town. It’s like a religion. I’ve never seen anything like it. They’re passionate [in Los Angeles], but I’ve never seen anything like it is here.”
Sampras hadn’t played competitive tennis since winning the 2002 U.S. Open for his record 14th Grand Slam title. Retired at 31, he didn’t pick up a racket or watch tennis on television for almost three years before deciding to play a limited schedule of exhibitions and Champion’s Cup events.
His presence was a coup for the seniors tour and reminder for his opponents — Petr Korda, Tim Mayotte, John McEnroe and Martin — of why he dominated the regular tour when they were in their prime. “Adding Sampras has certainly added some extra buzz,” said Jim Courier, a competitor and organizer of the tour. “There’s no question that when you bring in 14 major titles in one body, it’s going to get tougher.”
In a nod to the players knees, the matches are best-of-two sets, with a 10-point tiebreaker in case they split the sets. Sampras won the first set 6-3 and it was 5-5 in the second when Martin broke Sampras’ serve, then held serve to tie it.
“I was thoroughly unprepared for a lot of what he had to offer,” said Martin, the winner of last year’s Boston event. “The only recourse I had was to turn it into a tennis match rather than a skills test, because his skills are better than mine.”
Somehow, 35 seems a little young to be on a senior’s tour. But tennis is a young man’s game at the elite level. Indeed, I remember when it was considered remarkable that Jimmy Connors won a Wimbledon title at 30. He then won a U.S. Open title three years later.
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