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Sampras unveils secret racket in Federer match

March 12, 2008

Pete Sampras and the victorious Roger Federer were nearing the end of a news conference after their historic tennis exhibition at Madison Square Garden Monday night when a reporter asked the retired American which racket he’d chosen for the match.

Both Sampras and Federer, the world’s No. 1 and a 12-time Grand Slam winner, had played with Wilson rackets. But Sampras cracked his aces with a nondescript black stick that was wrapped with purple grip tape — an apparent throwback to the Wilson ProStaff 6.0 models Sampras used to win his record 14 majors.

So, Sampras was asked, was that an old ProStaff standby in your hand, the predecessor of Federer’s newfangled Wilson K Factor [K] Six.One Tour 90?

“So you think,” Sampras said with a coy smile.

“It’s not the racket I played with early on [in my career],” said Sampras, who stopped playing in 2002, but played several exhibitions in the past year. “I need the technology to help me play against these guys.”

Sampras and Wilson are developing a new racket, amNewYork learned Tuesday. Sampras was trying it out during Monday’s NetJets Showdown, which Federer won 6-3, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (6).

“He’s playing a prototype,” said John Muir, reached yesterday by telephone in Chicago, where he is general manager of Wilson Racquet Sports. “It’s something that we’ve made and something that we’re working on.” Muir said he could reveal few other details during the five-minute interview.

“We purposely have done it all black, just because it’s a prototype and we’re still working on it,” he said. “Pete’s got to play with it a little more. You need to be a serious player to play that racket. I’m not going to say anything more than that.”

Steve Hilliard, the head stringer at Mason’s Tennis Mart, handled an order to string three of Sampras’ prototypes Monday morning, before Sampras practiced for the exhibition.

Hilliard said Tuesday that he couldn’t help but compare these mysterious black rackets to their counterpart, Federer’s K Factor, which came out last year.

Sampras’ prototype had a few cosmetic differences, Hilliard said.

“It had a slightly different finish around the throat — flatter, without the indentations,” Hilliard said. “It was customized with lead tape. Some of the parts were different than what I see on the K Factor.”

Apart from noting other visual differences, Hilliard said he couldn’t say much more about the frame until he could play with it. Muir offered no release timeline.


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