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Posted on: July 12th, 2006

Sampras shows ability, rust

- petepage

By CARLOS ARIAS, The Orange County Register

July 11, 2006

NEWPORT BEACH There was a buzz going through the sellout crowd of 2,000 on Monday night at Palisades Tennis Club.

"I came to see Pete," one fan said on his way to center court.

The Pete he was talking about was tennis legend Pete Sampras, who came out of his 31/2-year retirement to play for the Newport Beach Breakers this summer in World TeamTennis.

Sampras, a winner of a record 14 Grand Slam titles, had been feeling the itch to play competitive tennis, especially, around this time of year when Wimbledon has center stage in the sports world.

This wasn't Wimbledon where Sampas was a seven-time winner, but it was a chance to challenge himself. And Sampras is all about challenges.

"We're thrilled to have him," said Hall of Famer Billie Jean King, who is one of the co-founders of World TeamTennis. "We've been wanting him to play. He said he would and now we have him for seven matches. It's going to be great."

Sampras received a standing ovation during the pre-match introductions. The crowd was eager for Sampras to get on the court and kept chanting "We want Pete!" throughout the preliminary matches. Sampras played to the crowd firing balls into the stands between matches.

Sampras looked to be in good shape when he finally took to the court for warmups.

He showed flashes of his former form in the men's doubles match when he and his partner Ramon Delgado defeated the St. Louis Aces' Brian Wilson and John Paul Fruttero, a pair of former NCAA All-Americans.

The crowd roared when Sampras connected on a backhand service return winner in the first game of the doubles match.

The first serve Sampras hit on the night went whizzing past Fruttero for an ace. The usually poker-faced Sampras even had to crack a smile after that first ace.

Sampras showed off his reflexes and maneuvering at the net. He had plenty of pop on his legendary serve. He went up the ladder for a leaping overhead smash. He even tracked down a drop shot. Each shot Sampras made was greeted by cheers.

He and Delgado ended up winning the doubles match, 5-3, to keep the Breakers in contention for the victory.

Sampras went toe-to-toe with Fruttero in the final match of the night. That's when some of the rust surfaced.

Sampras took Fruttero the distance, but ended up falling to Fruttero, 5-4 (5-3), in the tiebreaker. The Aces ended up winning the match.

"I felt OK all things considered," Sampras said. "My body held up fine. Give him credit. He had a good serve. I couldn't get my return down."

Martina Hingis' run with the New York Sportimes in the WTT last summer was the catalyst for her return to the pro tour. Sampras maintained he has no intentions of returning to the tour, but he said his competitive juices are still flowing.

"It's a little taste of what I'll have to deal with in the next couple of weeks," Sampras said. "I'll get better with each match. That's how I am."

King liked what she saw from Sampras in his first competitive match in three years.

"He's a little rusty," King said, "but I saw a lot of nice things."

Sampras said he enjoyed being back in the spotlight.

"You want to put on a good show for the people," Sampras said. "The atmosphere was great. The people really got behind the team. I really have some fun teammates. It's great to entertain the people. But I'm still competitive and want to win."

Source: Orange County Register

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