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Posted on: July 21st, 2006

Tennis legend Sampras to hold court in Avon

- petepage

By: Jim Fuller , The New Haven Register


The vision, if not caught by an Outdoor Life Network camera crew, could have merely been chalked up as something of an urban legend.
The tennis ball left Sam Warburgís racket, slowly made its way across the net and headed straight for the wheelhouse of 14-time Grand Slam singles champion Pete Sampras.

Of all the images during Samprasí glorious tennis career, none are more vivid or more frequent than Sampras soaring off the tennis court and blasting an overhead winner past an overmatched opponent.

So as Sampras waited for his chance, the crowd held its breath in anticipation of some impending magic. With a whack of his racket, the ball found its mark ó smack dab in the middle of the net.

Perhaps the most automatic shot in the modern era of tennis suddenly was not as routine as it once was. Yes, three and a half years away from the game can even cause one of the sportís all-time greats to appear human.

Tonight, Sampras will continue his whirlwind tour around the World Team Tennis circuit when he leads the Newport Beach (Calif.) Breakers against the Hartford FoxForce in a 6:45 match at the Blue Fox Run Golf Course in Avon.

Without saying it in as many words, Sampras made it clear at a Wednesday press conference in Rye, N.Y., that this was not a comeback tour. Unlike Martina Hingis who used an outstanding 2005 season with the New York Sportimes to springboard her back into prominence on the WTA tour, Sampras does not have visions of hoisting another Wimbledon or U.S. Open championship trophy.

Sampras is back playing tennis in front of the adoring fans because his restlessness pushed him back into the public eye and on the tennis court. His first year playing World Team Tennis has seen moments of brilliance but also stretches of un-Sampras like play.

"Iím playing OK," Sampras said Wednesday. "I am not expecting any miracles. I am serving pretty well and doing OK but I miss a little more than I used to. In fact I miss a lot more than I used to when I played. I hope not to get injured, play good tennis and hopefully the fans enjoy the tennis. I am not looking to beat anybody 5-0, I just want to hit the ball well.

"Itís business as usual. I am a little anxious because I donít know how I am going to play. I just want to see how it goes but it feels good to get the perspective of the crowd who like the fact that I am playing again."

Samprasí World Team Tennis career with Newport Beach began with losses to John Paul Fruttero and Warburg, who are a combined 1-3 in their careers in ATP-level matches. His third match against Philadelphia was rained out. Sampras, a winner of seven Wimbledon and five U.S. Open singles titles, picked up his first WTT singles victory with a 5-1 win over Alex Bogomolov Jr. of the New York Sportimes Wednesday night.

Tonight, his opponent in singles figures to be Glenn Weiner of the FoxForce.

"I am trying it," Sampras said. "I am in the middle of it and it has been fun. Making the commitment to play here was more of an attempt to get some structure in my life. Three or four days a week, I am hitting balls, going to the gym, nothing to go nuts about just something that I can focus on and see how it goes. So far, it has been OK.

"I didnít know what to expect. There is not a book on retirement at 32, you take kind of a wait and see approach. You take the first year after retirement and you decompress, you enjoy it and do some things that you didnít get to do ó whatever that may be. After three and a half years of being retired, I donít think bored was the right word but I think it was more of a (need) of a focus and structure in my life and my day. I promised myself that if I had a tennis opportunity, I would potentially play."

Sampras wrapped up his glorious career by topping long-time rival Andre Agassi to win the 2002 U.S. Open. With a record 14 menís singles Grand Slam titles, Sampras walked away from the game at the age of 32. He was back in New York a year later for an emotional farewell ceremony at Flushing Meadows.

He had not returned to the East coast until this week. Tonightís match will be the first for Sampras in Connecticut since a loss to Leander Paes in the third round of the 1998 Pilot Pen.

He is expecting a warm reception from the FoxForce crowd, one similar to the lovefest he enjoyed from fans in Newport Beach, Sacramento, Philadelphia (before the match was suspended early in the first set) and Mamaroneck, N.Y.

"Itís more interaction (than on the ATP tour)," Sampras said. "Itís a fun event, they can watch a little bit of everything. It is not the most serious (event) but it is competitive and I still want to play well and win. I have a lot of pride out there but it is more of a relaxed atmosphere out there."

Sampras is mixing in an occasional exhibition to keep his tennis game fresh. Next up is a match with former rival Jim Courier in August. A potential doubles exhibition could be coming later in the year.

"I am not looking to play a ton," Sampras said. "I just want to see how it goes. I just have a few things every couple of months to keep me busy, keep me sharp and keep me in shape. That is basically what I am doing this for.

"I think some players when they retire are still involved in their sport. Tennis players historically have kind of gotten away from it and then come back. You are not going to see me be like (John) McEnroe who is so involved in the commentary and still plays a lot. I am just testing the waters right now."

The latest test comes tonight in Avon.

Source: New Haven Register

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