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Posted on: February 15th, 2007

Sampras to play in Charlotte event

- petepage

He's not the first retiree to ask: "Golf, is that all there is?"

The difference is age. Most men in that position are in their 70s. Pete Sampras is in his 30s. So he could do something about it. He got back in the game.

His game is tennis, of course. He holds the most men's Grand Slam singles titles. And he'll be in Charlotte Sept. 26-30 as part of the senior tour.

"I'd say 2005 was kind of a pivotal year," Sampras, 35, told the Observer in a phone interview. "After I played enough golf and had some fun, I felt the need to be more fulfilled in the work area ...

"I like to work. I like to get my hands dirty."

In other words, he misses the competition, but not enough to go back to the rigors of the main tour.

He believes he could still beat a top-10 player on occasion, because his serve still hums over the net at more than 130 mph. But it's the Spartan lifestyle and all the travel that makes the main tour unappealing.

Instead, he'll play selected events in the Outback Champions Series, against the likes of Jim Courier, John McEnroe and Todd Martin.

Sampras' presence gives a surge to a tour that sold out most seats in its inaugural visit to the Palisades development near Lake Wylie.

"Pete adds a level of electricity," said Courier, another former world No. 1 who founded and plays on this circuit. "His presence is a 1-plus-1-equals-3.

"People who don't know me, I can say `Pete Sampras' and they'll say, `Wimbledon!' The familiarity Pete brings -- the seriousness -- my sense is that's a huge boost."

Is it too much of a boost? Is Sampras so good that he'll dominate every senior event and create a King-and-his-court effect?

Courier lost decisively the last time he played Sampras in an exhibition, but he doesn't buy that Sampras can mow over the regulars on this tour.

"He won 7-6 in the third last time he played Todd," Courier said. "He'll step in as a clear favorite, but it won't be a walkover for him."

Sampras is excited about this because it's just enough to get him motivated, without wearing him down.

"I don't want the day-in, day-out grind all over again, but I still want to train, I still want to have a healthy lifestyle," said Sampras, who regularly plays practice sets against main-tour players.

After years of playing with a familiar but outdated racquet, he's updated his equipment.

"I'm hitting the ball better than ever," he said. "And that's all about the technology."

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