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Posted on: December 14th, 2008

Sampras back in Baton Rouge to face Blake

- petepage

Dec 14, 2008

At 37, Pete Sampras isn’t quite the player he was when he dominated men’s tennis in the 1990s.

The 14-time Grand Slam winner can still strike the ball with the best of them and rocket a serve past just about anybody, but some of his speed and agility has diminished with age.

“I still hit it pretty well,” said Sampras, who retired in 2002. “I just don’t move quite as well. The reactions are not as quick.”

What hasn’t diminished is his love of the game and willingness to help those in need.

Sampras will be back in Baton Rouge today for the Duel Under the Oaks II, a best-of-three set exhibition match against current pro James Blake set for 2 p.m. in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

The exhibition, sponsored by the Pennington Research Center, will benefit victims of hurricanes Gustav and Ike.

Just two years ago, Sampras played former doubles partner Todd Martin in the PMAC to help raise money for the LSU Health Science students displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

“A couple of years ago, we had about 7,500 people come out and we had a great time,” Sampras said. “I met some nice people and we helped a great cause.”

He’ll likely have a tougher test this time in taking on Blake, the 10th-ranked player who beat Roger Federer in the Beijing Olympics.

“He’s a top-10 player and one of the best movers in tennis,” Sampras said of Blake. “I don’t know if it’s really a good matchup for me. Hopefully, I can pull off a set.”

It will be the first matchup of Blake and Sampras.

“He’s a great guy and one of the greats in tennis,” Blake said of Sampras. “Any time you play someone like that, it’s great. I’ve learned a lot from him.”

Sampras, who won seven Wimbledon titles during a 15-year career in which he was the top-ranked player for six straight years, now travels about 20 days out of the year for tennis-related events.

It’s in sharp contrast to the busy schedule he led during his pro career.

“The travel was a grind, going from the States to Europe for 5-to-7 weeks at a time. And the stress of being the best in the world wasn’t easy,” he said.

He’ll get another taste of pro competition today against Blake, one of the sport’s rising stars.

“It think it’s going to add a little more pizzazz to the event,” Sampras said of playing Blake. “He’s a friend of mine. I’m looking forward to it.”


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