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Posted on: July 29th, 2009

Pete Sampras reasserts his game despite loss in exhibition match

- petepage

July 27, 2009

One thing was clear as Pete Sampras battled Marat Safin on Monday night: he's still got it.

Safin emerged victorious, 6-4, 3-6, (10-6), but it would not have been obvious judging by the crowd's reaction at Straus Stadium.

In front of a pro-Sampras audience, the 37-year-old Sampras stole the show and took Safin eight years his junior and the LA Tennis Open's No. 8 seed down to the wire.

"It was too much stress," Safin told the fans following the match.

Sampras showed glimpses of the finesse he utilized to win 14 Grand Slam titles during a remarkable 15-year career. He displayed his powerful serve, once registering an ace of nearly 130 miles per hour. He pumped his fist and talked to himself all blatant signs that a competitor still lies inside.

"I miss the crowds, the majors," Sampras said. "I still enjoy playing."

And underneath the lights on Monday night, Sampras proved it.

At the beginning, the match had the resemblance of a pick-up game. Sampras would shake his head and smile as Safin eased his way to a 6-4, first-set victory.

But then Sampras stormed back, at one time gesturing towards the stands with his arms extended as if to ask, "Did you see that?"

Sampras, who grew up in nearby Palos Verdes, broke Safin early in the second set, which resulted in another fist pump. Sampras then showcased his precise serve on consecutive aces to extend a 3-0 lead.

He even battled back from a 15-40 deficit to take a fifth point. Another fist pump from Sampras and another loud response from those in attendance.

"I hope the fans had a great time. I had a great time," Sampras said.

The "Millennium Challenge" went into a tiebreak third set, but Safin eventually pulled away with a few slices that Sampras could not reach. All Sampras could do was smile.

"I was a little slow," said Sampras, who in recent years has been playing more golf than tennis.

Sampras admitted that his new lifestyle is different, but he is trying to have fun along the way even if the pace of the game has changed.

"The tricky part for me now is the way I play the way I serve and volley is hard on my body," he said. "It takes a lot of strain on the back and the hips. I'm just not as explosive."

Sampras also noted that he has a couple of matches scheduled against former rival Andre Agassi, as well as playing in some exhibitions and Senior Tour events.

"Playing a little bit has been good for me," Sampras said. "It keeps me in shape and keeps me a little bit focused. It's a work in progress being retired at 37."

Russia's Safin is headed in the same direction as Sampras, announcing earlier this year that this would be his last season on the tour.

"I'm going to be chilling like (Sampras)," Safin said following the match.

Safin is scheduled to face Robby Ginepri on Tuesday night in the first round of the singles draw.

Sampras was honored with an on-court, post-match ceremony as a video screen displayed highlights of his Grand Slam title victories.

"I love playing here," said Sampras, who captured this event twice, in 1991 and 1999. "It's a great tournament; it's a great city."

In his pre-match press conference, Sampras said that he felt good knowing that he was "the guy" of his generation.

And on Monday night, before a capacity crowd that at one point chanted, "Let's go Pete," he proved it.

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