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Posted on: October 01st, 2011

[Sept 22, 2011] - Champions' keep tennis alive and well

- petepage

Jim Courier has revamped his Champions Series, changing it from tournaments for Over-30ís to a series of one-night stands, featuring four players drawn from a pool of players who have either been No. 1 in the world, won a Grand Slam singles title or played on a winning Davis Cup team.

Pete Sampras, fittingly enough, kick-started this venture Thursday night in the HSBC Cup at the BankAtlantic Stadium, home of the Florida Panthers, in Broward County, FL by beating Courier 8-6 in a one-set final after Courier had come from behind to beat Jimmy Connors 7-5 and Sampras had downed Michael Chang.

"The US Openís over so we are trying to keep the tennis flame alive by taking some top quality play to 12 cities around the country, most of which do not have regular ATP events," said Courier.

Friday night was Washington where Mark Ein, owner of the Washington Kastles of World Team Tennis, was promoting the event at the Verizon Center. Then Saturday in Philadelphia. After a breather, the schedule takes them to Minneapolis on Sept. 30 and Boston for the Staples Cup the next night. Stops in Arizona, Seattle, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Chicago, St. Louis and Buffalo follow.

Courier will play most of the events with Sampras signed up for seven along with Andre Agassi, who was due to play Washington and Philadelphia. John McEnroe, who pulled out injured for the opener, is slated for eight and Bjorn Borg is due to join the party for St. Louis and Buffalo.

There is a bonus pool for the top three, sharing $1 million with $500,000 going to the No. 1 points winner.

When the players had finished their practice sessions in the cavernous Panthers arena, we watched the USTA mini-tennis kids take to the court under the approving gaze of Sampras.

"Thatís the way to start them, with soft balls and small courts," he said. "Otherwise everything is too big and difficult and they donít have fun. Itís got to be fun otherwise they will find something else to do."

Sampras says he is dedicated to getting kids to play tennis but refutes reports that he has been working with USTA training schemes at Carson, Ca.

"No, I havenít been over there," he said. "But I do hit with a lot of young players in LA."

Sampras was soon being asked about his thoughts on the pro game and the role he played in it.

"here came a time when I just didnít want to be there any more," he said. "Finishing with my 14th Grand Slam at the US Open was a perfect, if unexpected, way to go. For me, it was emotional, not physical, the reason for my stopping. The grind had become too much. I had nothing left to give."

Of all the current crop of top players, Sampras expects Roger Federer to continue longer than most.

"Rogerís going to play for a while," he said. "His game enables him to endure the physical side of it better than some. Winning (6-2, 6-2) takes him an hour; it takes Nadal two hours. Itís easier for him. And he loves it ó he loves the hotels, the whole lifestyle. Having kids hasnít stopped him. He just gets help."

Sampras is obviously an admirer: "Rogerís dominated the game more than any of us have ever done. And heís done it with grace. Heís a great champion."

Novak Djokovic also came in for some praise: "Novakís enjoying the best year Iíve ever seen. To beat Nadal six times is incredible. We had dinner earlier in the summer and had a good chat and he asked about being No. 1. I just said, ĎKeep it simple, donít get too caught up in things.í It came across that I was a bit removed from everything but that enabled me to stay on top."

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