The Venetian Macau Tennis Showdown 2009
Our Samprasfanz moderator, Philip recounts his unforgettable weekend in Macau. He, along with our President, Joy Parker and her daughter Robyn, and longtime member Lily, was in Macau for the "Tennis Showdown" - an exhibition match featuring Pete Sampras against Andre Agassi and also introducing upcoming tennis players Yuki Bhambri and Ryan Harrison.
October 24, 2009, Macau
On Saturday, October 24th, we took the ferry from Hong Kong to Macau and got to the Venetian hotel around noon. After lunch we went to the mini-golf course on the 7th floor of the hotel, for the photo shoot on a purpose-built tennis court on the artificial grass. Pete and the other players arrived on schedule. He look great, a little tanned, and looked very fit indeed, more so than when I saw him in Macau 2 years ago. He was so relaxed and was smiling a lot. As the court was not a full-sized, they would just hit the ball gently, including some volleys. After the shoot, while everyone was walking back to the building, we were right behind Pete, about 10 feet or so behind. We walked a little quicker and caught up with him. Robyn called him and he turned around and saw Joy. He stopped. Pete looked very happy to see Joy and put his arm around her, "Hi Joy, how are you? Great to see you, thanks for coming." I think Robyn may have got a photo of this so you may see this later. I didn't remember what Joy said, or if she said anything at all, she was simply stunned (I think!) :)))
The press conference was held in a small banquet room and the players sat on a stage. It was a pretty high stage so my telephoto lens came into good use. There were about 15 - 20 journalists so the room was not full, all of us took the front row. The press asked a couple of questions including asking Agassi about his charity work, Pete about what other players he may like to play in the future. I cannot remember the answer although I don't think Pete really answered the way the journalist wanted. He simply emphasized the point that he was very excited about playing Andre here in Macau. The players were then given a chance to talk about the event, and about what it is like to be a champion. I cannot remember each individual answer, but I remember Ryan (one of the junior players) talked about the famous Kipling quote at Wimbledon. I wasn't sure if it was appropriate for me to ask any questions, but I thought if I did my homework (in addition to sufficient background tennis knowledge) I would not embarrass myself or Samprasfanz. I re-read Pete's biography last week and I have thought of a couple of questions I may like to ask him. I wanted to ask how he and Agassi felt about the speed of play at Wimbledon, and how it would have affected their game if they were to play now than 10 years ago, but it was too long and complicated and I figured I would probably be too nervous to ask everything. I finally settled for the following:
"Have either of you been playing much tennis with your sons, and would you consider bringing Christian and Jayden together and see how they match up, and maybe in 15 years time, we will see another Sampras-Agassi rivalry?"
I raise my hand and I looked at Nick, making sure he was ok with it. So I went ahead and took the microphone. I am glad I wasn't nervous, probably because all those times lecturing in front of big-name Professors made me immune to occasions such as these! I am glad that the question generated some laughter, and it was interesting to hear that the only time Christian plays tennis is apparently on the WII! The question also led to a related article published in The South China Morning Post the following day:
Agassi, Sampras get to relive good old days again
[October 25, 2009 Alvin Sallay in Macau. SCMP.com]
The game that made them famous does not run in the family, insisted Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras, who will resume their illustrious rivalry today at The Venetian Macau Tennis Showdown.
Any hopes that the Sampras versus Agassi rivalry would continue into the second generation were dashed yesterday with the two legends revealing that their respective sons did not play the sport, which made the two Americans household names in the 1990s.
"The Sampras v Agassi rivalry is over unless Pete's son plays baseball," smiled Agassi. "My son, Jaden, is very much into baseball, not tennis."
Sampras added: "Christian [his son] doesn't play tennis. I don't think our rivalry will continue with our children. That is not going to happen."
After the press conference, Gus walked over and introduced himself and we shook hands. He said he, Pete and Bridgette really appreciate what we have done for Samprasfanz and enjoy reading info on Samprasfanz (unsure if he meant the group, or website!). It was very nice of him to do that. I replied to him that it is our pleasure to do that. I introduced Lily and Robyn to him, and told him that Lily worked on the King of Swing T shirt project and that she checked each individual shirt for quality and packed them. He said he will see us after the post-match press conference.
We were invited to attend Ryan and Yuki's charity session with kids but
ended up not going. I wanted to go back to the suite as I was very tired
from holding that camera and lens. I refer the rooms as 'suites' as the
rooms at the Venetian are huge! They are each the size of an apartment for
most people living in Hong Kong. The bathroom alone is twice the size of
my kitchen at home! We had a small rest before heading to St. Mark's square
to join the line for the autograph session.
The organizers did not include a meet-the-players autograph session on previous occasions (the tennis showdown in 2007 and 2008) therefore; having something like this is always welcoming for tennis fans. There weren't too many in line and we were about #20 so the wait was not long. They handed out official postcards on which one could ask the players to sign on. I did not need any. We, as big fans, came well prepared in anticipation of this opportunity. All of us had the King of Swing Tee shirts; in addition, I had a pair of special edition Air Oscillate tennis shoes which Pete was a little shocked to see when it was handed over to him! They were brown (unlike the original white and blue) and it had all the Grand Slam titles printed in the insole of the shoes. I have probably collected a dozen or more autographed items. People like to resell them on eBay and to make a profit. I would never do that. Most of the time, I ended up giving them away to close friends. For this event I donated posters (one of which was a Nike poster from 1995 featuring Pete and Andre) and hoping to raise money for the charity. Unfortunately, I don't think anyone bid for them!
Pete and Andre arrived and all who were waiting applauded. When it was Lily's turn, I took a picture of Pete and her. Now Lily has this as the profile picture on facebook! When it was my turn, that 30 seconds felt like 10 seconds and I had very little time to get a photo with Pete. Before I knew it I was being pushed away by this big-built security guy! Thanks to all the pilates training at the gym he was unable to move me at all as I engaged my core muscles! After the camera finally clicked, I was hurried off the platform - and forgetting to thank Pete! What a disaster! In fact, there was something I have always wanted to tell Pete personally but never had a chance to do so. I blew it again! I am not complaining. On the contrary, I am so happy and grateful that I got to see Pete at all. Joy and Robyn got their shirts and shorts signed. Everyone was happy.
After dinner at a Japanese restaurant, we finished off the day with seeing Zaia by Cirque du Soleil. It was simply magnificent! Is it possible for anyone to be as flexible and yet, having such strong core muscles as those performers? I am going to start practice standing on a fit ball next week! As we left the theatre, we bumped into the tournament organizer, Nick and his wife, and one of the younger players Yuki and his entourage. They also went to see the show and were equally impressed. Lily had a photo taken with Yuki, believing that he will one day become a champion. I think it was not a far-fetched thought. We saw Yuki practiced with Pete. Yuki seemed very consistent and made very few mistakes. I hope he will become the next Asia's superstar in tennis.
October 25, 2009, Macau
The day of the match finally arrived. We were all pretty tired and were hoping to have a relaxing morning, but were told by Nick (after seeing him after Zaia show last night) that the players will start practicing at 9.30 am. We made our way to the Cotai Arena where it was still empty. Apart from a few service workers cleaning the VIP boxes, a few of the officials from IMG, and people from the TV station who were getting things ready, we were the only ones who were there. We went down to the court level and sat in the press area. Basically, it was just a row of chairs partitioned from the court by a triangular-shaped advertisement board (like a giant Tablerone chocolate bar). We were as close as one could get. Agassi came on court with Ryan and they went from hitting ground strokes to volleys, followed by overheads and serves before playing a few games. Andre looked like he was hitting the ball well, 'just liked he never left the game', as one of the Press guy would say. Ryan reminded me of Roddick. Incidentally, he was from Texas and has a big serve; albeit other parts of his game did not come across as strikingly good. The two hit for an hour before they disappeared in a golf cart, which runs along the mazelike corridors unreachable by the general public.
It wasn't until after 10.30 when Pete and Gus arrived. While Pete was stretching his legs next to the umpire's chair, we shouted across from the other side and said 'good morning Pete'. He looked at us and smiled. Pete looked very fit, but obviously not as relaxed as we found him yesterday. While he walked towards the baseline to start his session, he kept his head down and without looking around the stadium or at us. Perhaps he was concentrated at his task at hand, or as I understand now (after reading his biography), that he often avoids any eye contact with anyone, which may otherwise draws him into a conversation or something that may potentially interrupt whatever he may be doing. Pete practiced with Yuki, a solid, consistent player but probably not aggressive enough at times. Gus acted as a 'ball boy' during their practice. While picking up balls that were close to us he smiled and asked how we were. During a break, and again at the end, Pete laid on the floor and did some stretching on his back and hips. It didn't look like he was injured or anything but I imagine he does it often enough to avoid injuries. Judging from the extent to which he was able (or unable?) to stretch himself, it would seem Pete's flexibility was about the same as mine, i.e. not that great! :)
We went back to our suite to pack and to check-out prior to our lunch.
The program scheduled to start at 2 pm was delayed to 2.30. It was in part delayed by officials turning people away if they tried to enter the stadium with a camera that looked professional or semi-professional. Those tiny cameras that are useless for taking tennis photos, especially when it is played indoors, were nonetheless allowed. I didn't quite understand the reason until I realized that they have included a performance by the Zaia, Cirque du Soleil cast in between the matches. Those are supposed to be 'trade secrets'. Thanks to Nick, who was kind enough to give me a pass to sit alongside the press photographers on court level, I was able to take many photos of the occasion, and will be sharing them with you once I have done the 'post-production' work!
The first match was played by Yuki and Ryan. It was a timed match, meaning they have to have it completed within the given time of 30 minutes, irrespective of the score. Both players appeared to have difficulty holding serve. They both tried to play aggressively but ended up making many unforced errors. It was still a very enjoyable match, nonetheless. Ryan's 'washer-wiper' forehands were pretty good, just like Giles Simon's. With less than a minute left to the end of the match, Ryan was serving at 5-4 but was broken by Yuki. The alarm went off at 5-5 and the outcome of the match had to be decided on one point. Yuki achieved that task by serving out wide and the ball was unreturnable, and thereby winning the match.
In addition to the tennis, the tournament organizer arranged to have dancers, and the cast of Zaia, as noted above, as part of the entertainment program in between the matches. One of the dancers impersonated Michael Jackson and danced to Bad, Beat it etc...
When it was time for Pete and Andre's turn, the stadium lights went dim. One of my friends who sat near the players' entrance had a Samprasfanz banner with him. He waved it to Pete, who by then, was already standing in the hallway outside the court, Pete saw the banner, smiled and acknowledged him. After being introduced as 'regarded by many, the greatest player of all time', Pete entered the court with the theme music from Rocky 'Eye of the tiger' playing in the background. The atmosphere felt more like a rock concert than a tennis match, with Pete emerging from a cloud of smoke with spotlights shining on him. I think this was the kind of entrance that Andre loves more than Pete does. After the showman put down his bag, he immediately walked onto the court and 'performed' his 'blowing kisses and bow' to 4 sides of the court, just like the old days. When the lights went back on, the stadium was transformed back into a normal tennis match environment.
The coin toss was supposed to be performed by the successful bidder of the online charity auction. On this occasion, however, was done by one of Hong Kong's entertainer (singer, actor, dancer) Aaron Kwok. Whether he truly won the auction, or was prearranged by his manager, in my opinion, was a bad decision on his part. He drew a mixture of cheers and boos (more of the latter), and made a fool of himself when he took the photo with Pete and Andre after the coin toss (Kwok was 5'5 - at least 7 inches shorter than the players!). I later learned that he was the chosen man for the coin toss because he is a spokesperson for Longines watches, which is one of the official sponsors of the tournament. Andre, who was also a spokesperson for the company, did a pre-match event with Kwok, during which he gave Kwok one of his racquets.
Pete won the toss. Surprisingly, he chose to return.
It was hard to believe that it has already been 7 years since Pete and Andre last played each other. Seeing them on court together again felt only like yesterday when they played that US Open final.
Instead of having the opportunity to serve, and perhaps to hit an ace down the T to start the match, Pete chose to return. The first point was won by Pete nonetheless, with a backhand down-the-line on a 2nd serve return. Andre was serving big, with 2 aces in the first game. In the first few games, Pete made a lot of errors on his volleys, and lost his serve at 1-2. It was not until 1-4 before he found his rhythm on his service game. That was probably too late. With Andre's serving huge, Pete just couldn't win points on his returns, and the first set went to Andre for 6-3. This was getting a little worrying. It should have been Pete out-playing Andre, and not the other way around?
In the second set, Pete was the first to serve. He immediately hit an ace and followed that with 3 unreturnable serves. That was the first game, finished in less than a minute. In the 4th game, Pete was able to read Andre's serve better, which at this point, was not as powerful and accurate as in the first set. A backhand error from Andre, 2 slam dunks from Pete, gave Pete the crucial break and the score was 3-1. The 2nd set was closed out with Pete serving. Score was 6-3. The deciding set was played as a 10 point tie-break. After a mini-break on the first point, Pete held all the way and won it 10-8. Not only was everyone happy that Pete won, it was also a huge relief for us. At that point, Joy had already sent the score to the group (without a spoiler in the subject line – as I would tease her later) and to Grant (Pete's assistant) using her laptop while she was still inside the stadium.
The afternoon concluded with a one-set doubles match between Pete/Yuki and Andre/Ryan. They had everyone hooked up to the wireless microphones but for some reason, only Pete’s did not work. This was the kind of thing Andre, the showman, likes – doing all of the talking. On first point, he told Ryan, ‘partner, hit it to the guy who is losing his hair.’ Surely, he did, and Pete made a volleying error. Pete also made a couple of unusual errors, including hitting a slam dunk long.
Pete imitated Andre for his on-court demeanor such as his pigeon-toe gait and the way how he would pull his shirt before he returns a serve. In return, Andre imitated Pete’s serve, and mocked Pete by sticking his tongue out when preparing to serve.
The cross-court exchanges between Yuki and Andre was a test of consistency. Both tried not to over-hit and kept the rally going for as long as 10 to 12 strokes, until Pete intercepted that with a winning volley. ‘He is always going to spoil the fun’, said Andre. At 2-2, Yuki was serving but had difficulty holding serve. ‘Somebody is nervous’, said Andre. ‘It really sucks being 17 isn’t it?’ Yuki hit a first serve wide in the deuce court. Then Andre said something that was rather shocking, borderline racist? ‘I am going to take this return back to India.’ Yuki was visibly annoyed. Pete then went up to Yuki and talked to him. ‘Don’t listen to him (referring to Pete), he knows nothing about tennis,’ said Andre. Yuki hit a second serve that landed in the hitting zone of Andre, who returned by whipping a huge forehand at Pete (which missed but landed in). On the next point, Yuki didn't make his first serve and Andre teased him again. ‘The arm is getting shorter and shorter, the box is getting smaller and smaller. I don't think he will make it.’ He turned his back toward Yuki while waiting for him to serve. Despite all the mocking, Yuki succeeded in holding his serve and won the game.
Pete teams up with Yuki
Pete having fun during the doubles match
Pete imitating Andre
Pete raises his arms after hitting an ace using Andre's racket
At 5-5, Pete was serving better. At 40-15, he gave his racquet to a ball boy and asked him to serve. Poor kid, he tried serving 3 times and they were all out. Andre then tossed his racquet across and asked the kid to use that instead. In exchange, the ball boy gave Pete’s racquet to Andre. ‘I don’t want that, that is a piece of garbage,’ said Andre. A change in racquet did not help the ball boy. His serve was still out. Pete walked back on court and used Andre’s racquet for the last point. ‘Let’s see you hit a 130 with the racquet,’ said Andre. Pete complied and hit an ace down the T. He raised his arms in triumph and kissed Andre’s racquet. The match ended with Andre hitting 2 successive double faults. Pete/Yuki won 7-5.
Pete is awarded his trophy for the singles match...
and the doubles
The winning doubles team - Pete Sampras & Yuki Bhambri
All together now...
We all went to the post-match press conference. There were only about 12 journalists there. Even with all of us included, there were no more than 40 people in the room. When Gus came into the press conferences with all of his and Pete’s luggage, we knew they were in a hurry. The whole press conference last merely 10 minutes and only 2 to 3 questions were asked. I couldn't remember them in detail but they were neither exciting nor amusing. There was one question in particular, in retrospect, would seem more interesting now as the news about Andre’s drug usage has become common knowledge. ‘Can you tell us if there will be some new elements in your forthcoming autobiography?’ asked a journalist. ‘To be honest, there is always something new to learn about me professionally, but I would like to keep most things in my private life private.’
Pete and Gus left the room quickly. We learned that they had to take the ferry to Hong Kong and catch the flight back to LA.
It has been a very exciting weekend for us. This was the best of the three
Venetian Macau Tennis Showdowns. The first, in 2007, featured Federer and
Pete, generated a lot of media interest worldwide. Most importantly, Pete
won! The second, in 2008, featured Federer, Blake, McEnroe and Borg, was
probably a disappointment, partly because it was played on a Thursday instead
of a Sunday, resulted in a lower attendance, and the quality of the tennis
was not as high. This year, everything was just perfect and the afternoon
of entertainment was a huge success and enjoyed by all. We thank the tournament
organizer Nick for allowing us to participate in so many events that weekend,
in which we could see Pete at close range. For me, it was a dream came true.
I was finally able to meet Pete after all these years, albeit briefly.
|Members of Samprasfanz enjoying the tennis.|
Michael Jackson impersonator entertained the crowd in between matches.
With the cast of Zaia