Former Tennis Stars Compete In LondonPosted on: 25 November 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves
Legends Pete Sampras and John McEnroe preview the BlackRock Masters tournament taking place at the Royal Albert Hall.
It will be the first time Sampras returns to London since his last Wimbledon appearance and the seven-time champion will take on a field of fellow former World No. 1’s, Grand Slam finalists and Davis Cup winners between 2nd and 7th December 2008.
The American star sampled the unique atmosphere at the Royal Albert Hall when he played in the Doubles World Championship in 1989, and is excited at the prospect of returning to the popular event now in its 12th year.
“I remember the Royal Albert Hall being a great arena,” says Sampras.
“You could hear the glasses during the points with all the people drinking champagne, and everyone in their tuxedos. They really live it up there, so I’m looking forward to it.”
“I haven’t been back to London since my last Wimbledon six years ago, but I’ve heard a lot of good things about the event at the Royal Albert Hall, so I’m excited and pretty pumped up about it. I hear the people there really support it and so I’m excited to go back and play a little tennis for them.”
He promises that he has lost little of his competitive spirit.
“It’s still fun for me to compete, it’s still a challenge and I still want to hold that trophy up at the end,” he says.
“Today, or 10 years from now, if I’m on the tennis court, I’ll still want to play well and win. When you’re out there, even though it’s now a different sort of arena, you want to win.”
Sampras retired from the ATP circuit in glorious fashion in 2002, winning the US Open, his 14th and final Grand Slam title. It set a record that still stands today. Upon retirement, the American took a step away from the sport.
“Tennis had been such a big focus in my life and for a while it was great to be away from the sport and I loved it,” he says.
“I was playing golf and having fun, but after two or three years I started to get a little bored and a little bit restless. There’s no book on retirement, especially at 31 years old. Initially you love it but after a while you need something to do.”
“I have two kids - a five-year-old, Christian, and a two-year-old, Ryan, and it has been a lot of fun to see them grow and spend time with them. But, at the same time I feel like a man should work, maybe I’m a little old-fashioned.”
“It took me a while to get to the realisation that I would like to play again and get back into the sport. When I was 26, I never thought I would want to play Champions tennis. But, as time goes on, when you’re playing golf, taking some trips here and there and maybe putting on a little bit of weight, you kind of feel a little bit unfulfilled as a man. That’s how I felt.”
It didn’t take long for the American to re-discover his fitness, form and desire to play and he is now looking forward to the unique blend of fun and competition to be found on the BlackRock Tour of Champions.
“It’s definitely going to be a lot more relaxed,” Sampras says.
“I used to be so focused that I would just see the hotel and the courts and that was it. I had the feeling that I was expected to win and then there was all the pressure that I put on myself.”
“Today, I still want to play well and still want to win but if I don’t it’s not the end of the world. It’s a totally different feel. I was pretty serious when I played but now I’m a little more relaxed."
“At the same time, people do want to see competitive tennis, they want to see the real deal. The crowd still want to see me serve and volley the way I used to and pull off my shots.”
Now 37, Sampras will need all his star quality after being drawn to face McEnroe in the round-robin stages of the tournament.
The pair have been drawn into Group A with Britain’s Jeremy Bates and Cedric Pioline. Sampras beat Pioline in the 1993 US Open final and the 1997 Wimbledon final.
Group B will pit former Wimbledon champions Stefan Edberg and Goran Ivanisevic against each other, along with the 1997 US Open finalist Greg Rusedski and big-serving Frenchman, Guy Forget.
The 49-year-old McEnroe responded to the draw in typical fiery fashion by warning Sampras that he’s ready to roll when the two go face-to-face on Wednesday 3rd December.
“This is a message for Pete Sampras, Stefan Edberg, Goran Ivanisevic and all of you other guys. I’m not coming to London to lose,” says McEnroe.
During their competitive playing careers Sampras and McEnroe played each other three times, with Sampras winning all of them, but McEnroe has been in form recently, winning the BlackRock Tour of Champions event in Luxembourg.
He will need to be at his best against Sampras, who made a successful debut on the Tour in Sao Paulo, Brazil in June, beating Marcelo Rios in the final.
The players in each group will all play each other, with the top two in each group contesting the final.
As well as the singles draw, a high-quality doubles field will also entertain the crowds at the Royal Albert Hall. Henri Leconte, Pat Cash, Mansour Bahrami, Peter Fleming, Tom Gullikson, Mikael Pernfors and Chris Wilkinson are all scheduled to appear.
The BlackRock Masters Tennis will take place between 2nd and 7th December. For tickets, go to www.blackrockmasters.com/tickets.asp or call 0207589 8212.
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