Pete Sampras encouraged by tennis, discouraged by Lakers
As a sold-out Madison Square Garden and live television by ESPN2 proved in February, there is a market for tennis if it's played by John McEnroe, Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi. A McEnroe-Ivan Lendl, Sampras-Agassi doubleheader put almost 22,000 people into the Garden and now a group of past stars are going to play in a monthlong series that will be coming to Staples Center.
The event is called the 2011 Champions Series circuit and the Los Angeles stop, Oct. 14, will feature Sampras, Agassi, McEnroe and current Davis Cup captain Jim Courier.
The tour will also have 11 other stops, beginning Sept. 22 in Fort Lauderdale and ending in Buffalo Oct. 22.
In addition to Agassi, McEnroe, Sampras and Courier, the tour will feature fellow grand slam champions Michael Chang, Bjorn Borg and Mats Wilander. The athletes will compete for a prize pool totaling $1 million to be shared by the top three finishers at the conclusion of the season. Each of the 12 one-night events will feature four champions paired in one-set semifinals competing for ranking points, culminating with the winners contending for the title in an eight-game pro-set championship match.
“Competing against my friends and foes in front of fans across the country is going to get my adrenaline pumping,” Courier said. “The player lineup and format of the circuit is ideal for me and my peers to quench our competitive thirst while showcasing tennis to many cities that lack pro tennis events. May the best man win.”
Tickets will go on sale May 9 at www.championsseriestennis.com.
Sampras, Agassi and Courier were at Star Plaza outside Staples Center on Tuesday.
Sampras said that he had been "totally surprised" when Madison Square Garden sold out for the event with him, Agassi, McEnroe and Lendl. He also said that it will be a challenge for all of the veterans to get into and stay in tennis shape.
"It was a reminder for us, who are mostly home and with the kids, that we used to be somebody," Sampras said. "Frankly, I'm a little surprised at how much staying power we had, but that night was stressful in some ways.
"You want to show you can play. I was hitting with a UCLA kid who was born in the 1990s and he said, 'I never saw you play except on YouTube.' So maybe now some kids who haven't seen us play, even if we aren't as good as we used to be, will get a chance and, maybe, get some interest in tennis."
Sampras, a frequent attendee at Lakers games, also noted his discouragement over what happened Monday night at Staples, when the Lakers squandered a huge third-quarter lead and lost to Dallas.
"It's like being up a set and two breaks, you get broken back, you lose a tiebreaker at your favorite tournament," Sampras said. "That was a bad loss, a big loss. I don't know, that's hard to come back from."
-- Diane Pucin
Photo: Ivan Lendl, left, Andre Agassi, John McEnroe and Pete Sampras pose for a photo during the BNP Paribas Showdown at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 28. Credit: Nick Laham / Getty Images