Saturday, April 17, 2010
WALKING THE BOARDWALK WITH A TENNIS RACKET
PRO TENNIS IN ATLANTIC CITY FOR THE FIRST TIME IN DECADES
Gary and I went to the exhibition match on Saturday, April 10, at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. (The tickets were a generous gift from my sister, Judy.) Players were Andy Roddick, Pete Sampras, Marat Safin, Ivan Lendl, and Mats Wilander. Most of the coverage in the online media, and on Tennis Channel’s Court Report, focused on Ivan Lendl,[left] who has not played professional tennis since he retired in 1994. Nor has he played on the Champions Tour (for previous “greats”) or even in exhibition tennis. I saw him at the 2009 US open when he was a coach at a team tennis exhibition match with Mary Joe Fernandez, Tracy Austin, Conchita Martinez, Stan Smith and some other former great players.
But it’s not Lendl I want to talk about. Roddick had just come off a win in Miami at the Sony Ericsson Open, and was more than up to par, both in his win and his personality. As expected, the lively Roddick really hammed it up for the medium-sized crowd, which filled about a third of the facility. He beat both Safin and Sampras—not a big surprise. A couple of years ago I saw Roddick at another exhibition match at Villanova University in Villanova, PA, where he was also the live wire.
Let’s turn to Pete Sampras, [below with Marat Safin] who was a totally different story. Pistol Pete, who retired in 2002, is regarded as one of the greatest players of all time, surpassed only by Roger Federer in this decade. Sampras now plays on the Champions Series-Tennis Legends tour, and in exhibition matches, too. So what about one of the greatest tennis players of all time now? He admits he doesn’t play much; he has other responsibilities and interests. It really showed in Atlantic City. It was so disappointing. He looked absolutely ordinary. You would never know that he was once the tennis king. During his 15-year tour career, he won 14 Grand Slam men's singles titles. A record at the time, this number was eventually surpassed by Roger Federer at Wimbledon in 2009. Sampras had a 204–37 win-loss record in more than 52 Grand Slam singles tournament appearances. I have seen him play at the US Open. I’ll never forget when he whacked a ball at Patrick Rafter.It left a perfectly round hole in Rafter’s racket. They played on as if nothing unusual had happened. I was astonished.
The only thing that astonished me about Sampras in Atlantic City is how his game has become so lackluster. You could say it’s his age. He is approaching 40.
Wilander is another old timer. Even at 46 he still looks quite sharp. He beat Lendl, a one time rival who used to beat him most of the time. At 30, Safin [left with trophy] doesn’t come close to being an old timer. He retired in November of 2009, just five months ago. His game is still excellent. Given that he retired because he was “tired” of tennis and wanted to do other things with his life, I was surprised but happy that he played in this exhibition. One big surprise for me about Safin- he is really much taller than I thought. 6’4”. Not nearly the basketball player height of John Isner, 6’9”, or Ivo Karlovic, who is 6 ‘10”. But because he is slim, at 195 pounds he seems taller.
All in all, it was fun to watch these matches because the players were much more relaxed than in tour matches, and were free to show their personalities.
(Thank you, Judy. I love you.)