Sampras wows fans in Prague exhibition match

02-12-2008

Fans in the capital on Monday were treated to some exciting tennis between Czech Davis Cup representative Radek Štepánek and the world’s former No. 1, retired legend Pete Sampras. Sampras remains unrivalled as a champion, having won a record 14 Grand Slam titles during his career. Even in retirement, he is still largely on top of his game.

Radek Štepánek and Pete Sampras, photo: CTKRadek Štepánek and Pete Sampras, photo: CTK 12,000 people filled the crowded Prague arena on Monday for a highly-anticipated exhibition match between Czech tennis player Radek Štepánek and one of the greatest players of all time, American Pete Sampras, the holder of 14 Grand Slam titles, including seven at Wimbledon. Ahead of the match, the two met with reporters, and Sampras, known for his nickname “Pistol Pete”, had nothing but praise for his opponent:

“You know I saw Radek play a few times this year: I saw him beat Roger Federer in Rome. Also saw him lose a few times. Radek is very talented though: one of the guys who comes in and serves and volleys a little bit and is emotional and has a lot of energy and is great for the sport. But hopefully he’ll show a little respect and I can win a couple games.”

Pete Sampras, photo: CTKPete Sampras, photo: CTK Sampras won more than that in what turned out to be a very entertaining match. The game was both exciting and filled with plenty of humour. At points, Štepánek for example pulled football yellow and red cards on Mr Sampras after getting burned on aces. For his part, Sampras jokingly questioned some calls by the official, suggesting at his age he needed every point he could get. The match itself was top notch: Sampras’s game, and especially his serve has lost little of its power. After two sets the game was tied, but Sampras maintained the edge for a 10:6 super tiebreak win. Hard to believe it has already been six years since Sampras left the top circuit, although he himself is somewhat critical of his current game:

Photo: Lenka ŽižkováPhoto: Lenka Žižková “Well, the hardest thing for me today is not hitting the tennis ball, it’s my movement. I don’t move as well, not as consistent, and unless I’m playing in exhibition, I don’t practice, I don’t play tennis. You know I hit for about two or three weeks, about three times a week. My movement is not as quick and I am not as explosive. It’s okay, but to serve and volley you really need to be in shape.”

At the end of the day, Sampras hasn’t lost much of his original drive: the Prague event showed the 37-year-old player still has what it takes and still enjoys getting out on the court, if only once in a while.

02-12-2008