Sampras Has Some Team Fun

Times Staff Writer

The same old mannerisms hadn't disappeared.

He still had that way of getting ready to serve, choosing one ball and then casually flicking back the other with the slightest touch of arrogance, not even looking back to the ball kid.

Nor, more important, had the serve itself vanished.

Pete Sampras reappearing on the tennis court on Monday night would almost be like Michael Jordan showing up and hitting jumpers in a summer league game. Or finding Wayne Gretzky scoring goals in a recreation league or Joe Montana throwing spirals in a public park.

Only Sampras was playing in front of a couple thousand people at Palisades Tennis Club in Newport Beach in a World TeamTennis match, putting himself on the line, or at least the service line. It was his first significant performance in Southern California since the tennis legend retired from the tour in 2003.

And the verdict?

On paper, a split.

Sampras and his doubles partner Ramon Delgado won their match against Brian Wilson and John Paul Fruttero of the St. Louis Aces, 5-3. In the finale, Fruttero defeated Sampras, 5-4, in singles, needing a tiebreaker to do so. That gave St. Louis a 22-20 victory against the Newport Beach Breakers.

As for Sampras' verdict ...

"It felt OK," he said. "Didn't return all that well. All things considered, my body pulled up fine. I served and volleyed OK. It's been a while, so I didn't expect miracles out here. Give him credit, he had a good serve and I had a hard time getting ahold of it there. I haven't played competitive points like that in a while, so I really couldn't get my return down.

"But it was fun. I had a good time."

For Sampras, the seven-time Wimbledon champion and winner of 14 Grand Slam titles, the competitive juices took about a nanosecond to return.

"And they had Pearl Jam playing tonight, which inspired me," he said. "I think I'll just get a little better and better. Every time I step on the court, I want to play well. I don't care whether it's World TeamTennis or having a hit, I always wanted to improve."

Earlier, Sampras spoke about his motivation to return to some form of competitive tennis.

"You know, a man works," he said. "And I've always worked my whole life. I told my wife, I'm not Mr. Mom. I'm not going to stay home and change diapers."

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