It seems like old time on first day

Pete Sampras can still serve more than 120 miles per hour and challenges calls as if they mattered, but in the end, as in 2000, Marat Safin prevailed.

Safin beat Sampras, 6-4, 3-6 (10-6) in the “Millennium Challenge,” an exhibition match on the opening day of the Los Angeles Tennis Open at UCLA’s Los Angeles Tennis Center on Monday.

It was a rematch of the 2000 U.S. Open final, where Safin beat Sampras, the L.A. Open tournament honoree, to earn the first of his two Grand Slam titles.

Sampras, who won 14 Grand Slam titles and two L.A. Opens, had not played much tennis leading up to the match.

"[Safin is] obviously playing a lot,” Sampras said before the match.


“I don’t play at this pace that often, with somebody like Marat.”

Sampras added before the match that his serve was “OK, but I’m not sure if it’s going to go in or not.”

The 29-year-old Safin, who also won the 2005 Australian Open, has said he would retire at the end of the season.

The win over Sampras in 2000, he said, was his first breakthrough and allowed him to achieve his No. 1 ranking.

“We’re kind of looking backwards, and it’s really a warm feeling when [you have] an achievement like beating Sampras in the final of U.S. Open,” he said.

The legends match headlined the first day of the tournament, where some played to advance past the first round while others tried to qualify for a spot in the field.

In first-round action, Jesse Levine defeated Bobby Reynolds, 6-3, 6-2, and will advance to face top-seeded Tommy Haas on Wednesday.

“Today my first serve percentage was pretty high, I didn’t really give Bobby a chance to get a look at too many second serves,” Levine said.

Since Wimbledon, where he beat Safin and made it to the third round, Levine has played well.

He made it to the round of 16 in Indianapolis on July 19 and reached the quarterfinals at the Hall of Fame tournament in Newport, R.I., on July 6.

“I think at Wimbledon I like the grass and I kind of took some confidence from that tournament,” he said.

Haas is ranked No. 22 in the world and has won this tournament twice, in 2004 and 2006. Levine played Haas once before, at Indianapolis last season, and lost 6-7 (4), 2-6.

Levine said he has trained with Haas at the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton, Fla., and they know each other’s styles.

Australian Chris Guccione defeated Kevin Kim, a former UCLA player, 6-1, 6-4.

Guccione won the Wild Card Shoot-Out, a tiebreak-style tournament that gives the winner a spot in the main draw, on Friday.

Guccione will play second-seeded Mardy Fish. Robert Kendrick beat Vincent Spadea, 6-0, 6-0, to advance; He will face fourth-seeded Dudi Sela.

In the qualifying round, Australia’s Carsten Ball, France’s Josselin Ouanna, American Ryan Sweeting and India’s Somdev Devvarman all advanced to the tournament’s main field.




Today’s featured matches

From the Los Angeles Tennis Center at UCLA:

* No. 7 Benjamin Becker vs. John Isner, noon (stadium court).

* Robby Ginepri vs. No. 8 Marat Safin, 7:30 p.m. (stadium).

* Denis Istomin vs. No. 6 Sam Querrey, approx. 9 p.m. (stadium).

* No. 5 Igor Kunitsyn vs. Somdeve Devvarman, 3:30 p.m. (grandstand).

-- Bill Brink