At least for one afternoon, tennis legend Pete Sampras proved he could still play with and beat just about anybody.
Sampras, who retired from competitive tennis in 2002, beat 10th-ranked James Blake, 6-7 (3), 6-3, 6-4 in an exhibition to benefit victims of hurricanes Gustav and Ike at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center on Sunday afternoon.
Sampras, who won seven Wimbledon and 14 Grand Slam titles overall during his 15-year career, showed his trademark big serve and powerful forehand and mixed in some fun to boot before about 7,000 fans at the PMAC in the Duel Under the Oaks II.
“I think one match at a time he can hang with anyone, especially on a quicker court,” Blake said. “He still serves huge, hits a forehand huge and takes you out of your rhythm on your service game.
“I think you put him in a one-match situation like here today, and he can hang with the big boys. It doesn’t look like too much has gone from his game.”
Some questioned whether Blake, 28, was taking it easy on the 37-year-old Sampras.
“You know, obviously this is the offseason, but I was playing for real,” he said.
Sampras wasn’t totally buying it.
“I think James was being pretty courteous to the retired guy,” said Sampras with a laugh. “I was serving pretty well and returning OK, but I’m not really sure how James was taking this match.”
“I just wanted to be competitive, and if I could pull a set in the match, it was a bonus.”
The match was competitive throughout with Blake winning a first-set tie-breaker 6-7 (3) before Sampras charged back to win the final two sets. In the first three games of the second set, Sampras won every service point.
“He served too good at times,” Blake said.
With the second set tied at 3-3, Blake had a chance to break Sampras but couldn’t do it as Sampras went on to a 6-3 win. Blake also had a chance in the third and deciding set and couldn’t come through.