Boston:Pete Sampras overcame triple match point against Todd Martin and won his seniors tennis tour debut on Sunday, splitting the first two sets 6-3, 5-7 before prevailing 11-9 in the tiebreak.
Sampras hadn't played competitive tennis since winning the 2002 US Open for his record 14th Grand Slam title. Retired at 31, he didn't pick up a racket or watch tennis on television for almost three years before deciding to play a limited schedule of exhibitions and Champion's Cup events.
His presence was a coup for the seniors tour and reminder for his opponents - Petr Korda, Tim Mayotte, John McEnroe and Martin - of why he dominated the regular tour when they were in their prime.
"Adding Sampras has certainly added some extra buzz," said Jim Courier, a competitor and organizer of the tour. "There's no question that when you bring in 14 major titles in one body, it's going to get tougher."
In a nod to the players fitness, the matches are best-of-two sets, with a 10-point tiebreaker in case they split the sets. Sampras won the first set 6-3 and it was 5-5 in the second when Martin broke Sampras' serve, then held serve to tie it.
"I was thoroughly unprepared for a lot of what he had to offer," said Martin, the winner of last year's Boston event. "The only recourse I had was to turn it into a tennis match rather than a skills test, because his skills are better than mine."
Trailing 9-6, Sampras won five consecutive points. Martin was serving for the victory at 9-8 when he hit a backhand - a "pretty easy" one, Sampras said - into the net; Sampras took the victory when Martin returned a serve wide.
"Athletically, he's still closer to the speed he was when he was competing. The rest of us have depreciated more," Martin said. "I hit a few shots today, but I was reacting 9 times out of 10, if not 19 times out of 20."
Sampras had been doing his best to stay in shape playing 3-on-3 basketball twice a week in Los Angeles with friends, including former tour player Alex O'Brien. Beach volleyball and golf have also kept him busy when he wasn't chasing his two children, 1 1/2 and 4 1/2, around the house.
But now that he's back on the court, he plans to make a few appearances - not the entire seven-event tour - including Athens in two weeks. "I'm excited about taking my folks there, being a Greek-American," Sampras said.
Sampras went 3-0 in the round-robin before beating Martin in the final. McEnroe beat Courier 6-2, 6-3 in the consolation match.
Even so, the others were glad to have Sampras around.
"I think it adds a tremendous amount of legitimacy to what we're doing out here to have somebody who still plays at that level," Martin said. "For me, it's great to know that the best player in our era still wants to compete, still wants to beat me."