Sampras loses exhibition to Verdasco

Former No. 1 Pete Sampras showed glimpses of his dominating best against a top player 12 years his junior in the second set of his 6-3, 7-6 (2) exhibition loss

Updated: February 09, 2010 10:42 IST
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San Jose, California :Former No. 1 Pete Sampras showed glimpses of his dominating best against a top player 12 years his junior in the second set of his 6-3, 7-6 (2) exhibition loss to Spain's Fernando Verdasco on Monday at the SAP Open.

"It was a pretty rough night," Sampras said. "I never really felt I could get into his service games. Playing defense is harder for me today. That's something I used to do a pretty good job at. It's harder to move."

Sampras received a rousing standing ovation once it was over. He waved and hit three balls into the crowd before telling everybody he "felt a little old" out there.

It was first exhibition match for the 14-time Grand Slam champion since he beat longtime American rival Andre Agassi 3-6, 6-3, 10-8, decided on a match tiebreak at Macau in late October.

The 38-year-old Sampras, who retired in 2003 after a 15-year career, acknowledges he's no longer his sure, sharp self _ and it's tougher to cover the court. His left calf caused him trouble in the first set.

He plays about a half-dozen exhibition events a year and is using a bigger racket these days to try to keep up with the hard-hitting youngsters on tour now _ like the overpowering Verdasco who moved up a spot to No. 11 in this week's ATP rankings.

Sampras nailed back-to-back aces clocked and 127 and 129 mph (204 and 208 kph) in the first game of the second set and a big first serve that Verdasco couldn't return to capture that game. Sampras' impressive scoop volley for a winner four games later drew a thumbs-up from Verdasco across the net.

Yet the very next game, Sampras sent a forehand long and shook his head and looked at his racket. When the chair umpire called another forehand by Sampras long on the next point and then corrected it, Sampras held his arms in the air and twirled his racket.

"I felt a little old," Sampras said. "I tried. At times it wasn't all that competitive."

Sampras also acknowledged he'd spoken on the phone with Agassi regarding comments in Agassi's autobiography, "Open."

Sampras had said last month he was surprised and disappointed by Agassi's "shots" at Sampras in the book and would like to meet "man to man" to discuss it.

"He talked and I listened. It was positive, it was fine, it was cordial," Sampras said. "Listen, it's not a big deal. I still like the guy."

Sampras joked around with Verdasco during a tournament VIP kickoff banquet about an hour before they began.

"Just show some respect," Sampras said to Verdasco with a grin. "I'm going to have to get to the net as much as I can _ none of those long baseline exchanges. I think I can hold my own serving and volleying. Tonight I have no choice but to come in 'til the cows come home. If he returns well and passes well, it could be a quick night."

Verdasco, who is seeded No. 2 in this tournament and making his Bay Area debut, kept Sampras off balance with his big groundstrokes and booming serve.

"He's tough. He's the real deal. He could win a major," Sampras said.

Top-seeded and seventh-ranked Andy Roddick opens play here Wednesday, as does Verdasco.

"The match helped me for sure," said Verdasco, who had just arrived in Northern California earlier Monday.

Sampras played an exhibition at San Jose for the third straight year. He won this event in 1996 and 1997.

Sampras said he's interested in working for the USTA with young tennis players in the Los Angeles area, but wants to be compensated.

"I'm available for services," he said.

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