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Sampras to play in over-30 Champions Series tourney

1/29/2007 - Tennis

Pete Sampras will play tournament tennis for the first time
since 2002, competing on a tour for players over 30, The Associated
Press has learned.

Sampras' Outback Champions Series debut, which will come May 2-6
at Boston University's Agganis Arena, is to be announced formally
Tuesday. The 35-year-old Sampras will appear in at least one other
event on the tour in 2007.

"This is kind of my first dive into the waters, so to speak, to
see how I feel and play a match I really want to win," Sampras,
owner of a record 14 Grand Slam singles titles, said in a telephone
interview with the AP.

"I still love the sport -- I practice two, three times a week --
but I don't miss the grind. This is a time to catch up with old
competitors, old friends, and see if I still have a few things left
in the bag."
-- Pete Sampras

"I still love the sport -- I practice two, three times a week --
but I don't miss the grind. This is a time to catch up with old
competitors, old friends, and see if I still have a few things left
in the bag," he said.

It's the latest step in a gradual return to a sport Sampras
dominated for the better part of a decade, then pretty much
disappeared from after winning his last match, against Andre Agassi
in the U.S. Open final in September 2002.

He didn't announce his retirement until a year later, then never
really re-emerged until playing exhibitions and World Team Tennis
in 2006. But those didn't get his competitive juices flowing the
way he expects the senior events will.

"The stakes are a little bit higher playing in a tournament and
against some former greats," Sampras said. "There's a sense of
satisfaction in that. Not like it used to be, but you want to win
and play well."

John McEnroe and series co-founder Jim Courier also will be in
the eight-man field in Boston, where there will be $142,000 in
prize money. Michael Chang, Goran Ivanisevic and Mats Wilander are
other major champions who have participated in the Outback
Champions Series, which is entering its second full season. To
qualify, a player must have reached a Grand Slam singles final,
been ranked in the top five, or played singles on a Davis Cup
championship team.

Landing Sampras is a coup for Courier, who began discussing the
series with his former Davis Cup teammate more than a year ago.

"Pete's got a great connection with tennis fans in this
country. People will enjoy seeing Pete really lace it up and go for
it with his 'A' game," Courier said. "Exhibitions are all fine
and well and they definitely have their place. Tournament tennis is
different. The competitive aspect will make it exciting for
everybody, including Pete."

Sampras fleetingly considered making a comeback to elite tennis,
perhaps for a final appearance at Wimbledon (his last match there,
a second-round loss to 145th-ranked George Bastl in 2002, was "as
low as I've been on a tennis court," Sampras said).

He made it clear, though, that won't happen.

"It's crossed my mind when I watch Wimbledon. I miss it. I kind
of wonder what I would do today there, especially with the game
changing and everyone staying back on the grass there. I kind of
lick my chops," Sampras said. "But I won't play for one
tournament, and I won't play, period. It was something that just
crossed my mind -- that's the competitive guy in me. But it's not
realistic for me to do it again."

He also sees no reason to add to a legacy that includes seven
titles at Wimbledon, five at the U.S. Open and two at the
Australian Open, plus a record 286 weeks ranked No. 1. He'll be
inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in July.

"I just played to win. I didn't play for the limelight. It
always was about the titles. Some [come out of retirement] because
they want the limelight or they want the attention or they're bored
or they have something left to prove to themselves," Sampras said.
"I don't have anything left to prove to myself."