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Sampras downs Haas in straight sets in SAP Open exhibition

2/19/2008 - Tennis

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Pete Sampras hit back-to-back aces to close out the second game of the second set and draw a plea from Tommy Haas.

"Show some mercy, Pete" Haas yelled across the court.

Sampras began to hand his racket over to a ball boy before taking it back. Just as he did so often during his brilliant career, Sampras closed out the match with ease, beating Haas 6-4, 6-2 in an exhibition at the SAP Open on Monday night.

"When I get in that arena, I still want to play great," Sampras said.

It was Sampras' second straight exhibition win against an active tour player, following November's straight-set victory over Roger Federer. Yet it's still not enough to bring Sampras back to the tour after retiring more than five years ago at age 31 with a record 14 Grand Slam titles.

Asked after the match whether he would reconsider his decision and mount a comeback, Sampras initially teased the fans saying he would come back before bringing a dose of reality to the proceedings. In the post-match news conference, Sampras detailed why he has no plans to return to the tour.

"There's no reason for me to come back," Sampras said. "I don't miss the limelight, I don't need the money. The tricky thing for me is I didn't stop for injury but for emotional reasons. I didn't have anything left in the tank. There has to be a reason to come back. There's a whole lot to lose and not much to gain. I don't want to come back for Wimbledon and win a couple of matches. What would that mean to me? I play to win."

Sampras was erratic at the start of his first match in nearly three months, hitting a forehand more than 10 feet long on the first point of the match and double-faulting to open his first service game. But he got sharper as the match went on, even hitting a pair of his signature jump-volley slams to win points. Those type of shots drew loud applause from an opening night record crowd of 8,812.

Sampras showed great touch and precision at the net, using the serve-and-volley game that made him so successful in his career and has become rare in today's game. He even had luck on his side, as one of his shots hit the net cord, bounced in the air, hit the net cord again before bouncing over for a point.

"I didn't know what to expect. I play so sparingly," he said. "I just kind of toss it up and kind of see what happens from there. It took me a little time to find my bearings and get a rhythm out there. The ball was flying a little bit. I hit some pretty good volleys. I returned OK. I think Tommy has more important things to worry about this week besides playing me."

Sampras got the only break of the first set, approaching the net on a second serve by Haas before putting away a forehand volley winner and following it with a forehand winner off a first serve to go up 4-3. Sampras then breezed through the second set, breaking Haas in the first game and again in the seventh before holding serve to win the match.

Haas, who is battling back from shoulder surgery, enjoyed the opportunity to play against Sampras and get used to the surroundings at the tournament.

"Just go out there, feel the ball a little bit, and see what the court is like," Haas said. "Obviously I wasn't too competitive tonight, just kind of enjoying the moment playing against one of the greatest ever and getting a feel for it."

Next up for Sampras is another exhibition against Federer on March 10 at Madison Square Garden. The two greats played three times in Asia in November, with Federer winning the first two matches in straight sets and Sampras winning the final one 7-6 (8), 6-4 on the fast indoor surface at the Venetian Macao arena.

In matches that counted on Monday, fourth-seeded Radek Stepanek beat Paul Capdeville 7-6 (2), 6-1, and eighth-seeded Kristof Vliegen beat Victor Hanescu 6-4, 7-6 (4). Sixth-seeded Jurgen Melzer was upset by Guillermo Garcia-Lopez 6-2, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (6).

Also, fifth-seeded Lee Hyung-taik withdrew from the tournament with a back injury and was replaced by Wayne Odesnik, who lost in qualifying but entered the tournament as a lucky loser. Odesnik made the most of his chance, beating American Donald Young 6-1, 5-7, 6-4.