Sampras v McEnroe Tonight On Court, Not on TV
Television drives professional sports, so you have to wonder, how high could tennis’ popularity rise if the powers that be could get tennis’ biggest events on TV? And we’re not talking about Wimbledon here.
This week Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal played an exhibition on a court that was half clay, half grass. Rafa won. Not on TV.
Tonight at the Outback Champion Seires event in Boston, where Pete Sampras is making his senior tour debut, the 14-time Slam winner faces John McEnroe. Will Johnny Mac try to get in Pete’s face, throw a couple tirades to get him off his game, maybe grab a random child out of the crowd to berate? Again, not on TV.
You’d think the fix was in at the Boston event as all four Americans won Friday, with Sampras pounding Tim Mayotte 6-2, 6-1; McEnroe edging Petr Korda (who Sampras had easily beaten earlier in the week) 10-2 in a match tiebreak; Todd Martin easing past Wayne Ferreira 6-3, 6-2, and Jim Courier moving past Pat Cash 7-6(3), 6-3.
Now all four Americans are 2-0 in round robin play have guaranteed themselves spots in either the Sunday championship or the third-place playoff.
“I’m expecting an entertaining match,” said Sampras, who by “entertaining” really means “easy,” as the American has been thumping his serve and volleying crisply all week, and beat McEnroe in all three of their meetings during their ATP days. “I’ve always matched up pretty well against John. It will be fun and competitive. We both want to play well and also put on a good show.”
Mayotte, the latest victim of Sampras’ hammering game, found himself levels below the competition in his first senior tour appearance, a late replacement for Mats Wilander who withdrew from the event due to a back injury.
“He’s just unbelievable,” Mayotte said of Sampras. “Everything’s in hyper speed for me and everything for him looks like it’s in slow motion. It’s a whole different category.”
McEnroe could not hold a lead against Korda, blowing early breaks in both the first and second sets, not a good look coming into the match against Sampras where it should be a race to the net, unless Sampras feels like toying some from the baseline.
“I figured out a way to win,” McEnroe said of edging Korda. “I shouldn’t have put myself in that position, but at least I was able to pull it out.”
Martin will also face Courier on Saturday for a berth in Sunday’s final, with the winner facing the Sampras-McEnroe victor.
Sampras vs. McEnroe will likely be great theater, as was the Fed vs. Rafa exo. Unlike golf which has the pull to get a slot somewhere on TV at a moment’s notice to show Tiger Woods mowing his lawn, don’t look for it live on national or international TV — because from the standpoint of promoting tennis, that would actually make sense.
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