Greenbrier Champions Tennis Classic Day 1: Pete Sampras, Andy Roddick Prevail In Exhibitions
Now in it’s 3rd year, the Greenbrier Champions Tennis Classic has brought a taste of the best of the best in the game to the West Virginia hills. American tennis legends have graced the court, including John McEnroe (making a return this year) and Pete Sampras, the Greenbrier’s Tennis Pro Emeritus. This year, Andy Roddick joined the fray of American tennis legends, while Ryan Harrison, a newbie to the American tennis fray, hopped in to replace Tommy Haas, who had an injured that bothered him all year.
At the Tennis Center at the Greenbrier, in front of a full crowd, Roddick and Harrison took the court for a singles match at noon EST. In a surprising fashion, Roddick really went head to head with Harrison, showcasing his powerful serve, yet uncanny ability to change velocities. Harrison had a bevy of unforced errors. Roddick was able to win the first set 6-4 and the second 6-3, keeping control of his game throughout the match. However, as this is just a ‘friendly’ of source, there is a potential that Harrison went easy on Roddick. Throughout the match, the two players kept things quite light, exchanging comedic jabs at each other to delight the crowd. Roddick especially had the crowd roaring, with a running gag about how he isn’t the most graceful player anymore. That joke elevated in the match between Sampras and McEnroe, and we will touch on that in a bit.
The match between Pete Sampras and John McEnroe was certainly the most entertaining, as it brought nostalgia of what used to be in USA tennis. After Sampras won his final grand slam against Andre Agassi in the US Open in 2002, things took a fairly dark turn in US men’s tennis, and is still stuck in the doldrums. John Isner is the highest ranked US men’s tennis player going into the 2015 season, not quite cracking the top ten worldwide. The hope is that players like Francis Tiafoe and Ryan Harrison can come up and rejuvenate the sport in America, but it could still be a ways off before they start their ascents. However, we can still admire the greatness of the past in Sampras and McEnroe, which was the beauty of the match today.
McEnroe wasn’t entirely impressive in the first set, but the 43-year-old Sampras kept on letting Sampras back in games through countless unforced errors. A critical return ace gave McEnroe an advantage that he never looked back from in the set, and won it 6-4. The classic cockiness and ranting nature of McEnroe was calm in the first set, but came out with a fury in the second. The 55-year-old taunted Sampras, and argued with chair umpire Jay Snyder time after time. However, his gripes were in vain, as Sampras composed himself and won the set 6-3.
In a ‘Championship’ round where the first player to 10 points wins the match, Sampras came out swinging, and was tiring McEnroe. McEnroe was obviously under a bit of pain in his back, but he fought on. He came back from being down 6-1 to almost even the set. However, Sampras continuously pressured McEnroe, and ultimately prevailed in the match. Respect must be given to John McEnroe, who is obviously keeping himself in terrific shape even at his age. Sampras showed a lot of charisma, and showed some vintage versions of himself.
The highlight of the afternoon was provided by a ball boy that just happened to have the name of ‘Sampras’. Sampras Perry was his name, no relation to Pete Sampras. However, the irony of it all was quite comedic. Pete Sampras even gave young Sampras a shot at playing a point with McEnroe, where Perry made the most of the situation and got the job done.
Going back to the joke about the lack of gracefulness by Roddick, after McEnroe volleyed the ball into the stands following a thunderous serve by Pete Sampras, Sampras Perry loudly piped in “Mr. McEnroe, you don’t even have as much gracefulness as Roddick.” This turned out to be the laugh of the day, and summed up the afternoon’s activities: a fun, entertaining and exhilarating show put on by the Greenbrier.