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Surprise nets past champs

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Posted: Friday, October 7, 2011 1:15 pm

Retirement hasn’t kept Pete Sampras off the tennis court.

Despite his official exit from the game eight years ago, Sampras has spent much of 2011 playing competitive tennis, including a televised match against Andre Agassi in Madison Square Garden, several exhibitions in China and his participation in the 12-city Champions Series.

The latter tour will bring Sampras to Surprise for the Cancer Treatment Centers of America Championships, scheduled Saturday and Sunday at the Surprise Tennis and Racquet Complex.

“I really enjoy it because it’s a good opportunity for the fans to see some of the greats of the game,” Sampras said. “It’s also good for us as players because we don’t have to take a physical pounding, yet we’re still able to put on a competitive event.”

Sampras will be joined at Saturday’s main event by Jim Courier, Michael Chang and Mats Wilander. On Sunday, Chris Evert and Tracy Austin will join Chang and Courier for a mixed-doubles exhibition.

Retirement has been a good fit for the 40-year-old Sampras.

He left the game with a then-record 14 Grand Slam singles titles and now has plenty of time to enjoy life as a married father of two boys, ages 6 and 8.

“It’s nice to be retired and have the time to spend with my family,” he said. “A lot of people don’t have that luxury.”

Sampras has introduced his children to tennis.

“They don’t have a lot of time after they come home from school,” he said of his sons, Christian and Ryan. “They like tennis, but I don’t think they love it. And I’m not going to force it on them.”

Sampras figured his 14 Grand Slam singles titles would stand as a lengthy record after he opted to retire in 2003.

Roy Emerson’s mark of 12 career Grand Slam titles stood for 33 years until Sampras passed the Australian with a Wimbledon title in 2000. Sampras added another title at the 2002 U.S. Open to account for his 14th and final Grand Slam victory.

History wouldn’t provide Sampras with as much time at the top.

Roger Federer won his 15th major title at the 2009 French Open, giving Sampras seven years as the men’s career title-holder.

Federer added another major title at the 2010 Australian Open and now has 16 career Grand Slam championships.

“I don’t regret leaving the game when I did because I was cooked when I retired,” Sampras said. “I had a long career and nothing left to prove when I got out.”

As a child, he idolized Australian Rod Laver and still ranks the lefty as one of the top four tennis players of all-time.

In no particular order, he also would put Bjorn Borg, Federer and himself on that list.

“It’s really hard to say who would be No. 1 overall,” Sampras said. “As a player, all you can do is dominate your decade, and I think I was able to do that in the ‘90s.”

• • •

Surprise will host a craft beer and local food festival in conjunction with the tennis tournament.

“Ring of Fire” will run from noon to 6 p.m. Saturday at the Surprise Tennis and Racquet Complex, 14469 Paradise Lane.

Co-sponsored by Golden Eagle and Sierra Nevada, the event will include samplings from specialty beers brewed along the Pacific Ocean’s “Ring of Fire,” an area along the North American and Pacific plates where a large number of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur.

There also will be local cuisine available from Surprise restaurants, including Hayashi, Macayo’s, Las Fuentes and Picazzo’s.

The festival will include live entertainment, featuring Ron’s Garage Band and The Chadwicks, along with a special appearance by Beth McDonald of 99.9 KEZ and Dave Pratt from 103.9 The Edge. Children are welcome and can enjoy the festivities at the Kid Zone.

Individuals with tickets to the tennis tournament will get free admission to the beer and food festival. Tasting tickets will be available for purchase. Children 16 years and younger will be admitted free to the festival.

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