About a week ago I told my tennis teacher at the Y that I had scored some free tickets to the Courier/Sampras exo that was taking place at the Home Depot Center on the first night of the JP Morgan Chase Open in Carson. I looked at him expectantly, thinking he would say “Cool, I’ll see you there – got my tickets weeks ago!” Instead, he shook his greying ponytail, rolled his eyes and said, “Ye-ahhh, I’m not touchin’ that one.”
“Humph,” I thought, peeved, “jealous, maybe, that I got such a hot ticket?”
But after cringing through last night’s “hit and giggle,” I understand Coach Robb completely.
First of all, in my naivete, I envisioned the stands packed to SRO, with crazed fans leading the foot stomps and hand claps in a spontaneous “We will ROCK you” lead up. Instead, the stands were about three-quarters filled, old Pearl Jam was playing over the loudspeaker, and most people were looking pretty distracted – “Hey, is that Pete Sampras? What happened to his hair?”
Yes, after a bit of tired “Let me hear you cheer!!!!!!” build up from the guest MC person, who I honestly cannot identify, the two tennis superstars stode out of the tunnel and took to the court. As a side note, I admit that the MC may have been ever-so-slightly C List, and I did like his little “Pete, I was at your Bar Mitvah!” quip, upon mentioning that Pete and he shared some Jewish heritage. (Later Courier made a kind of “eww” comment when the MC guy asked him on a changeover why he was losing so bad – Courier won only one game in the first set – and Courier said, pretty nonsensically, “I guess it’s because I’m not Jewish.” MC-man retorted, “Hey, is that Mel Gibson in your box?”)
I’m getting too distracted by the MC, although for me that was one of the main problems with the exo – too much MC’ing – but I’m digressing. So when Pete came out, with mid-growth-cycle Chia Pet scalp, the crowd did cheer pretty loudly, obviously relishing the nostalgia of seeing “the GREATEST player of all time, blah blah” on the court again. Jim got slightly less applause, but the crowd tried not to be too rude, at least at the beginning. It was strange for me, seeing these players I watched all the time when I was a kid, and realizing now that I really couldn’t remember much about them.
Now days I know the height/weight stats of half the top 20, and start conversations about Hingis’s court coverage and Santoro’s double handed forehand, but when I was obsessed with Pete, circa 15 years old – my priorities were different. I can still remember that first girlfriend he had (the older one with the long brown hair and beige suits) – because I was so jealous of her. If only Pete could be my boyfriend! Sheesh, puberty. Yes I vaguely remember cheering at the television as he hit those nasty serves and hit those exciting running forehands on the way to a Wimbledon title, but to be honest, I really can’t remember his game like I ought to. And Jim Courier, who looked much, much bigger in real life than I had imagined him from the t.v., is more familiar to me now because of his annoying “I just read the Thesauraus” commentary than because of anything he accomplished during his pro years. Of course I remember the red hair and the baseball cap, and stories that he went jogging with a big boulder dragging behind him, but that’s about all.
Part of this describes what made the match a little depressing – it was like watching a mid-life crisis in warp speed. Pete’s only 34, rich, and with a beautiful family, but for some reason I felt sorry for him. He’s said he’s come back to tennis because he’s bored – nothing better to do – and because he feels he never enjoyed the relationship great players can have with fans – basically a take-to-the bottle combo of regret mixed with ennui, like an ex homecoming queen in Texas who can only sit in the empty kitchen of her McMansion, drink a bottle of Reunite, and wonder where the time went.
Anyways, maybe it was the full head of wavy hair, the errect posture, and the buff upper body, but when he first walked out last night I leaned toward my husband and said, “I’m picking Courier.” The guy just seemed less pathetic, since in a way he’s had less to lose and less to pine for over the past few years.
But Pete’s play put an end to all of my amature psycho-analysis. What the hell did I know? Courier joked before the first point (Pete served first), “Bet it comes in at 140 (m.p.h.)” and he wasn’t too far off. Pete was serving consistently in the 120s from the first game, with his fastest serve of the match (I believe) coming in at 137 mph. I knew he’d been playing some WTT, but man, with the serves, volleys and forehand, it was almost like he never left. I felt giddy when someone in the crowd yelled, “WILDCARD!”
After the first few games, with Pete dominating and the MC guy playing the bratty brother on changeovers (I did laugh, when Courier snarkily deflected a rude question by commenting that the MC smelled good, and he answered, “Yes, I smell good because I just hugged Pete, and Pete’s wearing Elizabeth Taylor’s White Diamonds), I realized that exos suck. My coach, in his infinite wisdom, was right to keep his distance – I couldn’t take anymore fake posturing from the players, another “Just win a game, Jim!” from the audience or another apologetic smile after a Sampras winner.
I wanted it to be serious, damn it, I wanted it to mean something! And the other people in the crowd, even as we cynically hoped Sampras would let Courier into it in the second set, were probably right there with me. I mean, the guys were playing hard, sure, but then was Courier losing because he was being too casual or because Pete was just that good? Pete didn’t really let it happen too much, but when he did lose a point on his serve, was it because of Courier’s good play or out of pity? If the match turned around in the second (which it didn’t – Pete broke in the first game of the second set and didn’t falter on serve, winning it 6-4) was it just Pete’s way of playing to the crowd – giving us that third set we craved?
But it didn’t happen. Poor Jim was unable to log a fifth career victory against Pete (who already had sixteen wins over Courier). As Jim said, Pete was just too good. “He was hitting second serves around 115mph,” Courier said to MC man after the match, “the voices around me were echoing my thoughts exactly – Just win a game, JIM!”
Yes, the crowd was a bit cruel, another yucky exo charicataristic, I think, along with all the flash photography. A few nasty favorites included “I don’t wanna go home yet, JIM!” and to Pete, “You’re the second greatest ever!” The latter comment really got me – what did the beer-sopped spectator mean by that? Was he a big Graf, Laver or Fed fan? I mean, Pete still has the record for most major single titles – 14 I believe, including those 7 Wimbledons. So what gives?
But there I go feeling sorry for Pete again! And after he creamed his opponent in straight sets.