So the first of the Sampras-Federer exos sucked, just like I thought it would. Roger looked bored, like a polite adolescent listening to some old fogey ramble on about the gold standard. Pete was wide eyed and anxious – a proud man trying desperately to avoid public humiliation. There were no surprises: The points were short, in a nod to Sampras’s serve and volley style, and he displayed some nice touch at the net. Roger made lots of mistakes in the first set, trying to play just well enough to make it competitive for his old idol. He gave up the ruse in the second and put Pete out of his misery in about an hour (okay, so maybe Pete could compete with the rest of last week’s Masters Cup field.)
I apologize for making the match sound more interesting than it was.
It did get me thinking: What would make for a truly entertaining and worthwhile exhibition match? A battle of greats like Pete and Rog is cool in theory but the obvious lack of parity between the players turns it into a lousy charity match (and I’m not talking about the Roger Federer Foundation!) Exos should give us something unique – something that fans are unlikely to witness during regular tournament play. They should provide a level of real competition and suspense while highlighting something distinctive to tennis as a sport.
Fed/Justine vs. Rafa/Serena – now this is an exhibition match I would pay to see! Sure, it could theoretically happen during regular tournament play (although not at Hopman Cup because of the partners’ different nationalities) – but the reality of this ever occurring, even at a non-Slam like Indian Wells, is nil, nada, not-in-this-lifetime, folks. Which is too bad, considering that fans all over the world would be much more entertained by this matchup than the lame, over-hyped, “Battle of the Ages” crap that’s being paraded around Asia right now.
Think of it – 4 incredibly talented and competitive players, each with unique games that rank among the best in history. It would be a battle of equals, not a cliched “battle of the sexes.” All are in their playing primes and, get this, together they hold a total of 30 Grand Slam singles titles. Rafa is a little short on the trophies compared to the rest of them, but as the youngest and cutest we’ll cut him some slack.
Rog and Justine have the all-court games. Serena and Rafa have the muscles and the grunts. There’s enough big serving, crazy shot making, defensive skills and competitive fire to spread over the rest of the WTA and ATP top 100, with plenty to spare for sponsors and ticket buyers. To make it worth something, I propose that each player coughs up a Grand Slam trophy, with the losers having to auction theirs off to benefit the winners’ personal charities.
Come on Larry Scott and E. de V., let’s see some leadership on this!