NEWPORT BEACH — Twenty-four years had passed since tennis legend Pete Sampras won a big tournament at The Tennis Club Newport Beach.
The club was called the Balboa Bay Club Racquet Club in 1987, when Sampras, a 15-year-old kid, captured the CIF Individuals singles title as a student at Palos Verdes High.
Sampras returned Saturday night for the Newport Beach Breakers as one of the greatest players in tennis history.
"Someone said I won some event here," Sampras, the 14-time Grand Slam champion, said in a pre-match press conference. "Is that true? I don't [remember] … There's still courts here? They didn't burn it down? Which court [did I win CIF on], do you know?"
Nobody at the press conference knew which court. On the center court during the match Sampras, who turns 40 next month, looked rusty at first in his return. The marquee player recovered to win in men's singles but the Breakers were unable to do the same, falling to former world No. 1 Martina Hingis and the New York Sportimes, 19-17, in overtime.
Newport Beach (3-2) fell to second place in the World Team Tennis Western Conference, a half-game behind St. Louis.
Sampras said before the match that it becomes tougher to serve-and-volley at his age. The serve is still there, the volleys maybe not so much. It's why Breakers Coach Trevor Kronemann said Sampras told him he didn't know what to expect in Saturday's match.
Sampras said he only briefly hit the week leading up to the match.
"Serve-and-volley tennis is not something that's easy to do as you get older," Sampras said. "It's actually much more difficult. To play that explosive tennis is tough on the body … Even when I played on the real tour, it's a tough way to play tennis."
Sampras, who played for Newport Beach in 2006 and '07, was making his only appearance of the season for the Breakers. When he first got on the court a fan told him he was double the player that Roger Federer, who broke Sampras' Grand Slam record, will ever be. The remark brought a smile out of Sampras, who blasted a winner on his first serve.
But he and teammate Travis Rettenmaier were blanked in the set by Jesse Witten and Travis Parrott of New York, 5-0.
"You can see the strokes are there," Kronemann said. "It's an unfortunate thing. Age catches everybody, and the first thing that goes is your feet. That's just the way it is. He's still one of the smoothest strikers of the ball I've ever seen."
The men's doubles loss put the Breakers in a 13-7 hole. Sampras responded in men's singles, even after he appeared to tweak his ankle midway through the set. He stopped serve-and-volleying at that point but won the last three games to beat Witten, 5-3.
Marie-Eve Pelletier and Anne Keothavong tried to rally the Breakers in the last set. They defeated Hingis and Katie O'Brien, 5-2, to pull the Breakers within 18-17. The match went to overtime, the Breakers only needing to break O'Brien's serve to send it to a super-tiebreaker.
They got ahead 2-0 on the serve of O'Brien, who trains with Keothavong back in England. But New York (4-1) rallied back to win four straight points and take the match.
Hingis beat Keothavong, 5-2, in women's singles to open the night. Pelletier and Rettenmaier came back for a 5-3 victory in mixed doubles.
Hingis, 30, was the former pro on this night who looked like she could come back to the tour.
"Are you planning another comeback after that?" Keothavong asked after the match, grabbing a grinning Hingis. "She could easily, right? You're getting every flipping ball back."
"We had the momentum," Keothavong added about the last set. "We just got a little tight at the end. I guess that's what World Team Tennis is all about. We've had a lot of close matches these last few days. It's all come down to the last game."
Newport Beach plays at Sacramento Sunday before returning home to play the Washington Kastles Monday. That match will feature former Corona del Mar High standout and pro Taylor Dent.
"We've gone five straight nights in a row, and we've got six and seven coming up," Kronemann said. "It's just about coming out here with energy every night, and I think we were a little bit flat in the beginning of that men's doubles [set]. Things start rolling the wrong way very quickly."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun