By Erin Bruehl, USTA.com
Pete Sampras has not been back in New York since he played Roger Federer at Madison Square Garden in a matchup of tennis legends back in March 2008.
However, Sampras, the Hall of Famer and 14-time Grand Slam tournament champion, will be making his first trip back to New York since then in February 2011 for Tennis Night in America, where he will once again play at the World’s Most Famous Arena – this time against his long-time rival Andre Agassi in the BNP Paribas Showdown.
Sampras and Agassi will play a best-of-three-sets match, and fellow Hall of Famers John McEnroe and Ivan Lendl will play a one-set match (the first to eight games will win) on Feb. 28, 2011.
In addition, Sampras was also recently named the first spokesman for Tennis Night in America, an annual celebration of tennis that is a joint promotional effort between the USTA and StarGames, Inc.
Tennis Night in America includes the BNP Paribas Showdown, as well as youth registration events across the country that are hosted by the USTA leading up to the event to encourage more kids to sign up for tennis programs at the start of the league tennis season. Last year, more than 700 tennis facilities hosted open houses or youth registration events in the week leading up to Tennis Night in America.
Sampras is looking forward to making his return to New York – and playing his longtime rival – and was honored to be named Tennis Night in America’s spokesman.
"I am excited to be selected as the ambassador for Tennis Night in America. It is quite an honor. I am looking forward to coming back to New York. I haven’t been back since I played Roger there at the Garden," Sampras said on a conference call. "For me, it was exciting. When you have been retired for six, seven years or so, it does not happen every day, so I am looking forward to playing Andre, who was my rival, and hopefully we can play some good tennis that people can get really excited about."
Tennis Night in America 2011 will showcase four of the greatest players to ever play the game of tennis, and while Sampras is hoping to put on a great show of tennis for the audience, he also hopes some young kids watching the matches will be inspired to start playing.
"I think it is huge," he said of Tennis Night in America’s importance in getting more kids into the game. "You look at the competition (for tennis), with all these kids playing other sports, and to get tennis a little bit more in the mainstream – getting the four of us at the Garden, at a time where tennis is not really talked about in the next few months – is exciting.
"We can hopefully really grow the sport and get to the grassroots level," Sampras added. "It (Tennis Night in America) is just an accumulation of hard work, and it ends in the Garden with four great players. Hopefully some kids will see it and want to pick up a tennis racquet vs. a baseball bat."
Leading up to the Showdown, Sampras will be participating in various events, including playing in China next month, facing Agassi in another match in South America and taking on Andy Roddick in Omaha, and he is looking forward to playing in front of the New York crowd in February.
"I am going to keep myself busy and sharp. When the Garden comes around, I’ll make sure my body is right, first and foremost, then I will hit some balls and get myself pretty geared up. When people pay good money to come watch you play, you feel you owe them a good match. People want to see you still be able to serve at a high speed. I feel a certain amount of obligation to prepare myself the best I can, and hopefully Andre does the same.
"The people in New York respect the sport, they know the sport," he added. "They know a good show when they see one. They come in there with a lot of energy, and it just elevates your game. You feel that much better about being out there, and I am looking forward to doing it in a few months time now."