It was thrilling to watch them in their peak, but almost awe-inspiring to watch as Pete Sampras, Jimmy Connors, Michael Chang and Jim Courier – all 40 years or older – took to the courts during the HSBC Tennis Cup at the BankAtlantic Center on September 22. The tournament’s emcee proudly welcomed the four to the Tennis Capital of Florida, which South Florida is for good reason.
Not only does our climate allow for outdoor recreation almost year-round, but tennis provides fantastic physical and psychological benefits. It’s truly aerobic; your heart races and your energy levels are elevated as you sprint from side to side, back and up, chasing the ball, serving the ball and striving to return every serve. Tennis also provides several mental benefits; you must anticipate, base your thoughts on physics, figure out where the ball will go, how to return it perfectly; you must focus your thoughts completely on the game, which, as a side note, helps many players relieve stress. So, it wasn’t surprising to see Sampras in fantastic condition as well as Connors who, at 59, was covering the court as well as his competition.
“It was actually very exciting to watch,” said Bryan Johnson, a Fort Lauderdale resident who attended the Cup with three of his friends. “We were a little disappointed that McEnroe had to cancel but we still grew up idolizing some of these players, Sampras for example, and were thrilled to be in the stands.”
McEnroe, who had a hamstring injury, was replaced by Chang; he rejoined the circuit in Seattle, WA, on October 13.
With McEnroe absent, the first one-set match was between Chang and Sampras. Sampras, 40, is a former World Number One player whose last top-level tournament was in 2002. Chang, who peaked at World Number Six, is well known for being, at age 17, the youngest male player to win a Grand Slam singles title.
Sampras and Chang stepped out onto the court to play the first one-set semifinal match. Chang, who won 4 games to Sampras’ 6, joked as he served two aces and asked, “How does it feel now?” as Sampras grinned. Sampras won the semifinal match and the ability to advance.
“You could hear the entire crowd sporadically cheering out loud for Sampras, but personally, I wanted Chang to take the match,” explained Nancy Stewart of West Palm Beach.
The next semifinal set was played by Jimmy Connors and Jim Courier. Connors, who was just two-and-a-half months out of surgery on his left knee, is truly one of the game’s greatest players. Courier, 41, reached the finals of all four major championships during his career, something only accomplished by a handful of other players.