Athens gets ATP tennis boost

Pete Sampras will make his first trip to Greece next month to play in Athens when the 30-and-over Champions Series stages its first tennis tournament outside of North America. Sampras, a 14-time Grand Slam winner and an American of Greek heritage, headlined a field announced by promoters in New York yesterday that will also include Mark Philippoussis, the first active Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) player to play in a Champions event. Australia’s Philippoussis, also of Greek ancestry, and Sampras will be joined by 1996 Wimbledon winner Richard Krajicek, three-time French Open winner Mats Wilander, 1987 Wimbledon champion Pat Cash, former No 1 Jim Courier, two-time Grand Slam runner-up Todd Martin and an unrevealed last competitor. The Athens Champions Cup will be staged at the Olympic tennis facility used for the 2004 Athens Summer Games. Apart from the Athens 2004 Olympics, high-level tennis events have not been held in Greece, which bolsters the tournament’s appeal. «Playing in Greece is going to be very exciting,» Sampras said. «This event will give me the chance to see the country, meet the people and allow me to play with a different kind of pride as a Greek American playing in the land of my heritage.» The tournament’s eight contestants will be divided into two four-man groups, where they will do battle for the top spots and berths in the final. The tournament will be staged May 17 to 20. Reports said prize money will be worth 650,000 euros, while sponsorship deals have been estimated at 750,000 euros. Greek-American entrepreneur Constantinos Makrykostas took the initiative to organize the tournament. «Greece is ready to welcome tennis. My family and I are very proud to be bringing a major international tournament to Greece and the marvellous facilities in Athens,» said Makrykostas. «I’m certain that this year’s tournament will be the beginning of many successful future tournaments in our country.» Deputy Culture Minister Giorgos Orfanos, the government’s top sporting official, said efforts would be made to establish professional tennis tournaments in Greece on an annual basis. The next step, he said, would be to organize a tournament featuring active ATP players. Orfanos highlighted the heightened international sporting activity to take place in Athens next month. Besides the tennis tournament, the Greek capital will also host European club-level’s top soccer and basketball showdowns. European soccer’s Champions League final is scheduled for May 23 and the Euroleague basketball Final Four tournament will take place May 4 and 6. Athens club Panathinaikos, a three-time European champion, is one of the four qualifiers. (AFP/Kathimerini)

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