SPORTS

Greats here for Athens Cup

Pete Sampras will play former Davis Cup teammate Jim Courier today in an exhibition match on a temporary tennis court below the Acropolis. Sampras, a 14-time Grand Slam champion who is making his first visit to his ancestral homeland, is in Greece to play in the four-day Athens Cup at the Olympic tennis venue in northern Athens, today to Sunday. The event is part of the Outback Champions Series, which is making its first stop outside the United States. The seniors’ tour was started by Courier, a four-time Grand Slam champion. «We’re thrilled to be here,» Courier said yesterday. «It’s a beautiful facility and a beautiful city.» The Athens Cup will also feature players such as Pat Cash, Richard Krajicek, Wayne Ferreira and Anders Jarryd. Mark Philippoussis and Mats Wilander have pulled out, however. «The players are big names. They’re in shape,» Courier said. «These are not exhibitions. We’re playing for real.» The players will be divided into two groups of four for the round-robin competition. The group winners will play in Sunday’s final, while the second-place finishers face each other for third place. In order to play, competitors must be more than 30 years old and be either a Grand Slam finalist, a former top-five player or have played singles for a winning Davis Cup team. Organizers are also allowed a wild card assignment. «People don’t appreciate the array of talent it takes,» Courier said. «I don’t think the general public can truly understand what it takes for [champion] tennis players to do what they do.» The Athens Cup tournament will be played at the 7,800-seat Olympic tennis facility, and there will also be a temporary exhibit from the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island, which will formally induct Sampras in July. Sampras, the retired 14-time Grand Slam champion, has come to Greece for the first time – both to play tennis and for personal reasons. «This is about sharing some time with my folks in my mom’s homeland,» Sampras told The Associated Press Tuesday in an interview. Sampras’s mother, Georgia, left Greece with her six siblings when she was 25 and moved to Canada and then to the United States. «Very much a big Greek family,» said Sampras, whose father, Sam, was born in the United States to a Greek immigrant father. This trip coincides with Sam Sampras’s 70th birthday. Sampras, who last played a professional match at the 2002 US Open when he beat Andre Agassi in the final, said he had a chance to play in Greece once before. «I was actually approached to play for Greece when I was 17,» Sampras said. «I was in Germany, just turned pro, someone approached my dad, but nothing came of it.» Ticket sales for the event have not met expectations, however. «Not too great, mostly because we started late,» tournament president Constantinos Makrycostas said. «But the Greek people always do things at the last minute.» Athens also recently held basketball’s Euroleague Final Four, and next Wednesday hosts the Champions League final between Liverpool and AC Milan.