2012 Powershares QQQ Challenge at the United Center, October 17, 2012
Photo: Max Herman
Four of the greatest tennis legends of all time put on a spectacular show Wednesday night at the United Center. Unfortunately, most area tennis fans missed it.
John McEnroe, Pete Sampras, Ivan Lendl and Jim Courier battled for four hours in a surprisingly competitive event during the second stop of the2012 PowerShares Series. Four tennis greats (other tour players include Andre Agassi, Michael Chang, Mats Wilander, Patrick Rafter and Todd Martin), play a mini-tournament at each of 12 city stops in the “seniors” series, which culminates Nov 30 in Anaheim, California.
Unlike exhibition events, the players here are vying for big money—the top three finishers at the close of the series split a $1 million prize pool—and the play reflects that.
Why then were the stands mostly empty? And what did you miss?
Pistol Pete Sampras ripping aces left and right. McEnroe taking his shirt off and tossing it into the crowd in an effort to “keep tennis sexy.” Courier, looking fitter than ever and taking Sampras to a tiebreak only to lose when a Sampras forehand clipped the net and dribbled over. Lendl proving he’s still got a few tricks up his sleeve, ripping winners and aces past Johnny Mac in the night’s first one-set semi-final. And, of course, an amazing come-from-behind upset in the final between Sampras and McEnroe. Down 7-4 in an eight-game pro-set, the normally comical McEnroe looked intensely focused and seemed to find another gear, stunning everyone by taking out Sampras 8-7.
The players are older, and the pace slower, particularly in the Lendl/McEnroe match, but this was unquestionably high-quality tennis. I sat courtside, dead center behind the baseline, and nearly had my head taken off once by a serve hit by Pete Sampras. I absolutely loved it. More than that, I loved that I didn’t have to fly to New York or drive to Cincinnati to see great professional tennis. Chicago has a passionate recreational tennis scene and one of the best junior tennis markets in the country. You wouldn’t know it from the size of this crowd.
The event wasn’t publicized well, particularly to the tennis fanatics who should have been there. And tickets were pricey—ranging from $45 to $250—but, unlike last year, organizers wisely upgraded everyone in the “cheap” seats in order to fill the seats closest to the court. Still, that’s no excuse. Come on, Chicago tennis fans. We can do better. There’s always next year…