The 2011 Champions Series rolled into town last night. As part of the 12-city tour, the city of Seattle got a rare glimpse of live, professional (or formerly professional) tennis.
Featuring tennis icons like Andre Agassi, Bjorn Borg, and Jimmy Connors (who was playing in competitive tennis for the first time in eleven years), last night’s Champions Series action pitted Michael Chang against Jim Courier in the first match, followed by Pete Sampras against John McEnroe—who was making his tour debut.
Most of the night’s players have spent little time in Seattle, but were glad to bring the game here to build interest in tennis. Courier noted that “Seattle is underserved by the tennis community,” adding that events like this “might inspire a kid to become the next tennis superstar.”
While their games have slowed somewhat, the night offered glimpses into what made these players superstars. Former local Chang beat Courier 6-4, then waited while Sampras outlasted McEnroe by the same score. Chang, who still manages to spout religion in every appearance (when asked about his days in Seattle, he said “I went to church here, and I have a lot of people who pray for me here”—an odd response to the question), couldn’t muster enough divine intervention in the final against Sampras, losing by a score of 8-4.
Lifted by his still-strong serve, Sampras has now won four of his five appearances on the tour, giving him the lead in the Champions Series point standings. Play continues tomorrow in Los Angeles, followed by events in Las Vegas, Chicago, St. Louis, and Buffalo.
The tennis is serious, though with many light moments. McEnroe, the old man of the night’s quartet at age 52, playfully flashed signs of confrontation, and was clearly the crowd favorite. Courier also showed a great sense of humor. Meanwhile, Sampras, who spoke of McEnroe’s demeanor as very different than his own (and that’s a huge understatement), managed to make Chang look like quite a personality on the court.
As a food writer, I couldn’t resist asking each player what he desires after a match:
- McEnroe: a beer (or two), and maybe some pizza
- Courier: fruit and energy bars
- Sampras: In-N-Out burger, asking if I knew what that was (I do, and I object to the company’s proselytizing by referencing Bible verses on its wrappers and cups.)
Chang redeemed himself a little with his answer. He told me “There’s a big difference between what I crave and what I can actually have.” Explaining that his mother is from northern China and makes good dumplings and noodles, he said, “I like xiao long bao,” and asked, “Do you know what that is?”
Of course. The look on his face in the gallery above is contemplation after I told him that Din Tai Fung is now open in Bellevue, serving its famous xiao long bao. But given their mediocre quality, seems they’re in need of some divine intervention. Maybe Chang can help make that happen.