Tennis returned to the Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City on Saturday night April 10 for the first time in almost 15 years with the inaugural Caesars Tennis Classic. The event featured five of the sport's top past and present stars, including Pete Sampras, Ivan Lendl, Mats Wilander, recent retiree Marat Safin and the current number one-ranked American player, Andy Roddick. The hostess for the event was seven-time Grand Slam winner Venus Williams. The Caesars Tennis Classic set a new attendance record for a tennis event in Atlantic City. The record crowd of 7,330 who witnessed the event surpassed the previous mark of 7,257 for the “Return of The Champions” event which featured Monica Seles versus Martina Navratilova in July of 1995.
The night started with a battle of two Hall of Famers, as Ivan Lendl faced Mats Wilander. Lendl (now 43-years-old) was returning to match play for the first time since 1994. The rust showed a bit, as Lendl had trouble keeping up with the defensive play of Wilander, whose starategy seemed to be to wear down Lendl.
"I am a tough opponent for Ivan due to my style of play," said Wilander. Wilander was able to use his consistency to force Lendl into mistakes and win 6-3. When asked after the match if the result was what he expected after such a long layoff, Lendl responded, "Unfortunately, yes."
In the second match, Marat Safin defeated Pete Sampras 6-4. Safin and Sampras joked with each other a bit during the match, but the competitiveness was certainly there. The match was even until Safin broke Sampras at 3-3, and then held serve the rest of the way to record the victory.
Sampras then played again and took on Andy Roddick in the most entertaining match of the night. In the pre-match warmup, the banter was already starting, mainly provoked by Justin Gimelstob was co-hosting along with Venus Williams. Gimelstob started by joking with Roddick about how Roddick's wife, Brooklyn Decker, had been on the cover of Sports Illustrated as well as has his opponent Pete Sampras but not Roddick himself. Roddick replied, "Hey Justin, have you ever even been in Sports Illustrated?" The two continued to exchange good-natured barbs, as Gimelstob commented on Roddick's receding hairline and Roddick pointed out Justin's tiny calves.
Even Venus Williams joined in on the fun, and when Roddick said, "Hey Venus, you should buy Justin calf implants," she fired back, "I already bought him two Grand Slams (talking about their two mixed-doubles Grand Slams together), isn't that enough?"
The match itself was somewhat one-sided, with Roddick in control throughout and able to hold on for a 6-4 victory. The match was played loosely, as after Sampras lost a few points in a row, he playfully threw his racket into the crowd and went over and took one of Roddick's rackets to help gain an advantage. Roddick provided some fun for crowd and tried to get fans to engage in a drinking game each time he heard the term "old school" yelled from the crowd.
In the final match of the night, Marat Safin came back on court to face Andy Roddick. With Safin getting more fatigued as the match went on, Roddick was again able to control the set and won 6-3. After the match, Roddick said he had a good time while in Atlantic City and that "the tables were good to him."
Roddick also provided the media with a couple laughs in his joint post-match press conference with Safin. When a reporter pointed out Roddick's affinity with Twitter, Safin was asked about his use ... "I have no idea what Twitter is," Safin replied to which Roddick shot back, "I think Marat has to get a computer before he can start using Twitter."
The night was a great success for everyone involved. All who took part seemed to enjoy themselves, from the players, to the fans.
There were a few celebrities in the crowd as well, as Bethany Frankel from The Real Housewives of New York, Jeremy Sisto of Law and Order and the movie Clueless, and Olympic Gold Medal figure skater Nancy Kerrigan were all on hand.
In addition to setting a new attendance record, Harrah’s Entertainment, Caesars Atlantic City and Star Games also formally announced that the Caesars Tennis Classic will return to Atlantic City for a second event in the Spring of 2011.
Andy Roddick faces off against a lucky youngster in Wii Sports Tennis during the Caesars Tennis Classic event in Atlantic City
Reps from Cruise Control were on hand to show off their product offerings
USTA's QuickStart demonstration was a popular exhibit during the event
Pete Sampras takes some practice strokes prior to his Caesars Tennis Classic match
The crowd of 7,330 filled Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City for the inaugural Caesars Tennis Classic
Pete Sampras addresses the media following his Caesars Tennis Classic match
Andy Roddick and Marat Safin joke with the media during their post-match press conference