Courier, Sampras face off for local fundraiser
by Doug VanderLaan | The Grand Rapids Press
GRAND RAPIDS -- The view from just over a courtside railing looked to be exceptional for sixth- grade classmates Josie Evert and Parker Chuba on Tuesday night at Van Andel Arena. But when tennis pro Jim Courier stopped the Miracle Match exhibition against Pete Sampras and walked over to their kneeling position in the court's corner, the two tennis buddies knew their vantage point had come at a high price. "He leaned over and saw our taco chips, and then he grabbed one and ate it," Evert said. "He came back and got another one. I guess we're going to have to buy some more."
The antic was one of many the two retired tennis superstars used to entertain the estimated crowd of 4,000. While Courier, 38, a two-time French Open and Australian Open champion, provided the more light-hearted approach, Sampras, 39, who won a record 14 Grand Slam titles, showed a competitive fire, finishing two games with three consecutive ace en route to a 6-4, 6-2 win. The event raised money for the Miracle Match Foundation, established in 1997 by local tennis pro Bill Przybysz as he began his recovery from Acute Monocytic Leukemia.
Przybysz's contacts in the tennis world has produced such national events as this year's five-city stop Sampras-Courier tour and provided financial support and community visibility for those suffering from similar stem cell-related blood diseases. Also on Tuesday's card was an "up-and-down" match between local wheelchair standouts Dan Bolhouse and Curt Bender, who teamed, respectively, with Holland professional Nate Price and former touring professional Murphy Jensen of Los Angeles, formerly of East Grand Rapids. "It was tougher playing in front of this crowd than playing at Wimbledon," said a smiling Jensen, who played doubles at Wimbledon this summer and returned to Grand Rapids for the first time to play tennis since his days at East Grand Rapids High.
"The people here tonight had everything to do with my success. I had some butterflies here tonight, but they were good butterflies." Jensen was a last-minute replacement for brother Luke, who had to cancel following knee problems. The other half of the "Rock and Roll Jensen Brothers" kicked off the evening's entertainment with a comedic and competitive performance, but he and Bender lost 3-1 to Price and Bolhouse. Meanwhile, Sampras appeared to be the star of the show.
"When (Sampras') picture came out on the Wheaties box, I bought three of them for our kids, and they thought I was crazy," said Leslie Sukup, who attended the event with husband Dave and daughter Laura. But it was Laura, 27, who had her Wheaties box with her at a private clinic with Sampras on Tuesday afternoon for his autograph. "I was like a little kid," she said after Tuesday's exhibition. "He hit one shot to me and I hit it back. It was great." Others got a chance to hit with seven-time Wimbledon winner. When Courier was forced to take a break because of back spasms, Sampras invited the student-ballrunners to hit with him in front of a cheering crowd. "It was amazing," said Ellen Silver, 15, who won a point against Sampras when she hammered a hanging lob shot back across the net. "He was so nice. Every time we threw him a ball during the match, he said 'Thank you.' "
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