By Mike McIntyre
Twenty year-old Canadian tennis phenom Milos Raonic is set to face legend Pete Sampras, the man he idolized growing-up, in an exhibition match in Toronto this November that is being billed as the Face-Off presented by SAP.
Mark November 17th on your calendars as it will showcase the first ever tennis match to be played at the Air Canada Centre, which normally houses the NHL's Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Thursday night tennis exhibition will also feature Canadian female players Aleksandra Wozniak and Eugenie Bouchard. The format for the evening will include some mixed-doubles with the four tennis stars, followed by a women's set between veteran Wozniak and up-and-coming junior sensation Bouchard. The evening with culminate with the exciting feature match between Raonic and Sampras.
Surprisingly, the match will be the first that Raonic has played on home soil this year due to a difficult hip injury that he sustained at Wimbledon in June. The recovery period forced him to miss playing in Canada's Masters 1000 event, the Rogers Cup and also prevented him from competing at the U.S. Open.
Since returning to the ATP World Tour earlier in October, Raonic has quickly found the form that catapulted him into the top-thirty in the world rankings earlier in 2011.
He lost a tough match to second-ranked Rafael Nadal in Tokyo and then suffered another difficult defeat in Shanghai against world no. 5 David Ferrer. Not an easy return to the game for any player after a nearly four month layoff.
Things took a step-up this past week in Stockholm where Raonic advanced all the way to the semi-finals before being beaten by eventual champion Gael Monfils 6-7, 6-4, 6-3.
With the regular season of professional tennis nearly over, the exhibition with Sampras will be a nice way for the young Canuck to finish his roller-coaster year.
"Playing in front of my hometown against my hero growing up is a dream come true," said Raonic. "I'm also really excited about playing the first ever tennis event at the Air Canada Centre with Pete, Aleks, and Eugénie and I know tennis fans in Toronto and surrounding provinces will pack the arena to see how I match up with one of the best of all time".
One would normally be suspicious about how a forty year old like Sampras could compete with someone just entering his physical prime, but the American tennis legend has been quite active this fall while playing on Jim Courier's Champions Series tennis circuit.
The former 14-time Grand Slam champion finished the season as the top-ranked player on the senior tour and displayed that he still has a knack for coming up with some booming serves when required and has not lost his killer instinct on a tennis court. He finished with an 11-2 record against some of the best players of his generation including Andre Agassi and Michael Chang.
Always a proud man on the court, Sampras has said that he is, "looking forward to playing in Canada once again. I have great memories playing in the tournaments in Toronto and Montreal during my professional career and playing against Milos will certainly bring out that same competitive fire. I am anxious to show Milos and the fans that I can still play with the best at the highest level."
Here at ProTennisFan and in connection with title sponsor of the event, SAP Canada, we are happy to announce a contest for fans looking to attend the event live. Two of our lucky readers will get free tickets to watch Raonic and Sampras in-person at the Air Canada Centre. The winning tickets will be given to a reader of ours who comments on this posting and will be selected on November 8th, one week prior to the big event. Please leave your email address in your post so that you can be contacted if your name is selected.
We'll leave you with a link to series of videos that feature Milos as well as one in particular of Milos giving tips on how to have an effective serve. We hope you get the chance to watch him deliver his trademark weapon in person on November 17th. Good luck!