Kournikova, Sampras Headline World Team Tennis

Tuesday, July 3rd 2007, 4:00 pm

By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ Anna Kournikova will open the season, Pete Sampras plans to play four matches and John McEnroe will try to keep up ``with the big boys'' of World Team Tennis.

Co-founded by Billie Jean King, the co-ed U.S. tennis circuit kicks off its 32nd season Thursday. The monthlong series will feature appearances by Venus and Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and the top-ranked doubles duo of Bob and Mike Bryan.

King and WTT commissioner Ilana Kloss have been innovators in the sport _ debuting instant replay, on-court coaching and no-ad scoring _ and will launch a ``Go Green'' effort in two of the league's 11 American cities.

``We're trying to take a leadership role in going green,'' Kloss said of the energy-conscious endeavor with FirmGreen. ``We know it's a huge job. We're committed to start in California with the two teams in Sacramento and Newport Beach.''

Kournikova will headline the Sacramento Capitals' home opener Thursday against the Springfield (Missouri) Lasers. It's her fifth season in WTT and third straight with the Capitals.

``It's awesome that tennis gets to be displayed in cities where normally you don't have big tournaments,'' Kournikova said. ``It's so friendly for the fans. You get to see the current players. You get to see the young and up and coming. So it's just a diversity.''

The youngest is 14-year-old Michelle Larcher de Brito, who upset Meghann Shaughnessy earlier this year. McEnroe, 48, is the oldest of the 53 players from 18 countries in the league.

McEnroe, who will play for the New York Sportimes in Mamaroneck, said he's ``deluded enough to think I can play with the big boys.'' McEnroe's matches include the regular-season finale against Sharapova's Newport Beach team on July 25.

His strategy against the No. 2 player in the world?

``Keep it nice and low _ she's quite tall,'' McEnroe said.

Sampras, who will be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame on July 14, made his WTT debut last summer. He'll be inducted with Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, who will play for the Boston Lobsters.

``They've been trying to get me to play Team Tennis since I was a pro,'' Sampras said, laughing. ``It was kind of my first commitment to playing again _ it got me on the court and in shape. I enjoyed it, even though I looked a little rusty.''

Players may be joking around in the relaxed atmosphere of mascots, coaches, cheerleaders and music between games. But it gets serious once the ball is in play.

``It's competitive, it's the real deal,'' said Sampras, who will play for the Newport Beach Breakers. ``We're there to play to win.''

The men's and women's singles, doubles and mixed doubles format includes four-point games, five-game sets and supertiebreakers.

``People can get into it, make some noise,'' Sampras said. ``I enjoy the team atmosphere of the event. Billie deserves a lot of credit for what they're doing with team tennis. It's accessible and lots of fan contact.''

The 26-year-old Kournikova retired in 2003 because of back and foot injuries. A winner of doubles titles at the Australian Open (1999, 2002), she gives tennis clinics at Boys & Girls Clubs and is launching a new sports clothing line.

Her Sacramento coach is Wayne Bryan, father of the Bryan brothers.

``Oh, he's just a blast,'' Kournikova said. ``He is a true tennis enthusiast. He loves the game, and he really is an amazing motivator.''

The WTT championship for the King trophy will be held July 27-29 in Roseville, California.

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