And now let's tune in to some oldies, folks!

Pete Sampras's high profile entry into the outback champions series, as Todd Martin asserts, adds a tremendous amount of legitimacy to what the oldies are doing.-AP

By his own admission Pete Sampras was starting to miss the crowds; and now, curiously enough, his former low profile is what makes him so refreshingly interesting, writes Vijay Parthasarathy.

Like, come on, surely it is just a matter of time before Andre retrieves that old Head from the closet and the Nike pairs too, just as surely it is only a matter of time before Roger Federer confronts his demons first and then defects to the Champions Tour to take history itself by the horns.

It happened to McEnroe, it happened to Courier, and while you didn't necessarily see this happening in the case of Pete Sampras, you see the broad pattern: sooner or later they must succumb to boredom and head back to the courts.

The personalities may be different but always there are points of convergence, moments of resonance. McEnroe's genius wasn't averse to announcing itself on a megaphone whereas Sampras was muted and borderline cold towards fellow players; but dash it all, this isn't about a clash of personalities, this is a contest between two of the greatest players in the history of tennis!

Erroneous it might be to compare across generations, yet senior Tours are increasingly throwing up fantasy permutations once solely encountered in video games. Scoff if you will that these old men are past their prime but the prospect of Pete `knock-knees' Sampras taking on a hamstrung Bjorn Borg is even now too dishy to pass up.

No question, today clinical efficiency has taken the place of old-world charm. Take Marat Safin out of the equation and drab characters abound in a sea of faces, and the ones with a minor amount of charm — like Dmitry Tursunov, for example — are more famous for the faces they make than the tennis they play.

All this focus on winning has robbed the game of something.

And while the image of old men knocking a few balls around isn't likely to impress everyone, it does offer a pleasant contrast to that two-horse contest featuring Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

Sampras's high profile entry into the Outback Champions Series, as Todd Martin asserts, adds a tremendous amount of legitimacy to what the oldies are doing.

"For me, it's great to know that the best player in our era still wants to compete, still wants to beat me," Martin said, perhaps inadvertently revealing a masochistic streak but making a point nonetheless.

Rest assured, 14-time Slam winner Sampras, whose persona back in the old days was conspicuously devoid of drollness, is not back to flaunt a latent gift for stand-up. There were, uncharacteristically, moments when Sampras smiled; he is even indulging himself by experimenting with a larger racquet, reportedly something in the region of 98 sq. inch, as opposed to his trusty Wilson PS 85. But the power is still there in the serve really, and he is here to win. And win he did, last fortnight in Boston.

Make no mistake — these were not silly, gimmicky exhibition matches on a court divided in two surfaces one clay, the other grass. The players were only contesting two sets and a tie-break, out of kindness to their lungs and ligaments, but otherwise no charity was asked, no charity given. Sampras won some fiercely contested battles, none closer than the final against Martin, his former Davis Cup teammate, when he saved three match points in the tie-break and then took the trophy.

Yes, you would have expected the man most still regard as the greatest player of all time to crack a whip, assert his authority instantly. But this is a man who didn't watch tennis, let alone touch a racquet, for three years after winning the 2002 US Open, a man who in the interim changed more diapers than grips. At 31 his retirement was premature but sensibly he took his fairytale ending and went in peace, his reputation at a peak. Ambition sated, the jowl begins to droop.

But five years away from the Tour and Sampras was itching for competition. He couldn't have had it any other way because tennis for him used to be more than a sport. It was a way of life, the only one he was accustomed to.

You may want nothing to do with a club that wants you for a member, but wait till it withdraws the promise of free parking. Fame came hunting for him, not the other way round and Sampras was a reluctant self-promoter, whose quasi-robotic appeal was anyway limited to connoisseurs. Nevertheless, by his own admission he was starting to miss the crowds; and now, curiously enough, his former low profile is what makes him so refreshingly interesting. We can't get enough of him, of what he has to say — about Federer, about the state of men's tennis, about virtually anything.

After his win, Sampras made the aberrantly bold claim that he could beat anybody, and an exhibition match against Federer, to be held after the Masters Cup, could be arranged.

"I was thoroughly unprepared for a lot of what he had to offer," confirmed Martin, the winner of last year's Boston event. "The only recourse I had was to turn it into a tennis match rather than a skills test, because his skills are better than mine." Like, come on, Agassi being Agassi, must soon tire of the anonymity — Jaden Gil versus Christian be damned, I'd rather watch the fathers.