from The Prague Post
by František Bouc
Boris Becker blows the candles of his birthday cake during the Advantage Tennis exhibition in Prague
There is not much that can catch tennis legend Boris Becker by surprise on the court, but something did during an exhibition event Nov. 21 in Prague.
Prior to the match's opening volley, the crowd of 10,000 gave Becker a standing ovation and sang him "Happy Birthday."
"Honestly, it was a great experience to be here, although I could not come out and play," said the German legend, who turned 42 in Prague.
Originally, Becker had been expected to be the main box-office draw of an event that saw two other former world No. 1 tennis players and other retired stars on the court at Prague's O2 Arena. In the end, the three-time Wimbledon champion withdrew due to health problems.
"I still haven't recovered from a hip injury," Becker said. "But I did not cancel my appearance here. It was great to get together with all the guys here again."
One year after bringing retired U.S. star Pete Sampras to perform in an exhibition game against Radek Štěpánek in Prague last December, Česká sportovní marketing company brought some of the game's legends to the Prague court once again. While Becker remained in the stands, other former world No. 1 players, Sweden's Stefan Edberg and Mats Wilander, did play, and both won singles against retired Czech stars Jiří Novák and Karel Nováček, respectively.
In other exhibition games, the German pair of Carl-Uwe Steeb and Eric Jelen beat Hungary's Balasz Taroczy and France's Henri Leconte, and Edberg with Wilander outplayed the Czech-Slovak team of Novák and Miloslav Mečíř.
This time, however, results were less important.
"The main thing was to have fun," Leconte, the crown prince of tennis, said.
Many fans, including 45-year-old Petr Planička, came to rekindle old memories.
"Players like Edberg, Becker and Wilander in many ways overshadow the current stars. They were somehow more charismatic, and that's why it was great to see them in action again," Planička said.
Next ? Borg vs. McEnroe?
Česká sportovní's owner Miroslav Černošek said Pete Sampras' 2008 appearance in Prague showed that fans are interested in tennis exhibitions featuring retired stars.
"With the exception of home Davis Cup games, we can hardly expect to see the game's current stars such as Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal hitting here. Bringing over some of the past icons is a way to introduce some of the game's legends here," Černošek said.
While the country does not host any significant professional tournament, exhibitions featuring star players will continue, Černošek said.
"Weeklong tennis tournaments attract neither sponsors nor fans," Černošek said. "But a several-hour exhibition is a completely different case."
Former world No. 8 player Nováček, who helped bring star players to Prague, said the appearance money for players like Edberg and Becker can be as much as 1.2 million Kč ($70,464).
"We don't have so many opportunities to meet on court; it was great to have this opportunity," Edberg said.
Next year, Černošek said, Prague should host another glamorous tennis reunion.
"I can confirm that [Sweden's star player Björn] Borg is coming," Černošek said.
While Černošek did not want to confirm his opponent, well-informed sources from tennis circles say Černošek will be negotiating with Borg's big 1980s rival, John McEnroe. The 50-year-old American played in the Czech Republic just once in the past, in an early 1990s exhibition against Jimmy Connors.
Černošek says he hopes to also bring Andre Agassi to Prague in the future.
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