It was on this day in tennis history, June 11, 1991 when Mark Keil, ranked No. 224 playing in only his second career ATP tour event, staged a staggering upset of future seven-times Wimbledon champion Pete Sampras 6-2, 7-6 in the first round of the Stella Artois Championships at Queen’s Club in London. Following the win over the No. 8 ranked player in the world, Keil entered the post-match press conference and asked reporters, “Is this where I am supposed to sit. I have never done this before.” Asked what his previous claim to fame had been prior to beating Sampras, Keil responded, “Nothing.” Keil, the producer and star of the tennis documentary “The Journeymen” (click here to order), takes readers back to that occasion in this week’s blog.
After losing early in the French Open, I headed to play a Challenger in Surbiton, England the second week of the French. I partnered with Doug Flach, the former All American out of the University of Tennesse, and brother of former U.S. Davis Cup doubles standout Ken Flach. We lost first round to James Blake’s nutritionist Mark Merklein and the soft spoken Michael Sell, 6-2 in the third.
The next week – who would have thunk it – but I beat the greatest player ever to play the game, Pete Sampras. Yes, I am still milking this occasion, and until a better moment in my life shows up, it has to be done. When I arrived that day in June in 1991, I stayed at a bed and breakfast in Wimbledon village. I was travelling with Craig Boynton, an American who now coach’s Mardy Fish. He got sick that week, and was watching movies from dusk till dawn. The day before I played Pete, I hung out with a friend Allysa Rappaport. She was backpacking around Europe. She was a nice girl. Her dad started the Outback chain of restaurants. What a great flavor of the week. I tried to resume a relationship with her when I got back to my homebase of Tampa, but to no avail. The morning of my match was a glorious one, and I warmed up with Brad Pearce, a Mormon from Utah who was a quarterfinalist at Wimbledon once. He told me I had a chance. That was all I needed. I proceeded to play lights out on the best grass court in the world still to this day. The only moment of the match I regret was not looking him in the eyes when I shoke his hand. I must admit the match changed my life, some for the good, some for the bad. I let my ego get in the way of my career, and subsequently did not break into the top 100 in singles. The next few months I felt like since I had beaten the No. 8 player in the world, I didn’t need any help. I was main draw of ten challengers in singles after that. I should have had my coach at the time Allen Webb come with me, to get past that last hurdle. When you break into the top 100 in singles, it’s like getting invited to the best dance. After a celebratory dinner with my pal and fellow player T.J. Middleton and Allysa and her friend Marybeth, I had the huge challenge of playing Malivai Washington the next day. The former star from the University of Michigan couldn’t handle my aggressive play in the first set. I won 7-6. “I’m going to win the tournament now” That’s what I thought and I’m sure everyone in the crowd read my mind. He then beat me 6-3, 6-2. It’s a week I won’t forget.