In his prime, Andre Agassi never would have laughed after losing a set point to Pete Sampras.
Last night, after Sampras served out the final point in their exhibition match in front of 17,165 fans at the BNP Paribas Showdown at Madison Square Garden in New York for a 6-3, 7-5 win, the former No. 1-ranked players smiled as they approached the net to shake hands.
“I’m certainly not too familiar with smiling when facing down the barrel of his game,” Agassi said. “But tonight was about creating a little nostalgia for a lot of people that meant a lot to both of us in our own individual careers.”
Agassi and Sampras took to the court after Ivan Lendl’s exhibition was truncated by an injury for his opponent John McEnroe. The event, between four players with 37 Grand Slams and 295 ATP Tour tennis titles between them, was part of a collaboration between the U.S. Tennis Association and “Let’s Move,” the foundation begun by First Lady Michelle Obama in a bid to counter childhood obesity.
The meeting between Agassi and Sampras came nine years after the latter’s last match as a professional, at the 2002 U.S. Open final. That match was the last of 34 between the two -- including five Grand Slam finals -- with Sampras winning 20 times.
Sampras, 39, rode his serve and net game last night to beat Agassi. Sampras, who won 14 Grand Slam titles and earned over $43 million in prize money in his 15-year career, fired 12 aces to Agassi’s two and converted all three of his break point opportunities.
‘Serve and Volley’
“I was trying to do what I need to do against Andre, which is come in, serve and volley because he’s got the great returns,” Sampras said.
Agassi, 40, said after the match that he accomplished his primary goals -- to avoid injury and to break Sampras’ serve once.
“Everything is diminished except his biggest weapon, which is his serve,” Agassi said. “I’m still seeing that thing as fast as ever.”
The match was played in better spirits than a doubles meeting along with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal a year ago to raise funds for earthquake victims in Haiti.
During that encounter, Sampras imitated Agassi’s pigeon-toed walk and Agassi responded by emptying his pockets and saying “I don’t have any money,” a jab at Sampras’s tipping etiquette which Agassi also mentioned in his 2009 autobiography, “Open.”
In a conference call with reporters last week, Agassi said he regretted the “inappropriate” joke. He said that he called Sampras to apologize afterwards and that it was something that wouldn’t happen again.
“Hopefully life will allow us to get to know each other a little better,” Agassi said last night.
The two joked with each other during the match and smiled as highlights of their matches played during end changes.
“When they were showing the highlights up there I just looked at it going, ‘Jeez, I was something in my prime,’” Agassi said. “We got in some pretty good shots, hopefully enough to create a little nostalgia, and that’s why we’re here.”
In the opening match, McEnroe took an early lead against Lendl as the players rekindled a rivalry that produced three Grand Slam final showdowns.
The 52-year-old McEnroe had to quit after 35 minutes when leading 6-3 in the first-to-eight set after spraining his left ankle while warming up with Sampras.
‘Had Our Differences’
“We’ve had our differences over the years, but I have a lot of respect for his ability as a player and I know it was difficult for him to play well while I was limping around,” McEnroe said.
McEnroe displayed the crafty volleys and unorthodox shot selections that won him seven Grand Slam titles, while making light of his well-known temper -- throwing his racket in mock effrontery when the chair umpire mispronounced the score.
Lendl, who played in eight straight U.S. Open finals from 1982-89 and won 21 of the pair’s 36 meetings on tour, joked afterwards that they would return next year wearing 1980s-style shorts and swinging wooden rackets.
The 50-year-old Czech native said he knew about McEnroe’s injury before the match and that it affected his play.
“It’s too bad that John just couldn’t move properly,” he said. “If everything went normally it would have been one hell of a fight out there and people would have enjoyed it.”