NEW YORK -- While Monday's first match -- a 50-something battle between Ivan Lendl and John McEnroe -- ended with a sprained-ankle retirement by McEnroe, the main event in the BNP Paribas Showdown at Madison Square Garden was so not old-man doubles.
Back in the day, Pete Sampras had the game's best serve and Andre Agassi usually neutralized that with a peerless return of service. But eight and a half years after Sampras won the last tournament he ever played -- the 2002 U.S. Open, over Agassi in the final -- that serve overpowered Agassi, early and often.
When one ace down the middle went darting into the crowd, Agassi could only smile and widen his eyes in mock horror -- or maybe it was real. Sampras, it turns out, has borrowed some of today's technology, those super-cool strings that give Rafael Nadal's game some needed pop against Roger Federer.
There was no radar gun at the Garden, but Agassi's former coach Brad Gilbert, who has a keen sense of these things, estimated that Sampras' first serve on this fast court could reach as high as 133 mph. That's good enough to hold serve on a fast court against some of today's better professionals.
Sampras was so supremely confident, on numerous occasions he announced to the crowd behind him where the serve was going -- down the T or out wide. He served and volleyed on second serves with regularity.
In the end, Sampras looked something south of his 39 years and Agassi, in an impression accentuated by his baldness and pigeon-toed gait, looked all of 40 -- and then some. Sampras won 6-3, 7-5 before a supportive, near-sellout crowd of 17,165.
"We played pretty good for a couple of old guys," Sampras said, clearly thrilled with his showing.
Sampras, always concerned with the bottom line, kept coming forward and pressuring Agassi, who looked, frankly, rushed. Agassi, ever the Las Vegas kid, seemed just as intent on entertaining the crowd.
The funny thing? Sampras actually camped it up, making some leaping volleys look a little harder than they might have been. He induced several bursts of laughter in pockets of the crowd with his post-point observations.
"Back when we were playing, Pete's biggest weapon was his serve," Agassi said. "It looked as good as ever."
What was his prematch goal?
"My hope was that I'd get injured, after seeing what happened to poor Johnny Mac," Agassi said, laughing. "Hopefully, we created a little nostalgia. That's why we're here."
That Sampras and Agassi renewed their complicated and contrasting rivalry was a pleasant gift to tennis fans in the dead of winter. They won a combined 22 Grand Slam singles titles, with 14 going to Sampras -- he prevailed in five of six major finals. By their own admission, they experienced some peaks and valleys in their relationship.
This was so not the "Hit for Haiti" disaster of a year ago, when Agassi and Sampras sniped in a charity doubles event at Indian Wells while partners Federer and Nadal twisted awkwardly in the wind.
The two longtime rivals entered amid WWE-style fireworks and the "Star Wars" theme; when one bank of sparks erupted, Sampras seemed startled and abruptly skipped to his place by the net. They made a point of chatting amiably, with smiles on their faces, before the match. In warm-ups, Agassi let a lob go and dropped a between-the-legs shot on the already buzzing crowd. Afterward, Sampras made a point of calling Agassi "a friend and a rival."
Sampras was simply better in the big moments; Agassi prone to the unforced error.
Agassi, trailing 3-5 in the first set, saved two set points, but lost the set when Sampras handled a shot hit right at him with delicate ease.
Agassi double-faulted to give Sampras a critical break in the third game of the second set. Naturally, he broke right back. Serving at 5-all, Agassi fell into a 15-30 hole when Sampras executed a volley winner. A forehand into the net and a backhand long put the match on Sampras' racket.
Still, you sensed that, in the time-honored tradition of exhibitions -- when there is a big payday, it's amazing how many times the result is the three-set maximum -- Agassi would level the set. Not even close.
Sampras' first offering was an ace down the middle, followed by another unreturnable serve. A backhand clipped the net cord and dropped in and, even when Sampras spun in a first serve, Agassi topped it into the net.
"I was a serve-and-volley player, he stayed back," Sampras said. "It was a great clash of titans, like Borg and McEnroe."
One of the surreal (and fascinating) elements of the evening was the big-screen replays of some of Sampras and Agassi's biggest matches, which were played during changeovers. Both players seemed to enjoy watching those clips, along with the fans.
"I had a lot more hair back then," Sampras said, drawing a laugh.
"Pete's looking good," marveled John McEnroe. "It looks like he's been putting in the hours, at least in the gym. I'm not sure how much tennis he's playing. Pete's just moving so well.
"Pete's into it, and that's nice to see. Over the years, you wondered how much he was digging playing."
PETE SAMPRAS - KING OF THE COURT
Re: Sampras beat Agassi 6:3, 7:5 at MSG exhibition
Sampras-Agassi, McEnroe-Lendl renew rivalries
February 28, 2011
NEW YORK (AP) � Pete Sampras held up his hands in apology when his shot ticked off the net and fell in for a winner to give him triple match point against Andre Agassi.
The two were on their best behavior Monday night during their exhibition at Madison Square Garden. No repeats of their charity match last March, when Agassi's jokes got a little too personal and Sampras fired a serve at him in reply.
Sampras won 6-3, 7-5 this time on a night full of nostalgia, a reprise of his final match when he beat Agassi in the 2002 U.S. Open final here in New York.
This city was the site of many memorable career moments for both.
"I came back to the people I love to say hello," Agassi said.
Earlier, John McEnroe had the short shorts and big hair ready to pump up the crowd late in his match against old adversary Ivan Lendl. McEnroe never got the chance, twisting his ankle a couple of hours before the match and having to retire leading 6-3 in the one-set, first-to-eight event.
McEnroe was hurt practicing with Sampras but tried to tough it out. He jumped out to an early lead, aggressively going for shots to try to limit how much running he would have to do.
In an on-court interview with younger brother Patrick afterward, McEnroe revealed he was wearing the "circa 1985" shorts underneath his longer, more modern ones. He said later he also had a wig on hand for the "circa 1982" hair.
Lendl suggested they should return to the Garden next year to play with short shorts and wooden rackets.
That sort of witty banter wasn't likely during their careers, when Lendl and McEnroe faced each other in a record 20 ATP Tour finals. But now they're both in their 50s.
Lendl didn't play for 14 years because of back problems, but with plans to open a junior tennis academy, he returned to the court and has started taking part in senior events.
He's not sure how much he'll keep playing � Lendl doesn't like to travel, preferring to hang out on the golf course at home in Florida and go for long walks with his two German shepherds.
"It's not as if we see each other a whole lot," McEnroe said of their current relationship. "I don't think it's that much different in a way, but it's easier to look at each other in more of a bemused way than in the past. When you're trying to win the majors or be the best and you look at your adversary, it's a lot easier to look at the glass half empty and what's wrong.
"When you get older and there's not as much at stake, you start to say, 'Well, the both of us went through a lot in our own ways.' And you start to look at it: 'Well, maybe once out of 10 jokes he is funny.'"
Four tennis greats with 37 combined Grand Slam titles took the court at the BNP Paribas Showdown. For guys who are long retired, there's still an edge in the air when the Sampras-Agassi and McEnroe-Lendl rivalries are renewed.
The four traded good-natured barbs at a news conference Monday morning, often about their past tensions.
Just under a year ago, Agassi and Sampras faced each other in what was supposed to be a friendly match for charity. Wearing a microphone, Agassi mocked Sampras for being stingy, a claim he had made in his book. Sampras responded with a high, hard serve that forced Agassi to duck.
Asked about the state of his relationship with Sampras, Agassi replied, "Strictly platonic."
"That's the nicest thing you've said about me in two years," Sampras quipped.
"We've straightened it out," Agassi said. "Like I've said 150 times, it was a complete mistake on my part. 'Hit for Haiti' raised a lot of money; we did a lot of good things. But we unfortunately had a microphone on our mouths, and I was talking a lot. One thing wasn't good."
They'd played two exhibitions in Latin America since.
"In my eyes, it's over," Sampras said. "It's unfortunate what happened. Andre apologized. It's just one of those things that sort of got blown out of proportion over the last six months. We're still here. He's a rival and a friend."
PETE SAMPRAS - KING OF THE COURT
Re: Sampras beat Agassi 6:3, 7:5 at MSG exhibition
thank you so much Greg, Pete always beat baldy
__________________ Rafa! Rafa! Rafa!
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