Sampras, Agassi antics manage to sully otherwise memorable night
As the "Hit for Haiti" exhibition descended into farce at Indian Wells the other night, I couldn't help but wonder what
Consider the magnificence of what had come before. Graf was out there with
Henin seemed relaxed and content -- not so easy, after her loss to
There were some wonderful exchanges. The 53-year-old Martina ended one 10-stroke, point-blank rally with a tremendous backhand cross-court volley, bringing great roars from the crowd. Later, when Graf breezily announced, "I'm not coming to the net," Martina answered, "I am."
When Graf, now 40, was unable to put a solid backhand on a ball around her ankles, Navratilova smiled and said, "It's a long way down, isn't it?" And there was a classic moment when, with Henin trying to serve out the match, Graf unloaded a massive first-serve return winner, giving everyone a glimpse of the most lethal forehand the women's game has ever seen.
("Oh, my God," marveled a friend of mine via telephone. "Steffi looks so good, it hurts.")
It was interesting to hear Graf tell the crowd that she and Agassi haven't imposed tennis on their kids, saying they're more into "baseball, a little bit of horseback riding -- not tennis. We just don't feel like the rackets need to be around the house too much." And it was revealing, in the age of the shrieker, to hear such sweet silence during play. Even with every sound amplified by microphone, these players hit the ball without sounding as if they were fighting off a crazed attacker. Because that's how they always played it. Because it never occurred to them to insult the sport.
In the break between matches, I was thanking the Tennis Channel for putting this (and so much more of Indian Wells) on the air. As a resident of the Bay Area, where we await
If only Agassi and Sampras had held up their end.
Know this: I'm a big-time admirer of both men, and nothing could change how I view them as players. I had the good fortune to cover almost all of their matches at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open over the years. Agassi's recently-published book, "Open," is the most beautifully crafted sports biography I've ever read, and just as I always enjoyed Agassi's gift for the incisive remark, I spent enough time around Sampras to know that he's not nearly as dull as he appeared to be on court.
There's no need to recount their full on-court exchange; surely you've heard it by now, and it's easily accessible on the Internet. The barbs seemed innocent enough at first, Sampras actually firing the first shots with a
From that point on, these were the key violations:
Wow, Pete, could the delivery be a little
No. Let Agassi respond, if he wants. Now it sounds like we're in the third grade.
See, this is way out of line. In his book, Agassi made a point of revealing that Sampras is a lousy tipper. That's fine, but now we're on a tennis court, playing for charity, and all of a sudden the crowd has gone quiet.
Andre, maybe you should just leave the court now. You dragged the stadium and a television audience into a catty, idiotic spat, and it's pretty clear that you don't mind hitting below the belt.
The exchange got so ridiculous, even Nadal, who had been deathly quiet all night, told Agassi to settle down. "Awkward," as Federer said later. "I thought maybe we had to give both guys a timeout." (On-court announcer
At one point, Federer told Gimelstob that tennis competition can be intense, and that as his rivalry continues with Nadal in future years, it will get "fierce." That was diplomatic of Federer, but we all know better.
"What a pity,"
What Agassi and Sampras have, apparently, is more fit for the gutter.