Published February 28, 2011
NEW YORK – 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."