March 1, 2011 in Sports

Four tennis greats can enjoy each other now

 
Associated Press photo

Pete Sampras reacts during an exhibition tennis match against Andre Agassi at Madison Square Garden.
(Full-size photo)

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 best-of-3 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 on a night full of nostalgia, a reprise of his final match when he beat Agassi in the 2002 U.S. Open final here.

“I came back to the people I love to say hello (to),” 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. But McEnroe never got the chance. He twisted an ankle a couple of hours before the match and retired leading the one-set, first-to-eight match 6-3.

McEnroe was hurt practicing with Sampras but tried to tough it out. He jumped 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 “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 return 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 is taking part in senior events.

“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.”

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.

“In my eyes, it’s over,” Sampras said.

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