Once again, Andre Agassi's mouth is at fault
MAY 09, 2014 4:44p ET
Andre Agassi made news in Singapore Thursday when he said he now considers Rafael Nadal to be the greatest player of all time, and Roger Federer only No. 2. It set the tennis world buzzing for some reason.
But to me, it was more of a reminder of one of the most embarrassing things I’ve ever seen in sports. Tennis was trying to show that it had a heart, and used one of its most beautiful settings to show it, Indian Wells, Calif. It was 2010, a quarter of a million people were dead in Haiti from earthquakes, and Andre Agassi and Rafael Nadal played Pete Sampras and Roger Federer to raise money for victims.
They did it in during one of the sport’s most important tournaments. Just added a night of play to help others. Can you imagine? It would be like two baseball teams adding a game for charity the day before the playoffs start.
The players were mic’d up, and Agassi started in on a running commentary. Problem: He and Sampras can’t stand each other. Still. In fact, Agassi had just irritated Sampras by calling him a bad-tipper in his new book; Sampras had said they needed to talk man-to-man.
That night, Sampras made fun of Agassi’s pigeon-toed waddle, and then Agassi pulled out his pockets, empty, without money for a tip, to make fun of Sampras. Nadal, sensing growing tension, asked Agassi to stop talking. And then Sampras yelled out “There we go. I'm a bad tipper. I'm sorry Barack Obama.''
Whatever that meant. And then? Sampras served a ball in anger at Agassi’s head.
All for charity.
Here’s the thing: Nadal is the best player ever. I’ve said it for a few years. He always beats Federer. John McEnroe said it last year, too. Federer still has time to get it back, but he won’t. So Agassi’s comment played into the one rivalry in tennis that still matters to the general sports fan.
But we’re talking about the wrong rivalry. I can’t help but to think that Agassi wasn’t talking Nadal-Federer so much as Agassi-Sampras.
There is no way that Pete Sampras should be left out of the best-ever discussion, but he has been left out the past few years by most people.
Agassi isn’t most people. He was there. He has played all of them. He should know better.
He does it on purpose.
Sampras won 14 majors to Federer’s 17 to Nadal’s 13. Sampras never won the French Open on clay, while the other guys won all four majors on all three surfaces.
But Sampras is left out of the discussion because people think his serve was a fluke. The game was turning too much to power and away from skill and art, and Sampras was just doing it with a massively powerful serve that people think took more away from the game than added to it.
That’s wrong. Sampras actually saved the game from going the all-power way. He kept athleticism in tennis. And Sampras wasn’t 6-foot-8, spiking his serve like a volleyball. At just 6-1, he had to develop what possibly was the greatest shot in tennis history.
Now, he’s punished for it.
Back then, the slow clay at the French was slower than it is now. The grass at Wimbledon was faster than today’s. And it would have been even harder to win all four majors then than it is now, though Agassi managed it.
Sampras had to beat up on a great generation of players including Agassi, Jim Courier, Boris Becker, Michael Chang.
“Agassi isn’t most people. He was there. He has played all of them. He should know better.”
I think Nadal would have beaten Sampras every single time they played on clay. I also don’t think Nadal could have returned Sampras’ serve on grass or hard courts. As great as Nadal is, he has done it by beating Federer, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray.
None of those guys has a massive serve.
This just reminds us of how different rivalries can be. Nadal and Federer are so friendly and respectful of each other. Agassi and Sampras was less of what we say we want, but more of what we really do want.
Tension. Connors-McEnroe. Opposites.
Agassi used that moment in Singapore this week to serve one back at Sampras’ head.
At least he didn’t use a charity event to play it out this time.