Even though the stakes may not be as high as in their epic clashes of the past, Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras aren’t planning to put on a friendly exhibition.
The two American icons, who staged one of tennis’ greatest rivalries, will play each other Sunday in the southern Chinese gambling enclave Macau.
“It’s going to be competitive tennis — obviously not quite as cutthroat as it once was — but I still feel we can both play quite well,” Sampras said Thursday.
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“As much as it’s an exhibition, there’s still a lot of pride. Our egos are pretty big. Once the first point starts, I’m going to want to beat him.”
“Whenever I stepped out against Andre when we were playing, it was like a heavyweight fight. That’s one thing I miss.”
Both have been brushing up on their game in recent months, ensuring their will not be too much rust for Sunday’s showdown.
Sampras, 38, played on the ATP seniors tour last year and Agassi made a one-time appearance at a seniors event in Arizona earlier this month, where he won two matches before losing to fellow American Todd Martin in straight sets in the final.
Agassi, 39, has been playing consistently in recent months and Sampras said he’s been practicing against juniors in Los Angeles.
The former world No. 1s have 22 Grand Slam titles between them — eight for Agassi and 14 for Sampras. Agassi is one of six men in history to win all four majors and won Olympic gold in Atlanta in 1996. Sampras won what was a record 14 Grand Slams, a mark recently broken by Roger Federer. They played 34 times over a 13-year span, including five major finals.
Even with the passing of years since their memorable clashes of the 1990s and early 2000s, Sunday’s match is likely to see Sampras again relying on his famously accurate and powerful serve, while Agassi’s strength will be his returns and counter-punching groundstrokes.
“I believe having two styles that are so opposite, having two personalities that are so opposite really lent for a great rivalry,” Agassi said.
Sampras recalled their last professional match — his four-set victory over Agassi in the 2002 U.S. Open final. The seven-time Wimbledon champion went into the match struggling with his form, ranked No. 14.
“I felt great. I felt a little vindication. People wrote me off. And I just sort of believed in myself at a time when everyone lost faith in me,” he said.
Sampras added it was fitting to end his career against the same opponent and on the same stage where he claimed his first major victory. A skinny 19-year-old Sampras beat the neon-clad tennis rebel Agassi in straight sets in the 1990 U.S. Open final.