The Hit for Haiti 2 made a million dollar donation to Haiti, but it left me with a sour taste in my mouth.
First, Lindsay Davenport and Steffi Graff lost 8-6 to Martina Navratilova and Justine Henin. Henin was coming off a tough early round loss in the actual tournament just hours earlier but it was nice to see her enjoying herself. There’s not much to say about this match. There were a couple of flashy shots here and there but Navratilova and Henin were significantly better. Why didn’t they mix up the teams to make it more even?
Then the main event: Roger Federer and Pete Sampras vs Andre Agassi and Rafael Nadal. After seeing how fun Federer and Nadal were in the first Hit for Haiti in Melbourne, I was pretty excited about this. Throwing in Agassi and Sampras seemed like we were in for maybe the greatest night in tennis. And things started out great. There was a lot of banter between Agassi and Federer with both of them teasing each other much to the delight of the crowd. But as the night went along, Agassi’s mouth just got bigger and bigger.
You know things are getting weird when Rafa Nadal has to tell Agassi to settle down some. And he did for a few minutes. But, as if he couldn’t handle the quiet, he decided to provoke Sampras.
Up to that point, Sampras, and to some extent Nadal, was particularly quiet. Tracy Austin, who was commentating, pretty much nailed it when she said it was just like when they were playing: Agassi was always showboating and Sampras was reserved and serious. Since this was a fun event, I wanted to see Sampras joke around a little and show some personality rather than playing as if it was a slam final. Agassi was clearly relaxed, Federer was enjoying himself, and Nadal was getting into the conversation here and there.
So when Agassi provoked him, I thought would finally see Sampras have some fun. Sampras’s idea of fun was impersonating Agassi. He walked back, fixed his strings, imitated the pigeon walk, walked over the baseline then back. Playing a guy over 34 times results in a pretty spot on impersonation. But then Agassi decided to do his impersonation of Sampras. I thought we were going to see the tongue hanging out, the slumped shoulders, maybe the service motion. Instead, Agassi pulls his pockets inside out and says something along the lines of “Tip? I don’t have any money… Oh wait! Here’s a dollar.”
For those of you who didn’t get it, in Agassi’s autobiography, Open, Agassi writes about an instance where he happened to go to the same restaurant as Sampras. Agassi and his coach, Brad Gilbert, left minutes after Sampras. Beforehand, they bet on how much Sampras would tip the valet. Gilbert thought Sampras would tip plenty considering his daily income, but when they asked the valet, they found out he only tipped him one dollar. Whether you agree with any of these three is besides the point. Agassi decided to bring it up during a live, charity exhibition where everyone was there to have a good time. This resulted in some quarreling between Sampras and Agassi while Federer and Nadal were just standing there clearly feeling incredibly uncomfortable. Federer even asked Nadal to say something but Nadal was at a loss for words. It was an awkward moment for everyone watching and an unnecessarily tense moment between Sampras and Agassi.
Considering how classy Agassi has been in the last decade, this was an unbelievably low blow. Sampras served at Agassi and claimed Agassi made it personal. Agassi said it wasn’t personal because everyone knows. The only good thing that came out of this was that Sampras finally started playing tennis instead of missing every thing that came his way. In the end, Sampras and Federer recovered after being down a break to win 8-6. The match was actually quite enjoyable with everyone exchanging some awesome rallies at various points.
When the match was over, Agassi and Sampras seemed to hug it out during which Sampras said, “You know I only have love for you.” Then when Justin Gimelstob interviewed the players (skipping over Federer and Nadal), Sampras reiterated and said he has no ill feelings towards Agassi. Agassi didn’t reply to Sampras but had some nice words about the event and helping Haiti.
At the end of it all, I don’t understand why Agassi ended up being more mad at Sampras. Agassi instigated the whole fight and Sampras showed some real class by saying what he said. And if you saw the match, you’d agree that during the whole ordeal, Sampras was absolutely fuming.
I’ve been waiting to find a legitimate reason to dislike Justin Gimelstob since everyone else seems to and he finally gave me one. Instead of “setting the record straight” between Agassi and Sampras, Gimelstob thought it was better to “set the record straight” about Sampras’s tipping habits. After reading and praising Agassi’s book and defending him as a person, I’m thoroughly disappointed. He behaved like a spoiled child who found some mysterious reason to be cross with Sampras. At least the other champions exhibited class.
Fun Fact: Sampras and Federer hold a significant combined edge of 30 slams to 14 held by Agassi and Nadal. However, their combined official head-to-head’s are 27-27.
EDITOR NOTE: Added video footage of key incident:
Another link to official full match segments: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cLvllw73vA4
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