MSG Exhibition: Sampras d. Agassi

Monday, February 28, 2011 /by

2 NEW YORK—It was old-timers' night at Madison Square Garden, full of flashbacks on both the video board and the court. The most striking one of all? A running forehand winner in the second game of the match—by who else but Pete Sampras?—earning the 14-time Grand Slam champion two break points over longtime nemesis Andre Agassi. The balder man returned the favor later in the set, dismissing a fine Sampras serve with a laser-like return winner. Opposites in so many ways, Sampras and Agassi also have contrasting signature shots: Pete the unreturnable serve, Andre the unreturnable return.

There were more of the former than the latter in this match, a 6-3, 7-5 win for Sampras. But Sampras was sharper in all aspects: He seemed to move better, appeared more comfortable out there (did his match against Roger Federer at MSG in 2008, on a similar if not the same court, help his cause today?) and of course, had that potent serve. Agassi said afterward that one of his goals was to break Sampras' serve once. It took him until the fourth game of the second set to do it, and it would be the only time he did so.

As the match progressed, we saw less of the old and more of the new: Two icons whose games have inexorably been impacted by age. Sampras rarely served-and-volleyed; his net forays were often exposed by cross-court passes. But Agassi wasn't his usually reliable, sharp self from beginning to end. He struck too many errors, and two of the ugliest came in the penultimate game of the match, where Sampras broke serve for a 6-5 lead. Sampras has always had Agassi's number in New York City; the flashbacks reminded us of that. Even if the present didn't reflect the past in quality, it did in the result.

—Ed McGrogan

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