Concrete Elbow by Steve Tignor - Head-Shot for Haiti
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Head-Shot for Haiti 03/13/2010 - 12:58 PM

Aa-ps It may have been the last thing anyone expected, or even wanted, out of an evening of charity tennis, but the Hit for Haiti got suspiciously interesting last night. Leave it to the loudest and baldest of its participants, Andre Agassi, to make it happen, by taking the whole event one step farther than necessary.

This, as you know if you’ve read this column before, is a reference to my go-to quote about all things having to do with Andre. It came, as a lot of tennis-oriented quotes do, from Martin Amis, and it went something like, “What we love about Agassi is that he always goes too far, whichever direction it is.”

Whether Andre took it too far Friday night will depend on the perspective—or prejudice, if you prefer—you bring to the match. Were you an Andre fan, or a Pete fan? What do you like in an athlete, energetic personality or quiet class? We can agree on one thing: Once they wire these guys up to a mike, at least one of them needs to talk, and that duty was always going to fall on Agassi. In his years with World Team Tennis and as an in-demand retiree, he has become an all-star of corporate, hit-and-giggle, exhibition tennis, right up there with professional entertainers like Yannick Noah and Mansour Bahrami.

But it’s not a talent that every, and even many, champion owns, and that goes double for Pete Sampras, who looked less-than-totally comfortable right from the beginning. It’s also true of Nadal, who is hardly effusive or even all that happy in English. Plus, there was a weird subtext that I didn’t remember until those three guys took their places on center court. Didn’t Nadal just rip Agassi, pretty seriously rip Agassi, for revealing his hushed-up positive drug test? And didn’t Pete recently punch back at Andre for calling him cheap and boring, all in the name of selling a book? And while we’re at it, didn’t Agassi just make the rounds of every media outlet imaginable and unimaginable, telling us in chastened tones about how much he hated tennis and how much he regretted half the things he’s done in his life?

Well, yeah, but you wouldn’t have known there was any tension at all from the way Agassi took the court. He came to play—I could see in the warm-ups that he had his strokes clicking—he came to entertain, he came to try to plant a ball in Roger Federer’s chest. It took him all of two seconds for his enthusiasm to bubble over the top. When Justin Gimelstob asked him before they began playing, “What did you think of you wife’s performance [referring to Steffi Graf in the previous doubles match], Andre responded, “You mean on the court?” When the crowd let out a collectively embarrassed giggle, he yelled, “Get your mind out of the gutter!” The Hit for Haiti was off to a very crass and very funny start.

As an Andre fan, I enjoyed the performance. I thought he was right to call out Sampras for not saying anything—I know it’s not Pete’s thing, but his silence over the course of the set was pretty conspicuous. Nadal and Federer had at least made stabs at countering Andre’s chatter-dominance. And when Andre mocked Pete’s cheapness again by pulling his empty sweats-pockets out, I didn’t think it was malicious. I got the impression that he thought Pete would find it funny, because he’d recently called Pete to try to put the book situation behind them. I thought Pete’s serve at Andre’s head was equally funny. But it was also a little too close to Agassi’s dome for comfort, and the moment got a little too real for comfort. Some of the air went out of the stadium after that, as we all asked each other, “What was that about?” Seeing it again later on TV, and seeing Sampras’ face up close, it didn’t look quite as serious, but there’s no question that neither guy knew exactly how to act afterward.

Andre kept talking, with the same borderline-crass humor. Asked by  Gimelstob on the next changeover how the evening was going, he answered, a little too glibly for the moment and the topic, “It’s all for Haiti, baby”—the line made me laugh, even if it wasn’t in the most appropriate somber taste. As for Pete, he got more serious. As on most occasions, let his racquet do the talking late in the set, when he came up with a couple bomb serves that reminded everyone of why he was on this court in the first place. Two people I talked to thought this was poetic justice for Sampras. My prejudices firmly in place, I was more impressed—knocked back, really—by a forehand that Agassi had hit earlier in the match. He snapped his wrist and drilled it with such high-velocity precision at Federer’s feet that  the greatest player in the world couldn’t do anything but dance out of the way. It was eye-popping, and just what the crowd came to see. But it also seemed to make Federer a little uncomfortable—was this bald, drug-snorting maniac trying to hurt him? No, it was Andre, overenthused frat boy and world-class philanthropist, meth-head and career Grand Slammer, going too far again.

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Posted by Dorf 03/13/2010 at 11:20 PM

Maybe Andre is on drugs.

Posted by Andrea 03/13/2010 at 11:21 PM

I just read this I was with you until your very last sentence. Frat boy? Agassi resembles a frat boy in no way, shape or form. Does he act entitled? Snobby? Does he drink a lot? Did he even GO to college? No, no, no. You made the mistake that so many reporters always have about him, as he wrote about in his book, of mischaracterizing him. I agree he can take things too far. But frat boy? That's an even worse description than "rocker" or "punk".

Posted by Dorf 03/13/2010 at 11:22 PM

For exhibitions, Andre should have his bald head painted just like a tennis ball.

Posted by VaLynn 03/13/2010 at 11:25 PM

I'm with the people who say that Agassi was a jerk last night. He's just plain mean, and I have another example. I went to an exhibition in Richmond a few years ago. It was a benefit for inner city tennis programs, and the ball kids looked to be from the programs. So they weren't as practiced as ball kids at tournaments, but they tried really hard and did a good job. During the warm-up, one girl fed balls to the players that she bounced too hard. After taking a few balls from her, Agassi bounced one back to her really hard. She got the message and did it softer after that. This was during the warm-up, and I thought he could have walked the few feet over to her and nicely asked her to bounce it easier.

Posted by CrazyStuff 03/13/2010 at 11:50 PM

And what is the advertisement about Longines. The theme is "Learn to give respect, responsibly, sharing and giving a bit of your time". Agassi didn't do any of it in last night exhbition. He is a preacher and doesn't parctice. Its a shame. The whole foundation and charity thing is a mask to hide his frail and egotistic personality. Poor kids, they may have learned a thing or tow after watching last night's match.

Posted by THE TRUTH 03/14/2010 at 12:18 AM

During pete's carreer he has had so much respect, now that he has retired, not so much.Agassi is making it worse for Pete by writing lies in his book.BTW Pete gives great tipes.Agassi has always been jealous of Pete, because Pete has always been better than him.Agassi does all the talking while Pete takes action.Actions speak louder than words, thats how i see Sampras and Agassi.Pete should of given Agassi a nice slap across his face.It just goes to show though how lucky we are to have Federe and Nadal, both classier,more talented, smarter, this list goes on............

Posted by sigmund 03/14/2010 at 12:56 AM

I just watched the Australian HFH this morning after reading about this - I watched the IW HFH but missed the tense part between Pete & Andre.

Wow - the "kids" definitely know how to do this sort of thing much better than the "legends". They definitely took it less seriously and played in the right spirit of the occasion, gave everyone a good time. The Australian one was much much funnier. Maybe it was because there were more players and there was a good team spirit. Jim Courier was hilarious and pity he wasn't invited back to be guest umpire in Indian Wells. Mixed doubles was a great idea and should have done it at IW.

I thought even the ladies got a bit too serious and competitive towards the end, although Martina (and to an extent Steffi) did a good job of keeping things light. The guys were just....weird. Feel sorry for Roger & Rafa.

Posted by Marie 03/14/2010 at 12:58 AM

Good to see Nadal back, also its great to watch Sampras, Agassi, Federer and Nadal all together. The "BEST" in tennis ever all four of them. I do hope some of this help goes out to help Chili too, they also have pain and suffering there after that large and strong earth quake they had, the largest quake ever recorded. Good job guys!! Stay well Nadal! We missed you!!

Posted by Zeeshan 03/14/2010 at 01:57 AM

You not only have to be an Agassi fan but also have a sick sense of humor to think he did not cross the line. It was just wrong.

Posted by Denis 03/14/2010 at 03:23 AM

I am also suprised that Pete can't take a joke. So what if Agassi was making fun of him about tiping? It was funny to me. One dollar to a valet?lol

Posted by Red⁺ = Legacy Solidified 03/14/2010 at 04:19 AM

HFH2, had fun for about 10 minutes then...ugh!

Posted by Mike 03/14/2010 at 06:01 AM

I dunno guys, I think that was 'roid rage. Agassi looks like he's been 'roiding up big time. That's why he can hit a forehand like that at his age. I know Magnus Norman once accused him of using steroids and planned to write a book about it. I wonder what happened with that?

All in all I'm just glad that even Agassi fans are finally seeing him for the jerk I've always thought he was.

Posted by md 03/14/2010 at 06:26 AM

Amazing that anyone is criticising Sampras. Agassi was out of order. I have now seen the relevant part of the match. Sampras did a pretty good Agassi impersonation. Agassi was out of order, repeating the trash in his book. He seemed intent on proving he was the wittiest, quickest witted and the boss on court. Federer was mildly humourous and tried hard to take the sting out of Agassi's nonsense. Sampras hit the serve at Agassi and knew there was no way it would hit him. Ultimately, Agassi does not know have to behave, is not a gentleman and should be dropped for such events. The underlying pettiness in his character shone through.

Posted by md 03/14/2010 at 06:30 AM

Another factors is why would anyone expect Sampras to come on court and suddenly be talkative? Less is more frequently and these matches do not need a prima donna trying to take control. Would anyone expect Bjorn Borg to suddenly start wise cracking in such an event? Of course not a- ditto for Sampras. Nadal is not a talker either, at least not in English which is fair enough. Federer could have done this event in anyone of at least four languages and probably be equally witty in all them. There is more to humour than wisecracking and slapstick. These guys are tennis players, so lets see trick shots, shots they would never play in matches, points played with silly angles etc etc. What is not needed is some egomanical guy with no class ruining a perfectly pleasant event.

Posted by md 03/14/2010 at 06:34 AM

Agassi certainly looks like he is on something. I doubt if it is steroids. I suspect creatine which can do funny things to some people. There are anecdotal accounts of it making people meaner, bad tempered and impotent. Take your pick.

Posted by Mate 03/14/2010 at 07:44 AM

Not going to add my opinion on the bust-up, other than to say I think they both lost it a bit and neither came out looking especially good.

As to who looked better on the court: Agassi and Federer were clearly the best. Remember that nobody was playing at top level. Agassi and Fed have the hand-eye and touch skills to still look incredible though. Rafa's skills - epic topspin, hitting ridiculous forehands on the run - were simply not on display. Sampras looked a bit past it although still cracked out some decent serves and a couple of volleys.

Posted by Tfactor 03/14/2010 at 08:08 AM

Late to the party but wanted to say thanks to Steve for this post.
I was (am) an Andre fan but haven't been too happy since the book/revelations came to the surface.
I thought Andre was over the top from the beginning but at first I believed it was more because he knew the other three were not exactly going to be that entertaining due to personality/language issues -although I think Fed is generally great at these things- but as the evening wore on it seemed there were deeper issues at play.
Still, like I said on other threads, I don't think it was as bad as some people make it seem. There is tension between Pete and Andre and put in a situation like that is hard to tell how anyone would react.
Rafa admitted afterwards he was happy to be in the event and that he didn't understand 'nothing' (his own word), hehe
Fed was good, like he was during the first H4H, especially before it got awkward follwing the tip/shot to the head incidents.
Finally I have to agree with what Christopher wrote:
"I would have much rather seen McEnroe and Federer v. Nadal and Borg. Tennis may have driven JMac crazy at times, but few have ever loved the game as much"
Although there is no telling what McEnroe would have done -or Borg for that matter :)
The constant here, at least for now, is that Roger is going to try to keep things lively in a very diplomatic way and Rafa is going to smile and have fun without understanding much of what goes on (unless they do one in Spanish) ;-)

Posted by TennisFan2 (unabashed fan of Rafa and Serena) 03/14/2010 at 08:33 AM

TFactor @ 8:08 +1

I also agree with Christopher's suggested pairings - it would have been nice to see the older generation of greats with Fed and Rafa.

In hindsight I think Andre's book, the fallout from the book and perhaps even the fact that not enough years have passed since Andre and Pete went head to head should have been considered before making these pairings.

Posted by streams 03/14/2010 at 08:59 AM

I hope Steffi gave Andre an ear full when he got home ... how embarassing for her

Posted by Erich 03/14/2010 at 09:38 AM

I have always been split down the middle on Pete and Andre. But I was shocked that Agassi would almost ruin the moment with his inappropriately timed comments. There was no reason to "go there". And within minutes I figured it all out: Agassi is simply jealous of Pete, period. Pete was the better player, and crowds loved him just as much as Andre. No matter what Andre ever did, no matter how hard he tried, Pete was always better. And, whereas Andre claims he had a rough life, Pete always made it look easy. On Friday night, Andre tried to beat Pete the only way he thought he could - with his mouth, but even that failed. Pete's quiet class outdid his crass arrogance. Maybe Andre better start seeing someone to deal with his resentment issues across the board. His father, his life, his opponents, where does it end?

Posted by Grace 03/14/2010 at 10:01 AM

This kind of reminds us of how drama free Federer and Nadal are.

Posted by Queeny 03/14/2010 at 10:52 AM

Please Rogewr and Rafa don't change. Agassi should look up to you two. He was pathetic!

Posted by vanfan 03/14/2010 at 11:29 AM

Pete started it.

Posted by tina 03/14/2010 at 11:49 AM

Pete started it and then took it to the physical level. I know that people get beaned in doubles all the time - when they're at net, and it's fair game. But how about Pete's own display of rage? Maybe he's a drunk.

Posted by wilson75 03/14/2010 at 12:01 PM

The main problem was that the original was was a spontaneous event with very little time for planning and a genuine desire to contribute to Haiti relief. This version imo was to an opportunity for the new owner to put his stamp on the event, bring attention to the tournament and an attempt to somehow top the other one by inviting the 2 biggest names in American tennis to play with the two biggest names of today. I think Haiti relief was secondary to all those other objectives. I'm glad they rose a lot of money but it may have better if Mr. Ellison donated a million dollar cheque to the Red Cross at the end of the tournament. Furthermore Sampras should have declined the invitation and given a cheque as well but he too probably saw it as an opportunity to get keep his name out there.

Posted by Account Deleted 03/14/2010 at 12:39 PM

I am sorry, maybe Americans have different manners. Agassi owes Sampras an apology and he instead insults him. Agassi should be arrested over his drug abuse admissions and then he would be wallowing in the place he deserves to be.
At least he would then have something to be sorry about. He is a loser!

Posted by Rafanatic(Geraldine Straughn) 03/14/2010 at 12:54 PM

Please people stop making a mountain out of a molehill enough already,I am so sick of all the stupid talk Andre is Andre Pete is Pete one is lively and over the top one is dull .

Posted by amparker 03/14/2010 at 01:06 PM

I thought Andre was disgusting and Pete could have made many cheap shots at him, but did not. I don't think Agassi was just being funny, I think he was embarrassingly defensive, offensive and all around narcissistic. The great philanthropist is also a self-important baby-- nowhere near the class of Federer, Nadal and Sampras.

Posted by amparker 03/14/2010 at 01:09 PM

I'm American and I agree 100% that Europeans tend to have better manners, not always, but many times do. Many Americans, including Sampras behave graciously.

Posted by auntigranni 03/14/2010 at 02:38 PM

it goes to show that agassi thinks he can get away with anything(tipping is optional)and if you are agassi drugging is optional too.he can getaway with anything!!!

Posted by A Tennis Coach 03/14/2010 at 02:57 PM

on the whole 'cheap tipping' thing, who knows for sure what pete tips? who knows what anyone actually tips. it was a cheap shot in the book and a cheaper shot at the exo- for agassi to put it out there in print when it wasn't even first hand knowledge should tell us what he was trying to do- hurt pete and take him down a peg. it didn't work- i was a agassi fan when he played and preferred his style over pete's. now, not so much- and as far as pete trying to figure out what to do with his life, really? he's got kids and a wife, i'm sure he gets up in the morning with an agenda

Posted by Paul 03/14/2010 at 03:43 PM

All I know is that I had to stop watching the match after Andre's was embarrassing beyond belief, and unappropriate at any time, but especially given the the spirit/theme of the evening.......I have always been a huge Agassi fan, but on this night I could not excuse his pathetic and senseless choice of antics....were there not other ways of clowning with Pete....??? - and I felt so bad for Pete, who has always been a classy guy, and a tennis player no more no less. You could tell he was shaken.

What was Andre THINKING? He truly owes Pete, Fed and Rafa a heart felt apology for ruining one of the most important philanthropic nights in tennis history.

Didn't make any sense.....

Posted by tina 03/14/2010 at 04:54 PM

And with all the comments on here about how classy Graf is - I worship her as a player, but I still have problems with her reaction, or lack thereof, to the stabbing of Seles, the ugliest asterisk in the sport.

Posted by ikelly 03/14/2010 at 06:08 PM

The demons are still alive in Andre. He should look into psychotherapy to get them out. Obviously Steffi has not been able to unburden his soul. There is too much anger in there for him to do public exhibitions. Still . . . I love Andre . . .demons and all!!!! Don't we all have them?

Posted by AndreSuxArss 03/14/2010 at 07:44 PM

What a looser andre has become, I mean there is a limit to everything regardless to what drug you are taking before an exhibition. Andre crossed that limit countless times last night, he should be banned from any and all exhibitions in the future. A guy that had earned millions of dollars playing tennis should have enough honor and respect for the game to keep his mouth shut when nothing good is coming out of it. That bald headed moron thinks pete is cheap even though pete’s has donated hundreds of thousands in charity for years. So what he paid a dollar tip.....just because you are a millionare doesn’t meant you always have millions on you. People nowadays carry credit cards and such so maybe he just wasn’t carrying any cash. That piece of trash just is pissed cuz pete will always be better then andre and when you go down the top ten players in the world after Fed/nadal era is over, Andre will be nowhere on the list and Pete will ofcourse be there. All in all, andre has zero class and that’s just as much respect everyone should have for him.

Posted by GeorgeN 03/14/2010 at 08:01 PM

Pete & Federer is real class.

Andre's behavour was so cheap, like usual.
And too much talking.

Pete didn't talk, he is pure class and real man at the same time, threw a ball on a crying boy that "hates tennis", and gets hidden behind silly humour and too much talking.

Respect to Nadal, pure tennis fighter, and that's all, no bullshit in the tennis courts.

Posted by rada tome 03/14/2010 at 08:24 PM

Pete is a class guy, did not need to take drugs to play better, HE SHOULD BE BANNED

Posted by rada tome 03/14/2010 at 08:29 PM

Pete is a class guy. He did not need drugs to play better like Agassi did and Agassi should BE BANNED from any other meetings for charity.He spoiled the night for many of us.
I would not buy agassis book even it was free.And cannot wait for Brooke his ex to write the truth about their married life.
HE ACTED LIKE JERRY SPRINGERS quests.... cheap, no class, ugly as well.

Posted by TENNISFREEK204 03/14/2010 at 09:20 PM

Fan of both Andre and Pete....Andre went over the line...this is supposed to be a gentleman's sport

Posted by Alex B 03/17/2010 at 04:50 PM

well Steve my credentials as an Agassi fanatic are extremely solid. As good as anyone's.Regarding the book I wasn't too happy with his never before heard excuses for Grand Slam losses. ( rib pain before the US Open final in 1995, hair falling off in 1990, didn't feel like playing Becker in the AO final)and wasn't happy about his treatment of Sampras either. But I think this is inexcusable. Attacking your former rivals moral character in the open for virtually no apparent reason. No apology will ever suffice and honestly I feel he's a dick.

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