Head to head: A rivalry reignited


Originally published on: 17/03/10 15:59

After taking a few ill-received ‘shots’ at his great rival in his candid autobiography ‘Open’, Andre Agassi added fuel to the fire with his actions during the ‘Hit for Haiti’ fundraiser in Indian Wells. While Federer and Nadal laughed off any glimpses of tension, Pete Sampras looked less than impressed – which begs the question, did Agassi overstep the line?

It started (in good humour) with a pigeon-toed walk around the baseline and a healthy dose of banter, but ended with two forced smiles after two legends of the game played out an excruciatingly awkward on-court spat.

In the presence of a baffled Roger and Rafa, Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras – who make up one of the game’s greatest rivalries – traded barbs over the net at the Indian Wells charity event – re-dubbed ‘Hate for Hitty’ in its aftermath.

Committed to raising $1million dollars for victims of the recent Haiti earthquake, ‘Hit for Haiti’ round two successfully followed up Roger Federer’s impromptu Melbourne effort in fundraising terms, but lacked the heartwarming fun of the spirited first event – arranged at the last minute on the eve of the Australian Open.

Clouded by a somewhat cringe worthy display of score-setting, Federer and Nadal – the heroes of the the initial fundraiser – came out as a beacon of model professionalism in comparison to the sniping former greats either side of them.

Sampras, who jovially mimicked Agassi’s famous pigeon-toed walk, quickly lost his smirk when his Las Vegan rival responded with his own impression – turning out his pockets before poking fun at the seven-time Wimbledon champ for being a ‘poor tipper’.

“This rivalry is intense man, Rafa, do something,” squirmed Federer before Sampras shot back with a high, hard serve aimed at Agassi’s head.

“You got personal with me,” Sampras remarked, with a clearly rattled stare that overshadowed his painted grin.

Both men continued to smile through the remainder of their time on-court, but neither turned up to the post-match press conference.

Hardly their finest moment on a tennis court.

Agassi – who made his differences with the 14-time Grand Slam champion clear in his candid autobiography Open – crossed the line in referring to the far from flattering points from his book mid-way through a charity event, and he has since conceded exactly that.

“I was out of line,” he admitted this week, “It was inappropriate. We were all having fun. I was trying to be comedic. I went for it and it fell flat. [Sampras] didn’t really roll with it. I’ve texted Pete to ask him if I can apologise in person.”

“The joke fell flat and I’m sorry,” he added. “My hope was that the night was still enjoyable.”

In a rivalry that is sure to rumble on, Sampras, the ‘robotic’, ‘dull’ and ‘inspiration-lacking’ former world No.1 – and Agassi, the brash Las Vegan – were wrong to air their dirty linen at the centre of a cause in which, in the grand scheme of things, they were anything but the central figures.

Their decision to indulge in petty ego-bashing was eclipsed by the model professionals occupying the other half of the court. In two rivalries that have both produced 22 Grand Slams, the seniors could only snipe, while the current generation shone.

Though amusing at times – with Roger and Rafa once again proving their incredible worth to the modern game – Hit for Haiti ultimately saw a depressing display of petulance from two former greats.


Tim Farthing, Tennishead Editorial Director & Owner, has been a huge tennis fan his whole life. He's a tennis journalist and entrepreneur as well as playing tennis to a national standard. He also helps manage his local club and volunteers for his local tennis organisation. He's a specialist in content about the administration of professional tennis and tennis coaching for all levels.