Personal rivalries tend to cool once two athletes have retired. Somebody should tell that to Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi.
During a charity doubles match Friday night at the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, the two rivals, who have been engaged in a public war of words over the past six months, aired their grievances on live microphones in front of 18,000 fans and a live television audience. The spat began as an innocent joke by Sampras and quickly escalated into an uncomfortable exchange which included bitter insults, genuine mocking and culminated in a Sampras serve aimed squarely at Agassi's head.
The whole thing was so unbelievable and surreal that it almost didn't seem serious. You kept waiting for someone to laugh and let everyone else in on the joke, but it never happened. The tension was very real. Agassi came across as completely petty and bitter and Sampras appeared baffled by it all. Poor Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer didn't know what to do:
Sampras does a tame imitation of Agassi's much-mocked pigeon walk and then Agassi calls him a cheapskate? What kind of comeback is that? That's a bit of an overreaction, no? (And it's worse that the story is recycled from Agassi's autobiography.)
At least the crowd didn't play along with Agassi. There were more boos than laughs when he made fun of Pete's bad tipping, a reaction which only seemed to force Agassi into digging himself deeper by keeping the "joke" going. After the cracks about valets and dollar bills, Agassi deserved to have the ball served at him. He acted like a jerk.
As usual though, Sampras had the last laugh on the court. He and Federer defeated Agassi and Nadal in the charity match.