"He's one of the persons that I admire a lot in the sport, and to be able to meet him was just amazing". Words by Novak Djokovic, speaking about Pete Sampras. The Kid's main virtues were, according to the Serb, "commitment and just mental mindset, the way he approaches matches, tournaments". That air of perfect guy, focused just on tennis and nothing more that made him the ideal rival for Andre Agassi, with all his deviations from the orthodoxical image of a professional athlete, with his divergent and multiform passions and interests.
The divergence exploded last Friday, during the "Hit for Haiti" charity exhibition opening the Indian Wells Masters 1000. Agassi the apologized, saying he felt "sick" about his behaviour. "It was out of line,", he said to ESPN's Rick Reilly, "It was inappropriate. The night was on fire. We were all having fun. I was trying to be comedic. I only had a split second to make a decision. I went for it and it fell flat. I was trying to get past it, but Pete didn't really let me get past it. He didn't really roll with it. I've texted Pete to ask him if I can apologize in person." But Pistol Pete hasn't texted or called back yet.
For people not knowing what exactly happened, Agassi was showboating while Pete, despite the friendly and relaxed nature of the event, reserved and serious. But when Agassi provoked him, Sampras, despite being a live-and-let-live kind of guy, tried to have some fun imitating Agassi's pigeon walk on the baseline. Then he, who wore a headset microphone as the other protagonists, said to Agassi, ""Say something. Say it.". And he replied, before upset Federer and Nadal, ", "I-I want to impersonate you. I don't have any money...No, no, wait. I got a dollar". Pete, on his serve to Nadal on the ad court, unleashed a serve way over's Agassi head.
The episode refers to an assertion Agassi made in his autobiography "Open", or better biography because the book was written by the Pulitzer prize J.R.Moehringer. Agassi told of betting coach Brad Gilbert about how much Sampras tipped a parking valet. Gilbert said 50$, Agassi 5$. They asked the valet, who said $1.
In the book, Agassi speaks also of the different style and personality between him and Pistol Pete, who won 20 of the 34 matches played by the two. Sampras, who finished his career beating Andre 63 64 57 64 in the 2002 Us Open final, is described as dull, "more robotic than" a parrot. "I envy Pete's dullness. I wish I could emulate his spectacular lack of inspiration, and his peculiar lack of need for inspiration," Agassi wrote.
Probably Agassi reacted so badly to Sampras' leg-pull because he lives his walk as a complex, derived from a serious spinal problem. Although it was far from Pete's intention to deride the rival on a sensible point, on a physical handicap.
This episode enlighten the gap between the Agassi-Sampras rivalry and the Federer-Nadal one. Although apparently Federer can't stand some way out of line exultances and his waste of time on serve, their rivalry, as intense, shows to be classy, respectful and elegant. They are already more mature then the American stars.