"I wish I could emulate his spectacular lack of inspiration" - What Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi have said about each other over the years

Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras held the World No.1 ranking in the 1990s
Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras held the World No.1 ranking in the 1990s

Before Roger Federer entered the scene and began the Golden Era of the Big 3 dominance, it was Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi who dominated the tennis scene. Both American men were known for their contrasting styles of tennis and temperament.

Sampras was a wonderful all-courter, possessing a big serve and backing it up with a serve & volley and superior offense from his forehand wing. Agassi, on the other hand, was an accurate returner, with flat groundstrokes, cross-court shots and surprise drop shots in the latter phase of his career.

Both were ranked World No. 1 during the 1990s. They played each other 34 times in a span of 13 years. Sampras led their rivalry with a 20-14 win-loss record. He led Agassi 6-3 in Slams, 4-2 in year-ending championships and 5-4 in matches below the Masters tier. Both players are tied at 5-5 in matches played in the Masters event.

While Sampras finished his career as the then-leader of the Grand Slam tally count (14), Agassi completed the Career Slam and was the first male player to complete a Career Golden Slam (all four Majors and the Olympic Gold). Over the years, both players have had an interesting off-court rivalry. They have been both sweet and salty towards each other, while also ensuring that they become an example for the future generations.

Let's take a look at what the two have said about each other over the years.

1994: Sampras lauds Agassi's sportsmanship

Sampras with the 1994 Lipton Championships trophy
Sampras with the 1994 Lipton Championships trophy

The 1994 season saw Sampras clinch the Australian Open. He later won the Indian Wells title and seemed a heavy favorite to claim his maiden Sunshine Double. But tragedy struck when, hours before the match, he woke up nauseated, heaving and gagging.

"I remember the 1994 Lipton final against Agassi. I woke up feeling sick, and he was the ultimate sport about it. The best sportsmanship move I have ever seen. Little did I know I had ulcer that makes you feel sick, and I was throwing up in the morning. They asked him if he would delay the final to get an IV in me and see if I could play. He was nice enough to say okay. I got an IV in me and was able to play and had this new lease on life. Crazy enough, I came out relaxed and ended up winning the match,” Sampras said.

Agassi detailed the experience in his autobiography, "Open":

“The doctor gives Pete an IV, then props him on his feet. Pete wobbles, a newborn colt. 'He’ll never make it. Should be a short night,' I tell Brad [Gilbert]. But Pete does it again. He sends his evil twin onto the court. This is not the Pete who was curled in a ball on the locker room floor. This is not the Pete who was getting an IV and wobbling in circles. This Pete is in the prime of life, serving at warp speed, barely breaking a sweat. He’s playing his best tennis, unbeatable, and he jumps out to a 5-1 lead. Now I’m angry. I feel as if I found a wounded bird, brought it home, and nursed it back to health, only to have it try to peck my eyes out. I fight back and win the set. Surely I’ve withstood the only attack Pete can mount. He can’t possibly have anything left. But in the second set he’s even better. And in the third he’s a freak,” Agassi said.

1995: The peak of the rivalry

1995 Newsweek Champions Cup
1995 Newsweek Champions Cup

The 1995 Australian Open saw Agassi defeat Sampras in the final. Six weeks later, the two faced each other yet again in the finals of Miami. Sampras was the defending champion and he recorded a straight sets win to do so.

As per the Los Angeles Times, after the match, here is what the two players said about each other:

“When I play Andre, it’s like two heavyweights going at it. He’s one guy who, I feel like, even if I play well, he can beat me,” Sampras said.
“Pete and I are 1-1 this year in big matches. And you know, we are going to stay at it. I am feeling great about my game, and there is just one guy who is ticking me off right now,” said Agassi.

2010: Peak of the verbal exchanges

In 2010, Haiti was shaken by an earthquake. Roger Federer and Sampras faced Rafael Nadal and Agassi in a doubles exhibition match to raise money for the victims. The atmosphere in Indian Wells was joyous, with Sampras-Federer eventually triumphing.

However, during the match things got momentarily icy between the two retired legends. The Washington native impersonated Agassi in a fun gesture. But Agassi reverted back by bringing up an old incident which has led to Sampras' reputation as being a bad tipper.

"I want to impersonate you," said Agassi
"Ok go ahead," said Sampras.
"I don't have any money. No, wait, I've got a dollar! It's all fun and games until somebody gets hurt, huh?" said Agassi
"If that's the way you want to play it," responded Sampras

Sampras was serving, returning to Nadal. But what followed was nothing short of stunning. He launched one of those Pistol Pete serves right at Agassi.

"You know what, it's better than being a valet driver and you pulling up," said Agassi
"You got personal with me," Sampras said.
"No, no, everybody knows it already, Pete. Nothing personal," said Agassi

In 2011, the Las Vegas Review Journal reported that both players have moved on following the incident.

"The hiccup in Palm Springs was an overstep on my part. I should not have done it," Agassi said.
"I don't want a five-minute skirmish at Indian Wells to throw away 15 to 20 years of friendship. In my eyes, I've moved on." said Sampras.

2010: Agassi's raw autobiography

Andre Agassi Signs His Book 'Open'
Andre Agassi Signs His Book 'Open'

Agassi's autobiography, "Open" was full of revelations. He detailed the turbulent phase of his career, dealing with a shock loss at the 1995 US Open and later suffering from psychological issues.

“I envy Pete's dullness. I wish I could emulate his spectacular lack of inspiration, and his peculiar lack of need for inspiration. We could not be more different, Pete and I,” wrote Agassi.

He even said that Pete sounded more robotic than a parrot.

According to The Sydney Morning Herald, when asked about it, Sampras said:

“He was a big rival. I think it's a reflection that I didn't know Andre all that well in our competitive days. Got to know him a little bit better as we got older, but in (our) mid-20s at times he was there and at times he was a little removed. Little did I know he was getting involved in some bad decisions," he said.
"He had a lot of peaks and valleys, a lot of ups. Everyone's sort of asking about it and talking about the crystal meth. He decided to bring it out now, which was a little surprising, but Andre always likes to separate himself from the rest, good or bad. I got wind of a few things that he said about me, and I was a little surprised and a little disappointed. I always felt like Andre and I had risen above taking shots at one another."
"When I did my book, it wasn't my way of settling scores or taking shots. We were going in two different directions. I think he was sort of lost and not sure what he wanted, and I knew exactly where I wanted to go. In order to be the best player in the world, tennis has to be your life. It's a sacrifice, and something I was willing to do and it was something he was willing to do at times. But consistently I was willing to sacrifice more than many. You can't have it both ways. I did it my way, and I have no regrets when I look back on my career that it was just a big focus for me," he added.

2011: Back on Court

After both players turned 40, they found themselves playing on the ATP Champions Series tour. They were scheduled to play in the finals of one of the tournaments of the series in 2011 in Los Angeles.

Before the match, the two said:

"We're both husbands and fathers, and that's impacted our lives in a positive way. We didn't know each other back then when we were competing on the (ATP) tour. But this tour has given us time to travel together and get to know each other. Pete's a really good person. I see Pete in a different light now, and it's been a pleasure getting to know him better," said Agassi
"I've always liked Andre, even though I didn't really know Andre. When we start talking about our kids -- being fathers, being husbands -- there's a bond we have that I didn't realize existed," said Sampras

2020: Sampras' best match? One against the 'greatest returner'

A report on the ATP Tour website details Sampras' response when asked about the best match he ever played. He picked up the 1999 Wimbledon final against Agassi, which he won in less than 2 hours.

“I played perfect grasscourt tennis — moving well, returning and serving well against the best returner in the world. I was playing as well as I could and I got into the zone a bit,” said Sampras.

2020: Honoring the legacy

Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi
Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi

The ATP Tour Uncovered broadcast series follows players around the globe. During one of these coverages, Sampras and Agassi were all praise for their rivalry.

“It’s a great match up, both of us Americans, different styles of play and games. It’s a contrast and it has the ingredients of a rivalry. It’s different when I play him; there is a lot of respect for each other. We’ve competed since we were eight years old, playing junior tennis. I need to step up whenever I play him,” said Sampras
"I felt if I played my best tennis, I can beat anyone. If I played my best tennis against Pete, it still doesn’t mean I will win. He’s taken away a lot of titles from me and caused me a lot of sleepless nights. I’m grateful now to have had him in my career,” said Agassi

2021: Agassi is all praise for his greatest rival

The Andre Agassi Foundation for Education has been doing philanthropic work since 1994 and has raised over $180 million. During one of his travels, Agassi was asked about his long-term rival where he said:

"One of the things that I appreciated, respected, envied and hated sometimes about Pete was how easy he made it look. Because it never looked like he was stressed. He just did what he did," - Agassi said, while talking about his educational initiatives.

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Edited by Anirudh
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