Sunday, Oct. 16, 2011 | 2:05 a.m.
When Andre Agassi took two straight points Saturday against Pete Sampras during a tennis exhibition at the Thomas & Mack Center, the Las Vegas native jokingly had a message for his longtime rival.
“You used to be so good. What happened to you?” Agassi said.
So, Sampras playfully walked off the court, apparently ready to stop playing the eight-point championship set as part of the 12-city “The Champions Series.” That’s when the 6,400 fans at the Mack came to the rescue, chanting Sampras’ name in encouragement to keep playing. He naturally couldn’t pass on sharing the court with Agassi again.
“It is a thrill to play Pete under any circumstances,” Agassi said. “I have had the privilege and disappointment to play him many Sundays with a blimp in the skies and 20,000 people in the arena. To come here in my hometown and play him here, at a time in our lives where we can really embrace what we have meant to each other in our careers, is a special chance for the both of us.”
Agassi won the set 8-5 to capture the Las Vegas stop of the monthlong event, which concludes Oct. 22. The three-match night featured four competitors, with Agassi besting Jim Courier 6-3 and Sampras topping John McEnroe 6-4 in the one-set semifinals.
It seemed only fitting that Agassi win on his home turf. It was his first appearance locally since 1997, when he played in the Las Vegas/USTA Men’s Challenger tennis tournament at UNLV. While most of the night featured light-hearted exchanges between the players, Agassi appeared to be in top physical shape and clearly brought his best effort.
His level of play surely reminded fans of his glory years, when he won eight grand slam titles in becoming one of the sport’s biggest stars and a hall of famer. He was also part host and entertainer, showing the personality that has made him a legend on and off the court.
“It felt like playing Davis Cup in Chile, so congratulations, you guys made Andre the home team and in a beautiful way,” Courier told the crowd. “When he gets that serve going, it opens up the court for him. He’s a freight train and hard to stop.”
Agassi picked up 400 points for the win to move into second place in the series standings with 1,400 points. Sampras earned 200 points and is comfortably in first place with 2,300 points. The top three finishers split $1 million — $500,000 to the winner, $350,000 for second place and $150,000 for third.
On Saturday night, however, points or prize money were far from Agassi’s mind. He cherished playing in front of his hometown fans.
“With all of the memories I have with so many people here individually tonight over the course of my life, and so many memories I had on the professional tour for 21 years, to bring those memories to one place and actually play tennis in my home town puts a ribbon on it for me,” Agassi said.