Just gonna freewheel this summary of the many things I noticed at the big Madison Square Garden tennis exhibition.
First got there and saw Rafter and Sampras on the far side of the dark gray court, doing a clinic with about four or five dozen adults. They were just rolling their serves but still the mortals were struggling to keep up, the disparity of talent was worlds apart.
One guy ran for a short forehand and completely wiped out, crashing hard to the floor. Quite embarrassing for him but luckily he got up okay and took a bow with a smile. One guy was wearing a fresh Agassi white Nike shirt from 1996, the year Andre showed up overweight and lost early, still remember John Lloyd criticizing Agassi’s fitness that match.
Woody Schneider, who runs two tennis shops in the city and is a bit of a legend, told a story about McEnroe agreeing to come do a signing a few years ago at one of his stores and getting caught in traffic. Mac jumped out of the taxi and hoofed it the rest of the way to the store. Also, some of the fans waiting for Mac were a bit overzealous but Woody said Mac handled them all perfectly.
Steve Tignor of Tennis Magazine got to hit with Mac, Pete, Rafter, Agassi and Courier who was on hand as a sub if Pete couldn’t play (calf injury) and Tignor was doing surprisingly well with them. Very consistent, nice lefty forehand, working backhand. Courier joked that they found a new warm-up guy for the tour.
Sampras and Rafter chatting away a few times like old mates even though they had some fierce battles back in the heyday. I still remember Pete firing a serve in Cinncy that busted clear through Rafter’s strings.
The first match is Rafter vs. Pete. After the first point, Rafter walks to the ad court to recieve and spots Fernando Verdasco in the front row in his line of vision and gives an acknowledgement of non verbal surprise like Hey hi how are you mate? Verdasco was there with a stunning petite Asian girl, he said later he was on holiday. Rafter is the coolest guy, you talk with him and he has a way of connecting with you like a regular guy, so engaging and funny and good spirited. The most humble superstar you will ever meet. He shared some great memories of his matches with Roger Federer for my book. By the way he was 3-0 vs. The Rodge. IMG agent Gary Swain and Pete, Andre, Jim and Johnny Mac also shared early Fed memories with me.
Back to Rafter. He sat in the first row of the crowd after one changeover, talking with two lukcy women. He also took a cap off a ballgirl after getting broken, put it on his head backwards, then playfully giving it back to the confused girl.
Rafter looked strong and Pete was clearly hobbled by his calf, which he wore two black high socks to help it. Rafter won the set 63.
Andre was off his game and dug a big hole vs. Mac but ended up making it close at 64. Agassi showed fire when he won a good point during his comeback in the match, he gritted his teeth like an animal trying to pump himself up but it was not his night.
Mac’s intensity is a wonder to watch. He still wants to win so much. And he has a style which forces Agassi to go for his shots and if he misses, Mac knows how to keep the pressure on. Mac actually moved better than Agassi who could have been stiff from flying in late.
In the final vs. Rafter, Mac was overmatched but he gave it his all. He tried his tricks with the linespeople and while doing so, Rafter just smiled and enjoyed the show. 13 years was too much for Mac but it almost appeared like it was a father son match, the age difference seemed larger between the two than 13 years.
There are always some funny moments with Mac, one guy yelled out in the crowd, You CANNOT BE SERIOUS. And Mac paused and then yelled back at the guy, Now I can’t use that line tonight!
Mac and Djokovic might be the two funniest guys in tennis history.
At the end of the Agassi-Mac set, Christina McHale and her mom walked by right in front of his in the first row behind the baseline. She was barely recognizable without the visor, she just seemed like a regular teenager, not a top 50 rising star in tennis. Her and mom didn’t stay to see the final pro set. But Verdasco did.
Verdasco gave Agassi a standing ovation and nice applause when he came to the court, introduced by MC Brett Haber. But Verdasco did not clap his hands for McEnroe who entered first.
Then when Haber introduced them both again during the warmups, he again clapped for Agassi but not McEnroe.
Pete used a blacked out Babolat. Agassi also used a Babolat the yellow and black and white one. Rafter wore white Asics shoes, orange adidas shorts and white adidas top. Agassi wore black adidas and the white and orange adidas shoes. Pete wore black shorts and white gray and lime green Nike top and also those old Vapors from about six years ago. Pete always sticks with one shoe for years and years, unlike most of the Nike guys who change several times each year. Remember Pete wore those classic Oscillates for like the last eight years of his career.
Not much of a media turnout, just a dozen or two, including Pete Bodo, Tignor, Ed McGrogan from Tennis.com and also Steve Flink the noted author and journalist. Also, Karen and Jen from Tennispanorama.com.
These were some of many observations on this wonderful night. Wish I could tell you more about what each player told me about Federer but gonna save those anecdotes for the book.