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Posted on: May 04th, 2011

More friction for Agassi and Sampras after exos

- petepage

May 1, 2011 - Since their meeting at Madison Square Garden in March, Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras have continued their exhibition tour in various South American stops. The two played last Wednesday in Argentina—but not against each other, as previously advertised. Agassi beat Jim Courier, 6-4, 7-5, and Sampras bested Mardy Fish, 4-6, 7-5, 10-8, in front of a sell-out crowd of 8,000 in Tigre, near Buenos Aires.

The exhibition was originally scheduled for December, but Agassi asked for a postponement due to a hip injury. Fans were told to save their tickets for April, only to find out just a few weeks prior to the match that the two weren't going to square off against each other.

Sources with knowledge of the negotiations told Sampras declined to play Agassi after the two had a heated conversation following Sampras' two-set win at MSG.

"Andre phoned Pete after that match to tell him he should have slowed down a little bit to make it more entertaining and not take the exhibitions that competitively," said one of the sources. "The conversation didn't have a friendly ending and Pete wanted to cancel the whole thing."

After that, Argentine organizers got an e-mail from tour owners Premier International Group with new directives: both players would play, but not against one another. Courier was called and Fish later replaced the first choice, Marat Safin. A bit comically, local organizers justified the change by arguing, "People have to root for both of them, so we give them [both] the chance to be winners."

Sampras and Agassi spent almost two days in Buenos Aires. They arrived in separate flights, stayed at the same hotel, but on different floors, and didn't share the table at the welcome dinner held on Tuesday. "Sampras asked the organizers not to meet Agassi at any point," the source said.

They gave tennis clinics separately and spoke with the local media at separate press conferences, while the other waited in the VIP lounge. The only time they got together was during the official photo, when Major of Tigre posed between them. They had no real contact at all.

The relationship between the former No. 1 began to worsen when Agassi's explosive 2009 autobiography contained descriptions of his rival as a poor tipper and a narrow-minded person. The two then clashed over the remarks during the 'Hit for Haiti' exhibition held in early 2010 with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in Indian Wells. With the players miked for the event, Sampras made fun of Agassi's pigeon-toed walk, while Agassi mimicked Sampras by feeling around in his pockets and saying he didn't have any money. Sampras answered back with a rocket serve directed toward Agassi's body, and also said, "You got personal."

Agassi later apologized and said things went too far.

During last Tuesday's press conference, Sampras gave a politically correct answer when asked about their relationship. "We get along quite well," he said. "Back in the day it was really tough to have friendships out there especially when you compete for major tournaments. We are very different, different personalities, different games, people...but we get along quite well."

Speaking at his press conference before the event, Agassi said, "My invitation to come here to Argentina was part of a beautiful night of tennis and I was invited to play my long-time competitor and friend Jim."

He then added jokingly, "If Pete wants me to beat him afterward, I'll do that too."

Sampras couldn't have heard him, as he was waiting behind a closed door for his turn to speak.—Jorge Viale

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