MACAU - Pete Sampras edged by Andre Agassi in three sets yesterday as the two retired American tennis greats revisited one of the sport's greatest rivalries.
The 3-6, 6-3, 10-8 win in this southern Chinese gambling enclave was the first time the two had played since Sampras won in the 2002 U.S. Open final for his then-record 14th Grand Slam.
The fast indoor surface at The Venetian Macao arena favored Sampras' attacking style, but it was Agassi who came out strong in the first set. He showed no signs of the bad back that required four injections during his final tournament, the 2006 U.S. Open.
"Somehow when you see Pete, it all comes back to you pretty quickly," Agassi said. "I just go, 'Well, I don't really have much of a choice here.' It's just nice to be so familiar with somebody's game."
Sampras, who beat Roger Federer at the same venue in an exhibition 2 years ago, bounced back in the second set, serving an ace and using a delicate pickup volley to draw even.
He continued to have the advantage in the super tiebreaker, overwhelming Agassi with a powerful serve. Trailing 9-6, Agassi saved two match points - the second with a down-the-line backhand winner - but Sampras served out the match with another ace.
"Andre just hits the ball so cleanly, even after being retired for 3 years. The pace of his shots was very heavy," Sampras said, noting Agassi served more aces than he did.
"How many times does that happen?" Agassi joked.
The two Americans captivated fans in the 1990s and early 2000s with their contrasting styles and personalities. Sampras led their head-to-head series 20 to 14, including 4 to 1 in Grand Slam finals.
"Pete's hands are the same as they've always been," Agassi said. "He has great feel for the ball. He surprised me with the number of pickups he made out there. It was like it just came very naturally."