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Andre Agassi entertains in Indian Wells tennis benefit

He doesn't win during an exhibition of star-studded men's and women's doubles matchups, but he keeps the crowd smiling.

March 12, 2010|By Diane Pucin

The showcase stadium was sold out Friday night.

Andre Agassi hit a forehand that almost hit Pete Sampras in the back, and everyone in the stadium in the Indian Wells Tennis Garden laughed.

Agassi was playing tennis in his sweatpants, but his groundstrokes were working.

It wasn't exactly competitive tennis, though. This was for charity, an exhibition called "Hit for Haiti," put on by new tournament owner Larry Ellison and his company Oracle. It wouldn't have worked so well though if Agassi, Sampras, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal hadn't agreed to play.

And Steffi Graf, Martina Navratilova, Lindsay Davenport and Justine Henin too.

The goal was to raise $1 million for Haiti earthquake survivors. Most of the tennis was for fun, but there was the occasional purpose point.

Federer finished off one net rally with a cross-court forehand volley winner. "Boy you're good," Agassi said. Agassi challenged an ace call against Federer and lost. But the fun wasn't in the tennis. It was in the chance to see old tennis friends.

"Lindsay is still so thin," said one fan about the mother of two. Graf's perfect ponytail was still shiny and her forehand still had bite.

If you're keeping score, and that wasn't exactly the point, Henin and Navratilova beat Davenport and Graf, 8-6. Federer and Sampras won by the same score.

But the showman was Agassi. After one winner he shouted, "I've got mad skills over here." When Nadal didn't get to another shot, Agassi yelled at his partner, "You move a lot faster on TV."

Federer said the experience of having the four champions on court together was inspiring. "My heroes were [ Boris] Becker and [ Stefan] Edberg growing up. As they retired, Pete was the obvious choice. I loved watching him play. It feels very special to share the court with him. I've never played doubles with him. This is a big moment in my career."

It was a fun moment for Agassi.

When he was serving, Agassi would ask where his opponent, wanted the serve. "Forehand? Backhand? Forehand, of course," Agassi said pointing to Federer. "How fast do you want it?" Agassi said. "Real slow?"

Then Agassi predicted he would serve at 114 mph. He hit 113 mph.

Sometimes the tennis got a little serious. Sampras crushed a forehand winner, then shared a fist bump with his partner.

"You always have to get serious, huh Pete?" Agassi said.

It seemed to get very serious when Agassi made a comment about Sampras' supposed penchant for being a bad tipper. Sampras stopped smiling and then crushed an overhead. At the end he told the crowd, "I tip very well, trust me," Sampras said at the end. Everyone laughed. Then Tony Bennett came out to sing. Tipping was optional.

diane.pucin@latimes.com

twitter.com/mepucin

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