As a guy who once had his right orbital bone broken by a tennis ball I never saw coming, I wouldn't blame Andre Agassi for being slightly fried that Pete Sampras purposely hit a serve at his noggin Friday night in a doubles match in Palm Springs. After all, Agassi wasn't even in the return box.
On the other hand, Agassi, wearing a headset microphone, had just accused Sampras of being a lousy tipper in front of thousands of people, which is also a dude violation.
Pretty soon words were exchanged, a few hundred dirty looks, and all in all a lot of uncharitable behavior for a charitable event.
As for Agassi, he feels "sick about it."
"It was out of line," he told me in a phone call Monday. "It was inappropriate. The night was on fire. We were all having fun. I was trying to be comedic. I only had a split second to make a decision. I went for it and it fell flat. I was trying to get past it, but Pete didn't really let me get past it. He didn't really roll with it. I've texted Pete to ask him if I can apologize in person."
Sampras hasn't texted back yet. Or called. Whatever that means.
What happened was that Sampras imitated Agassi's pigeon-toed walk. Agassi then made fun of Sampras' alleged poor tipping habits (as referenced in Agassi's autobiography "Open") by doing the old empty-pockets elephant ears routine. Sampras responded by firing a rocket at Agassi's head, when he was supposed to be serving to Agassi's partner, Rafael Nadal.
It nearly got him, too. "I nearly lost it in the lights," Agassi said. "It was close."
Afterward, in the locker room, there were reports of words exchanged. Neither player attended the postmatch news conference.
"Damn," Roger Federer said to Agassi afterward. "You guys really have an intense rivalry."
Yes. Yes, they do.
For that matter, Federer called Agassi's book "a black mark" on the game. But that comment never came up in the locker room or anywhere else. That was the junior varsity controversy of the evening.
"The joke fell flat and I'm sorry," Agassi said. "My hope was that the night was still enjoyable. My whole book is about living and learning, and I guess you never frickin' stop."
It wasn't all that disastrous an evening, considering the foursome raised a million dollars for a true ongoing disaster -- Haiti.