By Mike McIntyre
Some of the greatest tennis stars in the history of the sport came together Friday night in Indian Wells for the second edition of Hit for Haiti to raise money for those affected by the devastating earthquake that hit the small country in early January.
The night started out with a women's doubles match between Martina Navratilova/Justine Henin and Steffi Graf/Lindsay Davenport that could not disappoint with a collective 50 Grand Slam singles titles between them.
The level of tennis and good-natured banter were both impressive as the Navratilova/Henin tandem won 8-6 on a Henin backhand up the line.
All four players had their moments that rekindled moments past, from Graf's forehand to Davenport's serve, from Navratilova's volleys to Henin's backhand - it was all on display for the capacity crowd to enjoy,
Most impressive hands-down, were the quick hands that 53 year old Navratilova showed off to us all. Even with 22 Grand Slam singles titles to her name and another 31 Grand Slam doubles titles it is a wonder that she is still able to work her magic on court at her age. It is a tribute to her incredible fitness and obviously her raw talent as well. If she played doubles today I'm certain she could still be a factor which is just amazing.
Equally as impressive as Navratilova's physical game was her verbal one as she joked with the crowd, the ball kids and her opponents throughout the charity match.
Early on in the match Graf was able to track down a Navratilova shot and launch a perfect lob for the point, which prompted Navratilova to sarcastically dead-pan, "it's a slow court."
She later asked for the service gun to be turned off after her serve was clocked at a mere 80mph.
My favorite Martina quote of the night was after the Graf/Davenport tandem picked on Justine Henin for four or five overhead smashes in a row and she said, "obviously you're playing to the weaker link (Henin) over there."
After the women's match the men took to the court with the serve and volley dream-doubles tandem of Pete Sampras and Roger Federer against the baseline duo of Andre Agassi and Rafael Nadal.
As much fun as watching the women was, this was the match I was really looking forward to. The four greatest ATP players of the last twenty years all on the same court. The greatest rivalry of the 1990s as well as the greatest rivalry thus far of the 21st Century.
Agassi played surprisingly well for someone who has not really played much tennis since retiring in 2006. He twice placed a serve within 1mph of his pre-announced target. For his part, Sampras looked a bit shaky but could still deliver some pop on his serve when needed. Federer and Nadal were clearly not at their usual level of brilliance - nor did they have to be. They were - for a change - more of a supporting act to the two great American players.
Aside from the tennis, It was no surprise that Andre did about 95% of the chatting throughout the set and some of his quotes were just hysterical. Here are a few of my favorites from the evening:
"I know you’re not taking me seriously Fed, but I’m coming."
"Stop hitting the ball to Federer alright?...Not Sampras either, just keep it in between them."
"I got that partner." (shot goes into the net) "I used to have that
"You’re not very intimidating there (Roger). You’re very
disarming. You’re very Swiss."
"Red’s not your colour Rog."
"You know what 10,000 kids are saying right now? Who are
those two bald guys playing with Federer and Nadal?"
"They just don’t make athletes like they used to." (after a Nadal shank into the net)
"You move a lot faster on tv." (to Nadal)
"Sorry partner, I only go to net to shake hands."
Things did get somewhat awkward about halfway through the match when Pete finally got into the comedy act by mimicking Agassi's pigeon-toed walk. Andre stayed quiet in response for a change until Pete asked him if he had a comeback. Agassi then said he had an imitation of Pete and followed that up by pulling the pockets out of his track pants and pretending he had no money for a tip - a reference to a less than kind passage from Agassi's recent autobiography about Sampras. It was a poorly timed reference and I don't think anyone deserves to be called cheap during a charity exhibition match such as this one.
Federer picked up on the tension and turned to Nadal and said, "Rafa, do something!" Fortunately Justin Gimelstob stepped in at the changeover and tried to lighten the mood. A good Federer-Nadal exaggerated grunt-fest in the next game also helped to restore the festive mood and get the evening back on track.
Federer and Sampras would prevail 8-6 in what I would say was the expected outcome given the winning duo's talent at net. Another nice outcome was the $1 million dollars raised for the people of Haiti. A great cause got the support it rightly deserves and if you are able to help out some more please visit the Red Cross website to donate.