Andre Agassi, Pat Cash, Michael Chang and Ivan Lendl made a much-anticipated return to Montreal on Friday for a Legends Event. Playing in front of just over 8,000 fans at the Bell Centre, home of the Montreal Canadiens, these tennis legends made the crowd forget about their beloved hockey team for at least one night.
Prior to the event, the four players spent the better part of two days in the cities fulfilling media commitments and giving a tennis clinic for a group of kids at a local club. Agassi appeared on a popular evening sports show called l’Antichambre and discussed a variety of topics including his book, “Open”, his foundation and the hip surgery he recently underwent. In fact, the Montreal Legends Event was his first match since the operation.
With the promotional activities completed, it was show time. The evening began with the four players being introduced on court and presented with Canadiens jerseys. Not surprisingly, Agassi was greeted with a standing ovation, he who won three Rogers Cup titles in his career and was adored by the Canadian tennis faithful.
The first match of the night pitted Cash, a late replacement for the injured Jimmy Connors, against Lendl in a rematch of the classic 1987 Wimbledon final which Cash won to claim his only Grand Slam title. Cash’s serve and volley tactics were countered by Lendl’s big serve and forehand. While they may have lost a step or two, their hands and court sense are still one of a kind. Cash was particularly entertaining, high fiving people in the audience, cracking jokes and playing the role of ball boy. Not only did the Aussie win their pro set 8-6, he also left Montreal with a few new fans.
After an entertaining opening act, it was time for the feature match between Agassi and Chang. The compatriots met 22 times during their illustrious careers, a rivalry that was heated at times. With their relationship patched up, the two were friendly and most importantly, put on a great show. It was vintage Agassi on display. He took the ball early, hitting winners from all over the court. His cross court backhand as pure as ever and his return of serve was just as lethal as the good old days. Chang also brought out his full arsenal of tricks, a big serve, as well as lots of crafty spins and slices. Agassi posted a 7-6(3), 6-3 win, but in the end, the evening was not about the results of course, it was a chance for Montreal fans to renew acquaintances with their favourite players and for their heroes to do the same.
“Hopefully we have added to your lives over the last couple of decades, but you need to know how much you’ve been adding to ours, it is such a pleasure to play for you and to come back here,” Agassi told the crowd after his match.
Organizers announced that a tennis legends event will be held in Montreal each of the next four years including next March at the Bell Centre.
Seventeen years ago today, July 23, one of the great rivalries ever in tennis played out for the last time as Ivan Lendl and John McEnroe played for the 36th and final time in their careers. As excerpted from my book ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY ($19.95, New Chapter Press, www.tennishistorybook.com), Lendl won his sixth straight match against McEnroe 6-2, 6-4 in quarterfinals of the event now known as The Rogers Cup. Lendl’s post-match comments following his win back in 1992 certainly reflected part of the tone of this epic rivalry. The full July 23 chapter is excerpted below…
1992 – In their 36th and final meeting as professionals, Ivan Lendl routs rival John McEnroe 6-2, 6-4 in the quarterfinals of the Canadian Open in Toronto. Says Lendl of McEnroe, “If you have him on the ground on his back, you have to step on his throat. You can’t put out your hand and say come on over here and hit me. You have to concentrate all the time and not give him any chances.” When he was asked what kind of technique he used on McEnroe’s throat, Lendl smiles and replies, “I have spikes in my shoes and I try to twist them as much as I can. That’s the killer instinct.” Lendl wins the all-time series with McEnroe 21-15, including winning the last six meetings and 10 of the last 11.
1984 – Sixteen-year-old Aaron Krickstein becomes the youngest player to win the U.S. Pro Championships, defeating Jose-Luis Clerc 7-6, 3-6, 6-4 in the men’s singles final at the Longwood Cricket Club in Brookline, Mass. Clerc leads 3-0 in the final set, before Krickstein rallies for victory.
2000 – The United States is shut out for the first time ever in a Davis Cup series other than a Challenge Round or Final as Juan Carlos Ferrero and Juan Balcells complete a 5-0 shutout of the United States in the Davis Cup semifinal in Santander, Spain. In the final days’ dead-rubber matches, Ferrero defeats Vince Spadea 4-6, 6-1, 6-4, while Balcells defeats Jan-Michael Gambill 1-6, 7-6, 6-4. The shutout loss marks the end of John McEnroe’s short tenure as U.S. Davis Cup captain. In November, McEnroe announces his resignation as U.S. captain after only one year in the position. Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi, the top two U.S. players, beg off the match with Spain with injuries. McEnroe, distraught with the loss, skips out on the post-match press conference, but says to Lisa Dillman of the Los Angeles Times in a pool phone interview from his car hours later driving to Bilboa airport, “I’m totally spent. I’m deflated. It was tough and it was tough for everybody. I feel like I’m going to throw up. I’m not sure if it’s emotional or what, but I’m about to heave.”
2006 – Third-seeded Novak Djokovic of Serbia captures his first ATP title in his first final at the Dutch Open Tennis in Amersfoort. The 19-year-old does not lose a set at the championship and beats No. 4 seed Nicolas Massu of Chile 7-6(5), 6-4 in 2 hours, 41 minutes in the final.
1996 – The Olympic tennis competition opens in Atlanta with defending men’s singles gold medalist Marc Rosset of Switzerland winning the opening match on Stadium court, defeating Hicham Arazi of Morocco 6-2, 6-3.
2006 – A rookie into the top 10 rankings, James Blake defeats fellow American top tenner Andy Roddick 4-6, 6-4, 7-6(5) in the final at the RCA Championships at Indianapolis. Says Blake, “This was extremely exciting for me, to play really my best tennis. It’s a little more gratifying to do it when your opponent is playing well. I feel like I’ve earned the No. 5 ranking. It’s crazy what confidence will do. Every break goes against you when you don’t have confidence. And every break goes your way when you do have confidence. I have confidence now and they all seem to be going my way.”
1991 – Michael Chang and Pete Sampras are unceremoniously dumped in the second round of the Canadian Open in Montreal – Chang falling 7-6 (6), 3-6, 6-3 to Italy’s Stefano Pescosoliso, while Sampras losing to Japan’s Shuzo Matsuoka 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (10-8)