On a cool yet pleasant night, the Farmers Classic event in Los Angeles kicked off Saturday night with a double bill of exhibition matches all set up to benefit the Andre Agassi Foundation for Education (AAFE). But before they took the court, Andre Agassi and John McEnroe took part in a brief press conference that discussed the state of American tennis and the now legendary John Isner/Nicolas Mahut match at Wimbledon. But, of course, any match with McEnroe wouldn’t be complete without a few bashings of both racquets and fans.
Tonight’s set of matches had all proceeds going to AAFE which benefits the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy in Las Vegas, a K-12 public charter school that strives to provide children with a first-class education, while also advocating increased investment in, and accountability for, public schools nationwide. But, of course, the press gathered was mainly interested in what both Grand Slam champions had to say about the current state of tennis and the recent John Isner/Nicolas Mahut match at Wimbledon that captured the world’s attention.
Agassi discussed how fundraising has consumed his life over the last 14 years and that he doesn’t mind “embarassing myself a little bit” on a tennis court in the hopes it will raise funds for his foundation which has amassed over 120 million dollars for Agassi’s various educational efforts. While citing McEnroe’s support in helping out the event, Agassi, a former four-time champion of the L.A. tournament, also commended the tournament director, Bob Kramer by saying, “Bob Kramer has been a big supporter of mine over the years especially when I was less than myself but also by showing a level of commitment to my foundation.”
When talk turned to the current state of U.S. tennis, the Isner/Mahut match, and how it would affect Isner during this summer’s hardcourt season, came up. McEnroe responded by saying, “On three separate occasions I went out to watch and pay my respects for what they (Isner/Mahut) were going through. The hell they were putting themselves through and the will and character they showed. They played pretty good tennis considering how long they were out there. It was miraculous. I hope to God it never happens again.” Regarding Isner’s prospects going forward McEnroe commented, “It’s more mental but physically he (Isner) can never say he’s too tired in a second or third set…because he showed almost a multi-million dollar commercial for tennis with his effort. But Isner, who’s got a good handle on things, is an excellent match player. I believe he’ll be a top ten player by end of year. If nothing else, he should get some good endorsements.”
After the press conference, the matches got underway with an opening doubles match between former French Open and Australian Open champion Jim Courier pairing up with comedian Jon Lovitz as they took on another former French Open champion, Michael Chang, who played with Gavin Rossdale, lead singer of Bush and husband to No Doubt singer Gwen Stefani. The match was full of good natured fun with Lovitz providing most of the comic relief while former Grand Slam doubles champion Pam Shriver served as umpire. The pairing of Chang/Rossdale finally prevailed in a single pro set of 5-3.
The main event of Agassi versus McEnroe in two sets (and if needed a final set decided by tiebreak) proved to be a competitive affair with both men hitting at full pace and displaying all of their natural gifts. After Agassi broke at 4-4 in the first set to finally take it 6-4, the second set proved to be a one way affair as McEnroe wasn’t able to deal with Agassi’s heavy pace and placement. At one point, a fan in the front row said something about McEnroe’s losing effort which set off “Johnny Mac” into a heated exchange with the spectator. That outburst, along with three busted racquets, didn’t help McEnroe any as he finally succumbed to Agassi 6-4, 6-2, in just over an hour.
Despite this tirade from McEnroe, the event was a success which saw the tournament’s sponsor, Farmers Insurance, present Agassi earlier with a check for $200,000 for his foundation. That, along with the ticket sales for tonight’s matches, also going to Agassi’s foundation, showed that Agassi’s greatest legacy may not be his eight Grand Slam titles, but his continuing efforts to improve the lives of children throughout the United States.