It was an experience that Yuki Bhambri, World Junior No 1 tennis player will cherish for ever. To be in the gambling enclave and fun city of Macau for a weekend was treat enough, but to play alongside one legend and against another across the net was a lifetime experience.
It was a "Walk Down Memory Lane" and a "Sneak Preview into the Future” rolled into one at the Venetian Tennis Showdown in Macau.
First, the world’s two best juniors, Yuki Bhambri and Ryan Harrison of the United States, clashed in a single-set match, and then legends of yesteryear, 14-time Grand Slam winner, Pete Sampras met his arch-rival, the eight-time Slam winner Andre Agassi. And finally, Yuki then had the privilege of partnering Sampras against Agassi and Harrison.
"It was the first time I got to meet both. I'm glad I got to play with Sampras, it was exactly what I had hoped for. It was nice to see him bang down those serves and the whole experience was unbelievable," said Yuki, as the Venetian, the opulent Resort, and Longines, the supporters of the Andre Agassi Charitable Foundation, among others, brought together the four players for the exhibition.
"I've been watching them play and then I got to play with them. I got to practice with them, too."
More than 10,000 people turned up at the venue, which has organised the popular Tennis Showdown for the third year.
"There were thousands of people watching us play at the indoor court. Both Agassi and Sampras were very warm. It was more of a fun thing, we had microphones with us so everyone could hear what we were saying between points. Everyone was involved," said Yuki.
Both Yuki and Harrison, who could well set up a rivalry in the coming years, train at the Nick Bolletieri Academy in Florida. Agassi is Bolletieri’s most famous pupil.
Yuki, who is seen as the big hope of Asian tennis, said he got to play with the two stalwarts because of what he achieved in the past year.
"They did enjoy playing with both of us. Both appreciated my game and told me to keep working hard to get better," he said.
"They didn't give me any specific instructions or anything. They said they were really impressed with the way I was playing and said if I kept doing what I was doing I would get better."
Yuki now goes to Bollettieri's and will return home for the Chennai Open at the end of the year.
The results were hardly of any importance, as all four had fun and yet put up a great show. In the junior singles, Yuki beat Harrison on a ‘single deciding point’ after the two were locked 5-5 after spending 45 minutes on court.
Against Agassi, Sampras, who won their last clash back in the US Open final 2002, rallied from the first set loss at 3-6 to win the next one at 6-3.
In the super tie-break, the two were neck-and-neck before Sampras won 10-8.
In the post-match interaction with media and spectators from the centre of the court, they paid each other glowing tributes.
"Somehow when you see Pete, it all comes back to you pretty quickly," said Agassi. "It’s just nice to be so familiar with somebody’s game.”
Sampras, who held off the Agassi challenge from 9-6 to 9-8, said: "Andre just hits the ball so cleanly, even after being retired for three years. The pace of his shots was very heavy.”