HOLLYWOOD, Fla. — Tennis legend Andre Agassi, 52, can’t wait to incorporate pickleball into his training routine.
John McEnroe, 64, might think differently after a weekend of pickleball events.
Joining Andy Roddick, 40, and Michael Chang, 51, the former tennis legends shone in a new sport at the inaugural Pickleball Slam, which was broadcast by ESPN on Sunday.
Agassi and Roddick earned $1 million after defeating McEnroe and Chang in a winner-take-all doubles game 21-15, 21-23, 12-10. Earlier, McEnroe defeated Agassi 15-13, 16-14 while Roddick defeated Chang 15-10, 15-10 in singles matches at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.
“I think it was a shot in the arm for us as old fogies that were on the tennis court and got a chance to come out with some crowd and energy that doesn’t happen that much anymore,” McEnroe admitted USA TODAY Sports.
McEnroe was the star of the show, engaging after a big point with the fans in attendance while tossing his paddle onto the court several times and raising his arms in disgust and dismay. He was on the unfortunate end of the last two points, letting Agassi and Roddick win.
“I got so into it,” Agassi told USA TODAY Sports.
“You’re doing something you’re not familiar with, so it requires total focus, and if you focus too much you lose perspective. So it just got the energy going. That got on my nerves. It went together and was fun. It was a great time for everyone.”
Here are some highlights of the event:
McEnroe brings the theater and competition
It wasn’t long before McEnroe threw his racquet in the air, raised his hand to the sky, issued two challenges and even took a point off the board in the first set in favor of Agassi.
Agassi argued that the referee didn’t say the result out loud before serving, but McEnroe served and won the point that would have given him a 14-12 lead.
“She called it, man!” McEnroe shouted at Agassi.
“I decided the score,” said the referee.
“It’s the first argument I’ve won in 40 years,” McEnroe said. “But I don’t feel right because he didn’t participate in the rally.”
That’s how the point came off the board.
“I’ve never seen this team,” Agassi told McEnroe as she resumed play.
It was the first of many interactions between the tennis legends, much to the delight of fans in attendance and spectators at home.
“John is great at delivering the theater and I think his outbursts were theatrical early on and authentic later on,” said Chris Fowler, ESPN’s play-by-play announcer.
“You knew the competitive juices would take over between these four guys who don’t want to lose at anything.”
Steffi Graf is participating
A tennis legend in her own right with 22 Grand Slam singles titles, Graf received a loud ovation from fans when interviewed by ESPN.
The ovation motivated McEnroe to interrupt the interview and hand her a paddle to play a point during the doubles game.
“That was a big surprise. I wasn’t included in that part,” Graf said.
“It’s just fun. We enjoyed it as a family and to see this sport grow and find many new fans, it was just good.”
Graf traded volleys with Agassi, her husband and Roddick when Chang stepped aside while McEnroe went to the nearby bench to rest.
Agassi hit the net with the volley, earning Graf the point and another ovation.
“Steffi is a legend,” said McEnroe. “It just seemed like a good idea so I could stretch a bit while she played. It’s called a free time out.”
McEnroe and Roddick have trouble in the kitchen
It was only natural that the tennis stars would struggle with the non-volley zone, also known as the kitchen, on the pickleball courts. Players are not allowed to step into the restricted area closest to the net where they can commit foot faults.
Roddick’s paddle hit the area during his singles match with Chang, after which he yelled at the referee:
“I have to watch my feet and this thing?!” Roddick said.
“Maybe that’s why we should have met,” Roddick implored the referee.
“I didn’t have time to explain all the rules to you,” said the referee.
McEnroe also showed his dismay several times when his foot went over the NVZ line in both games. But when Roddick was called up for a foot fault in the second set of their doubles, McEnroe was satisfied.
“Great call,” McEnroe said to the referee.
Endgame brought the nerves and fun
The final set in doubles was a race to 11 and brought out the intensity of all four legends.
McEnroe and Chang led until Agassi hit a wicked volley that screamed past McEnroe to level the set at 9.
Agassi and Roddick took a 10-9 lead before McEnroe waved Chang on the next point to level it to 10.
McEnroe hit the net on his return to go down 11-10 and hit the pickleball wide to give Agassi and Roddick the match and purse.
“Game!” Roddick screamed as he celebrated with Agassi.
“These guys have played in a whole bunch of big finals and you could see them getting on some nerves because the sport wasn’t second nature to them,” Fowler said.
“Since the whole thing came down to a few points, they didn’t want to be the guys who screw it up for their entire team.”
Deion Sanders, Pat McAfee tune in from home
Count Colorado football coach Deion Sanders and radio host Pat McAfee, fresh from an appearance at WrestleMania, were among the many who tuned in to ESPN.
The aim of the event organizers, David Levy and Chris Weil, Co-CEOs of Horizon Sports & Experiences, and Jon Venison, owner of InsideOut Sports & Entertainment, was to attract a wide audience both locally and from their homes .
“I think we just featured the top four racquet players in the world playing the new, fastest growing sport,” Levy said.
The Pickleball Slam was the first of five events featuring Hard Rock, and organizers hope attendees will play again.
“I can tell you 100 percent, Pickleball is part of my life,” Agassi said. “It doesn’t mean that I want to go and compete in tournaments. But I’m telling you, it’s something I’ll easily do weekly to exercise and spend time with friends. It is the best.”
As for McEnroe, maybe he’ll try again.
“It would have been easy to say yes if I had won, but we were close,” McEnroe said in his classic, deadpan way was close.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: John McEnroe, Andy Roddick, Andre Agassi bring ESPN Pickleball Theater