According to Andre Agassi, tennis needs a good old-fashioned, furious, down-and-dirty rivalry.
So Agassi would have no qualms about starting one.
"I think that rivalry would be exciting," said Agassi, who spoke yesterday from Las Vegas in a video news conference to reporters in Washington and Los Angeles. "I don't care what my ranking is, when you step on the court with Pete you're going to have to play your best tennis to have a chance at winning the match. I think as far as sports goes, rivalries are what make sports, which is part of the reason tennis is suffering a bit now. Basketball has the Lakers and the Celtics. Baseball has the Dodgers and the Yankees.
"To be a part of a rivalry that would take the game and help lift it to another level, in my opinion, would be more of an accomplishment than going down in the record books for great results."
Flamboyant Agassi and straight-laced Sampras couldn't be more different in personality, but both will headline the tournament, July 16-24 at the William H. G. FitzGerald Tennis Center in Washington.
The tournament, which has changed sponsors almost yearly of late, will celebrate its 25th anniversary this year.
Agassi, whose career highlights include a title at Wimbledon in 1992 and runner-up finishes at the 1990 U.S. Open and the 1990 and 1991 French Open, has become a familiar and popular sight at this tournament. But his success has been erratic.
In 1990 and 1991, he won the tournament. But in 1992, after his win at Wimbledon, Agassi was bounced out in the first round by Kevin Curren. Last year he lost in five grueling third-round sets to unseeded Aaron Krickstein.
"I love the weather over there, it's nice and cool," Agassi said jokingly when asked what keeps him coming back to Washington.
"I think the biggest thing I enjoy about Washington is the city itself. I love being there."
This year, Agassi is ranked No. 20 in the world and has won one tournament (Scottsdale, Ariz.). He also finished as a finalist in Key Biscayne, Fla.
Last season, he fought a wrist injury but still posted two wins (Scottsdale and San Francisco).
"Getting the confidence going before the U.S. Open is the key for me," Agassi said. "Right now my ranking, I've got to be concerned about. I'd like to get a seeding at the Open. More important than the seeding is for me to be playing confidently because no matter what I'm seeded, if I'm playing confidently I feel I can win a tournament.
"Washington is a great place for me to start because it's the first tournament off the grass and I always seem to perform well there."
Former No. 1 Mats Wilander and sixth-ranked Stefan Edberg also are expected to compete. Edberg was awarded one of the tournament's wild-card spots Wednesday.
FACTS AND FIGURES
What: Legg Mason Tennis Classic
When: July 16-24
Where: William H. G. FitzGerald Tennis Center, Washington
Tickets: Prices vary depending on day and time. Individual session tickets can be ordered by calling (202) 432-SEAT. For box seat and group sales information, call (703) 276-4274.