I attended the Chicago stop last week, and was fortunate to be able to participate in both clinics beforehand. I'll cover the event first, then hit the clincs after for those that want to read on.
First thing I noticed about the level of play was that all the guys were playing really well. I think having a few weeks to get into the groove has REALLY helped the quaility of their games. While not at their tour standards, they played very clean, powerful tennis. Great to watch. And all the guys are in top shape. I'd seen some pics of Andre that seemed to show him w/ a little belly, or a fat chin or whatever, but he's as chiseled as he's ever been, same w/ all the guys.
Martin played Courier first, and what I took from that match was how good Martins backhand was. I knew it was good, but it really was a surprise how good. They played a close match w/ Courier winning 6-3 as I recall.
Andre played Mac next, and I want to say it was 6-4 Andre. Something that's always struck me about watching the pros in person is how smooth and effortless their swings are. On TV, they seem to be putting so much effort into their swings, but in person, it's very smooth and relaxed, always has been. There's no one better than Andre to show this, still hits it so clean, w/ plenty of power, and from a very relaxed swing. Awesome.
Andre played Jim in the finals, and you could tell these guys knew each others game inside and out. They had great rallies, and hit winners from both sides, really good to watch. Jim won in a tiebreak, and it was just like it was 20 years go, Andre having the prettier game, but Jim had the W.
On to the clinics, which went on a few hours before the main event. Hitting w/ Jim and Andre was a bit surreal. On the one hand, you're just hitting like you always do, but then you look across the net, and there's Andre Agassi. Pinch me. For many years, I've wondered what their games "felt" like, and it was as you'd expect. Andre's ball comes very nice and clean, no junk, just a real easy bounce that lets you get off a clean shot in return, a real pleasure to hit. Jim seems to hit the ball late, as his action is so compact and quick off both sides, but of course it comes off perfect as well, just not as aesthetically pleasing as Andre's. I only hit with Todd when he was at the net, and as you'd expect, he never missed a volley, and at 6'6", he bailed you out of any bad returns you might send his way. For some reason, I was the most nervous about hitting w/ Mac, as I guess I thought he might scream at me, or maybe it appeared that he wasn't in the best of moods. His shots were kind of a surprise from both sides, on his backhand, he actually hit quite a few two handed. And on the forehand side, as awkward as it sometimes looks on tv, in person it comes off very conventional. Not a lot of spin off either side, so it was easy to line up and send back his way so that he wouldn't have to move too much and start cussing me out. I must have done ok because when we were done, he gave me a kind of head bob/thumbs up affirmation, cool!
In the first clinic, Jim and Andre paired up to go against us scrubs. I paired up w/ a guy, and we rotated through w/ the other groups and played doubles points w/ the pros. If you won a point, you stayed in, if you lost, you're out. I hit a FH winner down the line on Andre on our first point, and that would be the last point we'd win the rest of the clinic. On one of the following points, I would make my lasting impression w/ the pros. As stated before, if you won a point, you kept playing, so obviously you went all out to get those points. During one of them, my partner and Jim were on the deuce court, Andre and I were on the ad side, pros at the net, scrubs at the baseline. My partner hit a weak floater to Jim, and I could tell from his setup that he was going to cut it off for a short angle winner, so off I went. Sure enough, he cut this thing at a big angle about 2 feet from the net, but I had a huge jump on it, so I was actually going to get there. I did indeed get it, and alllmost got stopped, but on my last step w/ my right foot, I got into that steel pole that ran the width of the court which formed the base of the netposts. My ankle rolled, and into the net I went, darn near taking the whole net down with me. I managed to avoid falling completely on my *ss, and hopped out of the mess w/ a smile, to which Andre asked if I was ok. I responded in the affirmative, and trotted back to my place at the back of the line, only then daring to glance at my knee, which was already swelling and cut in 1 or 2 places. I also sustained a scuffed right pinky, and would later develop a nasty bruise on my right bicep which I assume was casued by the netcord. My partner asked me about it when we rotated together again, and I told him that I would never have forgiven myself if I hadn't run that ball out. On our next point out, I used my racket as a makeshift walking cane and staggered out to the baseline, which got a laugh out of Jim and Andre, so if you see them using that in the future, they stole that from me
For the Martin/McEnroe hit, it was more of the same. My new partner and I managed 2 points on the pros this time. I hit a crosscourt FH return from the deuce court to Martins backhand as he was approaching, and he netted it, and later my partner got a good angle to the right that both pros went for. Mac got it back to me, at the net on the ad side, but Todd hadn't recovered his position, so I was able to just hit a little easy FH volley into the open court that Todd couldn't reach. Also, it should be obvious when I talk about these "winners" that the pros, while trying, were not trying real hard. Let there be no doubt, that they could end the point any where, any time they wanted, but were showing us mercy by letting us hit balls, and living to post on the internet about it. Mac at one point hit either 3 or 4 behind the back forehands (backhands?) in a row, the last of which went for a lob winner over the netbound scrubs. Just sick ball control.
And a few odds and ends...
-Todd had the firmest handshake
-Mac's can opener serve is better than it looks, because since you know what it can do, you overcompensate to cover it, and then he just goes up the middle for an ace. Or if he wants, he hits a wicked body serve that hooks into you like I've never seen (obviously). Dam.
-Jim and Todd are regular guys, but Andre and John have that aura about them that makes you feel like you really can't get close to them. They were plenty nice, but I just didn't get the feel that they were as approachable as Jim and Todd were.
-During part of the clinic w/ Jim and Andre, you could attempt to return their serves. You could ask for regular, or heat, and given the circumstances, you coudn't NOT ask for heat, so I stuck my right hand up and ordered a serving of Andre Extra Strength, took up my position a few feet behind the baseline, clenched my teeth, and told myself to not swing and miss. Sure enough, I didn't miss, in fact, I framed it into the court a few inches inside the baseline (you won't see that on tour!). But what struck me was the pace of his serve, which while plenty big, wasn't really that far removed from some of the big hitters I've faced in 4.0-4.5. Andre would later serve great in his 2 matches.
-If you ran around shots to cover up weaknesses, all the pros would let you hear about it in a humorously demeaning way.
All in all, a great time, but don't expect to get any one on one time w/ the pros, things happen way too fast, and there are way too many people for that to happen. I had thought to bring up a scholarship fund my wife and I manage to Andre, and see if there was a way to make it available to the kids at his school, but I never got close to having the chance to bring it up. Also, it seems that they're planning on having this series again next year, so I expect we'll do it again next year.