Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras always will be rivals, but as they enter middle age, they are finding they also can be friends.
Agassi, 41, and Sampras, 40, have taken time during the ATP Champions Series tour to get to know each other better. What they've learned is they have more in common than they thought.
Their newfound brotherhood could be on display in the Champions Series event at 7:30 p.m. today at the Thomas & Mack Center. Agassi and Sampras would meet in the final if Agassi defeats semifinal opponent Michael Chang and Sampras beats John McEnroe.
"We're both husbands and fathers, and that's impacted our lives in a positive way," Agassi said. "We didn't know each other back then when we were competing on the (ATP) tour. But this tour has given us time to travel together and get to know each other.
"Pete's a really good person. I see Pete in a different light now, and it's been a pleasure getting to know him better."
For Sampras, getting to know Agassi better has added enjoyment to the Champions Series, on which Sampras has won four of the first seven stops.
"I've always liked Andre, even though I didn't really know Andre," he said. "When we start talking about our kids -- being fathers, being husbands -- there's a bond we have that I didn't realize existed."
Sampras won 20 of 34 matches against Agassi during their tour careers. Sampras also led 6-3 in Grand Slam matches, including the classic four-set win in the 2001 U.S. Open quarterfinals, in which both players held serve throughout the match and each set went to a tiebreaker.
Sometimes the rivalry went too far, as it did in March 2010 at Indian Wells, Calif., when both players were supposed to be raising money to help victims of the Haitian earthquake.
During the doubles match, which included Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, things got heated after Sampras dialed up the intensity of his serve. Agassi chided him for it, and the disagreement quickly escalated.
Sampras imitated Agassi's pigeon-toed walk. Agassi responded by pulling the pockets out of his shorts, with the empty pockets meant to signify Sampras' alleged reputation as a lousy tipper.
Clearly agitated, Sampras fired a serve directly at Agassi instead of to Nadal. The incident made international headlines, and both now regret it.
"The hiccup in Palm Springs was an overstep on my part," Agassi said. "I should not have done it."
Sampras said: "I don't want a five-minute skirmish at Indian Wells to throw away 15 to 20 years of friendship. In my eyes, I've moved on."
That doesn't mean there won't be banter across the net if Agassi and Sampras meet in the final. Both semifinal matches will be played to the first to win six games, with the final being the first to eight games.
"It's not cutthroat tennis, but it will be competitive," said Sampras, who defeated Agassi in Philadelphia on Sept. 24.
The top three finishers in the nine-player rotating field will divide $1 million. Sampras led with 1,700 points heading into Friday's stop in Los Angeles. Agassi has made five appearances, winning Oct. 1 in Boston, and his balky back is holding up well.
"It's been a celebrated environment," Agassi said. "You can feel the energy as soon as you step on the court."
Agassi said he didn't know how this return to tennis would work out, but now that he has played some matches, he's comfortable with his decision to participate.
"At first, I wasn't glad because I was nervous," he said. "Now that I've played, I'm glad I did it. I've relaxed, and I've enjoyed it. But my biggest reward in playing on the tour is remaining connected to the game."
Contact reporter Steve Carp at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.