Agassi – Now and Forev
I owe my love of tennis to a city neighborhood playground where I played what we used to call paddle tennis on cement courts. In those days playgrounds were safe for everything including gut-wrenching chess. But when school closed for the summer and the family headed to the Pocono Mountains, I got to play “real” tennis with Olympic hopeful kids, which in turn helped me to improve my game. After that bit of medieval nostalgia, it is now Grand Slam fever time again, and I’m all keyed up again about my favorite sport, and dewy-eyed again about my favorite sport guy. That he is at Wimbledon at all this year speaks volumes about Andre Agassi.
I’ve always been a push-over for soft brown eyes with long dark lashes, and wonder why they’re wasted on men. But Andre Agassi has a heart to go along with those big baby browns. From among the irreverent upstarts of his generation that refused to wear white at Wimbledon, Agassi has become the iron man that Grand Slammer Steffi Graf fell for and married, the gentle man who now helps want to-bes through his own charitable sports foundation.
Wednesday, June 28 on that treacherous grass court that is Wimbledon, thirty-six-year old Andre sweated to win over Boris Pershanski, two sets to one. I predict he will sweat a great deal more as he tries to maintain command over the court that has brought him fame and wealth since he won the title there in 1992. Now, having to defeat much younger opponents, and unlike Pete Sampras who took the bow while he was ahead, Andre denies what his body is telling him, despite constant back pain.
In today’s sports world, statistics are everything. The speed with which a player hits the ball trumps grace and style. There’s even a statistic on how many times Jimmy Connors used to move his feet because he never stood still for a second. It was not so long ago when Andre Agassi had dropped below the top 100 players. His first marriage had failed and he was overweight. After meeting Steffi Graf he lost weight, worked harder and played more. Gradually his game improved as well as his attitude. Maybe being with Steffi and playing together privately, gave him the jump-start he needed to find his way back to the top. As for statistics: Andre Agassi has won eight Grand Slam Singles (tied for the sixth) and was top ranked in the world in September 1999 for 52 consecutive weeks, according to The New York Times. He won his first two games this week and now faces the formidable Rafael Nadal on Saturday.
Andre’s back plagued him at last year US Open. In fact it was uncomfortable watching him trying not to limp. Roger Federer took that advantage and went on to win. Federer is a terrific player, and I hope we get to see the two play each other this year. But that might be too much to hope for. Agassi has already announced to the press that he will retire following this year US Open. Though I miss watching the indomitable Pete Sampras, tennis will never be the same for me without those sweet brown eyes.