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Post Tennis Legend Andre Agassi Turns 50
Created by John Eipper on 05/04/20 3:52 AM

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Tennis Legend Andre Agassi Turns 50 (David Duggan, USA, 05/04/20 3:52 am)

As WAISers worldwide commemorate the 75th anniversary of VE-day, mourn our second full month of masked lockdown, lament that the first-Saturday-in-May Kentucky Derby has been postponed until September(!?), and other than warmer weather have little reason to rejoice, I thought I'd try to cheer people up with a remembrance of one of tennis' Hall-of-Fame members who just celebrated his 50th birthday: Andre Agassi.

Senior member of open era US tennis' 2nd-generation quadrumvirate (with Courier, Chang & Sampras, succeeding the 1st generation of Connors-McEnroe) who burst on the scene in the late 1980s, dominated the 1990s and lasted until the early 2000s, Agassi is one of only two men (with Rafa Nadal) to have won the "career Golden Slam" (all four GS tournaments-Aussie [OZ], French, Wimbledon & US), with the Olympics singles gold medal. He is married to the first woman to have done it, Steffi Graf (Serena being the other--but Steffi won hers in one year: 1988). Agassi's early career was marked by what-might-have-beens. He lost his 1st three GS finals (French ‘90-91, US-‘90) before succeeding at the 1992 Wimbledon in 5 sets over near-perpetual runner-up Goran Ivanisevic. He was the first pure baseliner to have won the oldest tournament, somewhat of a surprise, and the last until Lleyton Hewitt won in 2002. Now, with changes in the court surface and the balls, almost nobody plays the serve and volley game introduced by Tilden and Budge, popularized by Kramer and Gonzalez, perfected by the succession of Aussies--Hoad, Laver, Newcombe, Stolle and Roche--and exalted by McEnroe, Becker, Edberg and Sampras.

Agassi exploited his punk-rebel image through his teens but matured somewhat as he hit his 20s. It was a role that came somewhat naturally to a high-school dropout, son of a Las Vegas pit boss and boxer on Iran's Olympic team (the family changed the Armenian name Aghassian because of the Iranians' proclivity for using Armenians as target practice). Completing the punk comparison, Gonzalez' last wife was Andre's older sister Rita, herself an accomplished junior player (Gonzalez had enlisted in the Navy at the tail end of WWII in part to expunge his juvenile record for burglary; he repaid the grace by being discharged for bad conduct). But old habits die hard, and after winning the US Open in 1994 and the gold medal in Atlanta in 1996, Agassi failed a drug test. With his brother Phil, Andre concocted a spiked-Coke-drunk-by-mistake story and the sport's governing body A[ssociation of]T[ouring]P[rofessionals] relented on this blatant lie, which Andre admitted in his tell-all (ghosted) autobiography Open. For whatever it is worth, Open is regarded as the gold standard of athletes' confessionals.

I saw Agassi play once: in 1992 at the Davis Cup semifinals when that international trophy was still a world-wide competition. Now it seems to pit Spain against whatever other European country makes it through the early rounds. This "tie" as Davis Cup rounds are called paired the US against Sweden and was held at the Target Center in Minneapolis, home to more Swedes than any place outside of Stockholm. The light-yellow cross against light-blue field flag flew throughout the stands as SAS had chartered several planes to traverse the North Pole en route. On the indoor clay specially built for the occasion, Agassi, the defending Wimbledon champion and wearing his then trademark hairpiece, beat Stefan Edberg, who had just won the US Open for the second straight time. Though not a noteworthy clay-courter, Edberg had grown up on the stuff and had made the French Open finals in 1989, only to lose to the 17-year-old Chang. An improbable doubles team of McEnroe-Sampras sealed the tie the next day against Edberg and Anders Jarryd, winning in five sets.

Agassi won three of his total eight GS titles in this millennium (all at Melbourne), having completed the career Golden Slam with his 1999 victory at Roland Garros. He married Steffi in 2001, and retired from the game in 2006, having lost to Roger Federer in the 2005 US Open finals. If redemption can be achieved this side of the grave, I'd say that Andre's post-career life has redeemed a life that might have been a 50-50 proposition (his 8-7 record in GS finals in some ways speaks to that). Though not a scholar, he has donated millions to education in his native Las Vegas, and his 2004 speech inducting his wife into the tennis Hall of Fame is one for the ages. You can catch it on YouTube. Marrying up was a career move at least as significant as his court conquests.

And for those who missed putting a deuce down on the 10th race Saturday at Churchill Downs, NBC had a computer simulated race pitting the 13 Triple Crown winners with Al Gorithm setting the odds. Pre-race favorite and Horse of the Century 1973's Secretariat won the mile-and-a-quarter, coming in strong down the stretch to beat ‘48's Citation, with ‘77's Seattle Slew, perhaps the least well-known 1970s super horses, showing. As he had done 43 years ago, Slew showed his early speed but faded to third against Big Red's surge. Still he was the only horse among the 13 "entrants" to have raced against and beaten a rival: 1978's Affirmed. I can't wait until real sports begin again.

JE comments:  David Duggan originally titled this post "A World Without Sports," presumably a riff on ABC's Saturday-afternoon TV classic, Wide World of Sports (1961-1998).  Given the show's focus on international sporting events, it had a certain WAISly emphasis--WAISworld of Sports?

David, I never imagined we'd have a "silent spring" of no basketball, baseball, tennis, horse racing, or anything else.  2020:  now that's the Agony of Defeat.


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