1991 French Open final: Jim Courier defeats Andre Agassi
One year after his surprising defeat to Andres Gomez, Andre Agassi was back in Roland Garros final, trying to capture his first Grand Slam title. His opponent in final: Jim Courier, a guy he grew up with at the Bolletieri academy.
Extract of Andre Agassi‘s autobiography Open:
“At the 1991 French Open I batter my way through six rounds and reach the final. My third slam final. I’m facing Courier and I’m favored. Everyone says I’ll beat him. I need to beat him. I can’t imagine what it would feel like to make three slam finals in a row and not win.
The good news is I know how to beat Courier. I beat him just last year at this same tournament. The bad news is, it’s personal, which makes me tight. We began in the same place, in the same barracks at the Bolletieri Academy, our bunk beds a feet apart. I was so much better than Courier, so much more favored by Nick, that losing to him in the final of a slam will feel like the hare losing to the tortoise. Bad enough that Chang has won a slam before me. And Pete. But Courier too? I can’t let that happen.
I come out playing to win. I’ve learned from my mistakes at the last two slams. I cruise through the first set, winning 6-3, and in the second set, leading 3-1, I have break point. If I win this point I’ll have a choke hold on the set and match. Suddenly the rain starts to fall. Fans cover themselves and run for shelter. Courier and I retreat to the locker room, where we both pace like caged lions. Nick comes in and I look to him for advice, encouragement, but he says nothing. Nothing. I’ve known for some time that I continue with Nick out of habit and loyalty, and not for real coaching. Still, in this moment, it’s not coaching I need but a show of humanity, which is one of the duties of any coach. I need some recognition of the adrenaline-charged moment in which I find myself. Is that too much to ask?
After the rain delay, Courier stations himself farther behind the baseline, hoping to take some of the steam off my shots. He’s had time to rest, and reflect, and recharge, and he storms back to keep me from breaking, then wins the second set. now I’m angry. Furious. I win the third set 6-2.
I establish in Courier’s mind, and in my own, that the second set was a fluke. Up two sets to one, I can feel the finish line pulling me. My first slam. Six little games away.
As the fourth set opens, I lose twelve of the first thirteen points. Am I unraveling or is Courier playing better? I don’t know. I’ll never know. But I do know that this feeling is familiar. Hauntingly familiar. This sense of inevitability. This weightlessness ad momentum slips away. Courier wins the set 6-1.
In the fifth set, tied 4-4, he breaks me. Now, all at once, I just want to lose.
I can’t explain it any other way. In the fourth set I lost the will, but now I’ve lost the desire. As certain as I felt about victory at the start of this match, that’s how certain I am now of defeat. And I want it. I long for it. I say under my breath: Let it be fast. Since losing is death, I’d rather it be fast than slow.
I no longer hear the crowd. I no longer hear my own thoughts, only a white noise between my ears. I can’t hear or feel anything except my desire to lose. I drop the tenth and decisive game of the fifth set, and congratulate Courier. Friends tell me it’s the most desolate look they’ve ever seen on my face.
Afterward, I don’t scold myself. I coolly explain it to myself this way: You don’t have what it takes to get over the line. You just quit on yourself – You need to quit the game”.