September 3, 2006: Andre Agassi’s last match
Thirty minutes before the match, I get an anti-inflammatory injection, but it’s different from the cortisone. Less effective. Against my third-round opponent, Benjamin Becker, I’m barely able to remain standing.
I look at the scoreboard. I shake my head. I ask myself over and over, How is it possible that my final opponent is a guy named B. Becker? I told Darren [Cahill] earlier this year that I wanted to go out against somebody I like and respect, or else against somebody I don’t know. And so I get the latter.
Becker takes me out in four sets. I can feel the tape of the finish line snap cleanly across my chest.
US Open officials let me say a few words to the fans in the stands and at home before heading to the locker room. I know exactly what I want to say. I’ve known for years. But is still takes me a few moments to find my voice.
The scoreboard said I lost today, but what the scoreboard doesn’t say is what it is I have found. Over the last twenty-one years I have found loyalty: You have pulled for me on the court, and also in life. I have found inspiration: You have willed me to succeed, sometimes even in my lowest moments. And I have found generosity: You have given me your shoulders to stand on, to reach for my dreams – dreams I could have never reached without you. Over the last twenty-one years I have found you, and I will take you and the memory of you with me for the rest of my life.
It’s the highest compliment I know how to pay them. I’ve compared them to Gil [Reyes].
In the locker room it’s deathly quiet. I’ve noticed through the years that every locker room is the same when you lose. You walk in the door – which slams open, because you’ve pushed it harder than you needed to – and the guys always scatter from the TV, where they’ve been watching you get your ass kicked. They always pretend they haven’t been watching, haven’t been discussing you. This time, however, they remain gathered around the TV. No one moves. No one pretends. Then, slowly, everyone comes toward me. They clap and whistle, along with trainers and office workers and James the security guard.
Only one man remains apart, refusing to applaud. I see him in the corner of my eye. He’s leaning against a far wall with a blank look on his face and his arms tightly folded. Connors.
I makes me laugh. I can only admire that Connors is who he is, still, that he never changes. We should all be true to ourselves, so consistent. I tell the players: You’ll hear a lot of applause in your life, fellas, but none will mean more to you than that applause – from your peers. I hope each of you hears that at the end.
Thank you all. Goodbye. And take care of each other.