Andre Agassi and Michael Stich, 1994 US Open

Excerpt from Andre Agassi’s autobiography Open

Going into the 1994 US Open, I’m number 20, therefore unseeded. No unseeded player has won the US Open since the 1960s.

Brad (Gilbert) likes it. He says he wants me unseeded. He wants me to be the joker in the deck. You’ll play someone tough in the early rounds, he says, and if you beat them, you’ll win this tournament. […]

Because of my low ranking, I’m under the radar at this US Open. (I’d be more under the radar if Brooke weren’t on hand, setting off a photo shoot each time she turns her head.) I’m all business, and I dress the part. I wear a black hat, black shorts, black socks, black-and-white shoes. But at the start of my first-rounder, against Robert Eriksson, I feel the old brittle nerves. I feel sick to my stomach. I fight through it, thinking of Brad, refusing to entertain any thought of perfection. I concentrate on being solid, letting Eriksson lose, and he does. He sends me sailing into the second round.

Then – after nearly choking – I beat Guy Forget, from France. That I take out Wayne Ferreira, from South Africa in straight sets. […]

Then I walk into a classic Chang buzz saw. He’s that rare phenomenon – an opponent who wants to win exactly as much as I do, no more, no less. We both know from the opening serve that it’s going down the wire. Photo finish. No other way to settle it. But in the fifth set, thinking we’re destined for a tiebreak, I catch a rythm and break him early. I’m making crazy shots, and I feel him losing traction. It’s almost not fair, after such a back-and-forth fight, the way I’m sneaking away with this match. I should be having more trouble with him in the final minutes, but it’s sinfully easy.
At his news conference, Chang tells reporters about a different match that the one I just played. He says he could have played another two sets. Andre got lucky, he says. Furthermore, Chang expresses a great deal of pride that he exposed holes in my game, and he predicts other players in the tournament will thank him. He says I’m vulnerable now. I’m toast.

Next I face Muster. I make good my vow that I will never lose to him again. It takes every ounce of self-control not to rub his head at the net.

I’m in the semis. […] Martin, who just beat me at Wimbledon, is a deadly opponent. He has a nice hold game and a solid break game. He’s huge, six foot six, and returns the serve off both wings with precision and conviction. He’ll cane a serve that isn’t first rate, which puts enormous pressure on an average server like me. With his own serve he’s uncannily accurate.[…]

Still, as the first few games unfold, I realize that several things are in my favor. Martin is better on grass than hard court. This is my surface. Also, like me, he’s an underachiever. He’s a fellow slave to nerves. I understand the man I’m playing, therefore, understand him intimately. Simply knowing your enemy is a powerful advantage.
Above all, Martin has a tic. A tell. Some players, when serving, look at their opponent? Some look at nothing. Martin looks at a particular spot in the service box. If he stares a long time at that spot, he’s serving in the opposite direction. If he merely glances, he’s serving right at that spot. You might not notice it at 0-0 or 15-love, but on break point, he stares at that spot with psycho eyes, like the killer in a horror movie, or glances and looks away like a beginner at the poker tables.

The match unfolds so easily, however, that I don’t need Martin’s tell. He seems unsteady, dwarfed by the occasion, whereas I’m playing with uncommon determination. I see him doubt himself – I can almost hear his doubt – and I sympathize. As I walk off the court, the winner in four sets, I think, He’s got some maturing to do. Then I catch myself. Did I really just say that – about someone else?

In the final I face Michael Stich, from Germany. He’s been to the final at three slams, so he’s not like Martin, he’s a threat on every surface. He’s also a superb athlete with an unreal wingspan. He has a mighty first serve, heavy and fast, and when it’s on, which it usually is, he can serve you into next week. He’s so accurate, you’re shocked when he misses, and you have to overcome your shock to stay in the point. Even when he does miss, however, you’re not out of the woods, because he falls back on his safe serve, a knuckleball that leaves you with your jock on the ground. And just to keep you a bit more off balance, Stich is without any patterns or tendencies. You never know if he’s going to serve and volley or stay back at the baseline.
Hoping to seize control, dictate the terms, I come fast out of the blocks, hitting the ball clean, crisp, pretending to feel no fear. i like the sound the ball makes off my racket. I like the sound of the crowd, their oohs and aahs. Stich, meanwhile, comes out skittish. When you lose the first set as quickly as he does, 6-1, you instinct is to panic. I can see in his body language that he’s succumbing to that instinct.
He pulls himself together in the second set, however, and gives me a two-fisted battle. I won 7-6 but feel lucky. I know it could have gone either way.
In the third set we both raise the stakes. I feel the finish line pulling, but now he’s mentally committed to this fight. There have been times in the past when he’s given up against me, when he’s taken unnecessary risks because he hasn’t believed in himself. Not this time. He’s playing smart, proving to me that I’m going to have to rip the trophy from him if I really want it. And I do want it.
So I will rip it. We have long rallies off my serve, until he realizes I’m committed, I’m willing to hit with him all day. I catch sight of him grabbing his side, winded. I start picturing how the trophy will look in the bachelor pad back in Las Vegas.
There are no breaks of serve through the third set. Until 5-all. Finally I break him, and now I’m serving for the match. I hear Brad’s voice, as clearly as if he were standing behind me. Go for his forehand. When in doubt, forehand, forehand. So I hit to Stich’s forehand. Again and again he misses. The outcome feels, to both of us, I think, inevitable.

I fall to my knees. My eyes fill with tears. I look to my box, to Perry and Philly and Gil and especially Brad. You know everything you need to know about people when you see their faces at the moments of you greatest triumph. I’ve believed in Brad’s talent from the beginning, but now, seeing his pure and unrestrained happiness for me, I believe unestrainedly in him.

Reporters tell me I’m the first unseeded player since 1966 to win the US Open. More importantly, the first man who ever did it was Frank Shields, grandfather of the fifth person in my box. Brooke, who’s been here for every match, looks every bit as happy as Brad.

Marion Bartoli

In the players’ box, in the Royal Box, in the commentary box or on the courts, former champions were everywhere!

2-time Wimbledon champion Stefan Edberg, Roger Federer’s coach:

Stefan Edberg

3-time champion Boris Becker, now Novak Djokovic coach:

Boris Becker

Amélie Mauresmo, Andy Murray’s new coach and winner in 2006:

Wimbledon 2014

Sue Barker:

Sue Barker

John McEnroe and Tim Henman:

Wimbledon 2014

Ion Tiriac and Ilie Nastase:

Wimbledon 2014

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Paris Bercy poster

This Bercy tournament must look like an Halloween nightmare for new Director Guy Forget.

Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and crowd favorite Gael Monfils pulled out of the tournament.
Novak Djokovic crashed out in his first match, losing to Sam Querrey in the second round and 2011 runner-up Jo-Wilfried Tsonga lost to David Ferrer in quarterfinals.

No player outside the big four has won a Masters 1000 tournament since Robin Soderling took the Paris Bercy title in 2010. This will change this week.

So, who’s gonna win:

– 5th ranked David Ferrer?
Gilles Simon (18) who beat Czech Tomas Berdych in the quarters?
Jerzy Janowicz (69), the giant killer, who defeated Kohlscheiber, Cilic, Murray and Tipsarevic to reach the semifinals?
– wild card Michael Llodra (129), semifinalist here in 2010?

A little suggestion for Forget and the Bercy organisators: no player on next year’s poster.

The last Masters 1000 of the season, the BNP Paris Masters starts in about a week. I got the chance to attend the tournament in 2010 and 2011 and I’ll be there again this year, so stay tuned for recaps, pics and videos!

Waiting for the 2012 tournament, here are a few pics and videos of the 2010 tournament won by Robin Soderling.

Robin Soderling

The hard-hitting Swede defeated Simon, Wawrinka, Roddick, Llodra and Monfils to capture his first Masters 1000 title, his sixth career title.

“I don’t have a very good record in finals, and especially here in Paris, but I think a final is that one match you really want to win. I’m really happy that I played well today, and now I’m here winning the title. When I won that last point, I just felt so happy and I felt so relieved. I really wanted to win this match so much.”

Following his win, he reached a career high number 4 ranking.

Soderling has not competed since the 2011 Swedish Open in July 2011 due to injuries and illness and his return to tennis is in doubt.

Robin Soderling

Robin Soderling and Andy Roddick

Gael Monfils

2009 runner-up Gael Monfils qualified for the semifinals after victories over Becker, Verdasco and Murray. He then beat Roger Federer in a three set thriller 7-6 6-7 7-6, but Soderling proved too strong in the final.
Monfils, who was sidelined for several months this year with knee problems, has decided to end his season and won’t play the tournament this year.

Gael Monfils

Gael Monfils

Gael Monfils

Michael Llodra

Llodra, then ranked 34, beat two former Bercy champions, Djokovic and Davydenko, to reach the semifinals in Bercy.
And he was just one point away from the final: he got 3 match points in the 12th game of the final set, but Soderling raced to the net each time for winners.

Michael Llodra

Michael Llodra

Novak Djokovic

Winner in 2009, Djokovic lost to Michael Llodra in the third round of the 2010 tournament. One month later he lead Serbia to their first Davis Cup victory.

Novak Djokovic

Nikolay Davydenko

Davydenko won his first Masters 1000 title at Paris Bercy 2006 by defeating Dominik Hrbaty in the final. In 2010, he defeated Thomaz Bellucci and Tomas Berdych before losing to Michael Llodra.

Nikolay Davydenko

Nikolay Davydenko

Andy Roddick

Despite his powerful weapons, his serve and forehand, Roddick has never done well at Paris Bercy. In 2010, he lost to Robin Soderling in straight sets in the quarterfinals.

In the stands:

Former Roland Garros finalist Magnus Norman and Soderling’s coach at the time:

Magnus Norman

Larry Stefanski, Andy Roddick’s coach:

Larry Stefanski

Amélie Mauresmo:

Amélie Mauresmo

Guy Forget and Mansour Bahrami:

Mansour Bahrami and Guy Forget

More pics and videos of Paris Bercy 2010.

Read part 1 of my recap here.

A few pics of John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg, more coming soon.

John McEnroe

John McEnroe

John McEnroe

Bjorn Borg

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