Andre Agassi will take part to the World Tennis Day Showdown in London on Monday, where he’ll meet archrival Pete Sampras – in another Wimbledon final rematch Ivan Lendl will face Pat Cash.
Prior to his return to London Agassi talked to Tennis Oggi about Wimbledon and its importance in his career.

Interview by Roberto Angelelli, translated by Tennis Buzz

22 years after his first Grand Slam triumph, Agassi recounts the historical moments on that magical green mantle, which helped him to grow as a player but also as a man.
“The last time I played in London – says Andre – was for the opening of the roof on Centre Court in 2009. But other times I came back just to enjoy the city.”

“I’ve always looked for an excuse to set foot on those courts again, and I think the best way is just that: play with Pete. Wimbledon makes me reflect and memories resurface. My career owes much to this tournament and to these people. I’ve learned so much here, I’m very fond of London. Here my wife shined and I grew up and matured, any excuse is a good one to come back and I look forward to it.”

My first experience in England was not good,” admitted Agassi. “It coincided with a particular period of my life, I felt overwhelmed by the big city and from different cultures. Playing for the first time on a totally different surface made ​​me feel like an intruder. I felt like I was in a dollhouse. I have lived a unique, bizarre experience that blew me away enough to not want to come back, because of a number of reasons, for three or four years.”

Opposed to the dressing code of the tournament, which always requires a predominantly white clothing, Agassi ended his self-imposed exile in 1991. And one year after, he won the first of his eight Grand Slam titles. A real turning point in the career of the American tennis player, who then wrote some of the most memorable pages in the history of tennis.

“When I really understood what Wimbledon meant to our sport, I came back and was forgiven by the British people. I think it was a great relationship, something unique, that grew over time. Every time in my career I played in London, regardless of the outcome, I always felt people were ready to support me and this helped me a lot in my life and career, to realize most of my dreams.

Rafael Nadal’s road to the final

Rafael Nadal

Round Opponent Score
R1 Bernard Tomic 6-4 ret.
R2 Thanasi Kokkinakis 6-2 6-4 6-2
R3 Gael Monfils 6-1 6-2 6-3
R4 Kei Nishikori 7-6 7-5 7-6
QF Grigor Dimitrov 3-6 7-6 7-6 6-2
SF Roger Federer 7-6 6-3 6-3
Stanislas Wawrinka’s road to the final

Stan Wawrinka

Round Opponent Score
R1 Andrey Golubev 6-4 4-1 ret.
R2 Alejandro Falla 6-3 6-3 6-7 6-4
R3 Vasek Pospisil WO
R4 Tommy Roberdo 6-3 7-6 7-6
QF Novak Djokovic 2-6 6-4 6-2 3-6 9-7
SF Tomas Berdych 6-3 6-7 7-6 7-6
Nadal – Wawrinka head to head
Year Tournament Surface Winner Score
2007 Australian Open Hard Nadal 6-2 6-2 6-2
2007 Stuttgart Clay Nadal 6-4 7-5
2007 Paris Bercy Hard Nadal 6-4 6-3
2009 Miami Hard Nadal 7-6(2) 7-6(4)
2010 Rome Clay Nadal 6-4 6-1
2010 Toronto Hard Nadal 7-6(12) 6-3
2010 Shanghai Hard Nadal 6-4 6-4
2012 Monte Carlo Clay Nadal 7-5 6-4
2013 Madrid Clay Nadal 6-2 6-4
2013 Roland Garros Clay Nadal 6-2 6-3 6-1
2013 Shanghai Hard Nadal 7-6(10) 6-1
2013 London Masters Hard Nadal 7-6(5) 7-6(6)

While Stanislas Wawrinka will play in his first Grand Slam final, with a win on Sunday, Rafael Nadal could equal Sampras’s 14 Grand Slam titles.
The Spaniard could also become the first player in the Open era (and the third overall after Aussie legends Rod Laver and Roy Emerson) to win each Grand Slam title at least twice.

Both players enter the final with great momentum. After struggling to overcome Kei Nishikori in the fourth round and Grigor Dimitrov in the quarter-finals, Nadal beat arch rival Roger Federer in great fashion on Friday. Wawrinka beat three-time defending champion Novak Djokovic in the quarter-finals and will give it all to take the trophy home, but the stats speak clearly against Wawrinka:

– Nadal leads their head to head 12-0.
– Wawrinka is the seventh different opponent Nadal will face in a Grand Slam final. Only Federer (Wimbledon 2006 and 2007) and Djokovic (Wimbledon and US Open 2011, Australian Open 2012) beat him in the final.
– the last first time Grand Slam finalist to have won the title is Juan Martin Del Potro at the 2009 US Open. Both Tomas Berdych (Wimbledon 2010) and David Ferrer (Roland Garros 2014) failed to win a set in their final. Their opponent: Rafael Nadal.

Pete Sampras will present the trophy to the winner on Sunday, 20 years after the first of his two Australian victories (1994, 1997). Who do you think will win?

Who will be the 2014 Australian Open champion?

  • Rafael Nadal (33%, 92 Votes)
  • Novak Djokovic (28%, 80 Votes)
  • Roger Federer (27%, 76 Votes)
  • Juan Martin Del Potro (4%, 11 Votes)
  • Andy Murray (4%, 10 Votes)
  • Stanislas Wawrinka (2%, 5 Votes)
  • Tomas Berdych (1%, 3 Votes)
  • Other (1%, 3 Votes)
  • Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (1%, 2 Votes)
  • Richard Gasquet (0%, 1 Votes)
  • David Ferrer (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 283

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Photo credit: Tennis Australia

Sampras - Moya, 1997 Australian Open

Excerpt of Pete Sampras autobiography A champion’s mind:

“I won the Australian Open to launch my 1997 campaign, a pleasant surprise given the way I felt about the tournament. I took extra pride in the win for a couple of reasons.
In the round of 16, I played Dominik Hrbaty in a five-set war that I eventually won 6-4. The on-court temperature during that match hit 135 degrees Fahrenheit. Today, with the extreme heat policy in effect, they would have stopped the match, or closed the roof on Rod Laver Arena. Given what had happened at the US Open just months earlier in my match with Alex Corretja, I was glad to survive that test of stamina in the infernal Aussie heat.

It was also encouraging for me that while the Australian major is a hard-court tournament, in 97, it was dominated by slow-court players. After Hrbaty, I beat, in order, Al Costa, Thomas Muster, and Carlos Moya, to take the title. Each of those guys had won – or would win – Roland Garros. That gave me hope – maybe my fate at Roland Garros, the one slam that continued to elude me, wasn’t sealed quite yet.”

Mark Philippoussis, Australian Open 1996

Excerpt of Pete Sampras autobiography A champion’s mind:

“I entered that event after having had less than a month of “off season” following the Grand Slam Cup (I pulled out of that with an ankle injury), and there was no way I was ready, much less eager to play.

I made the trip, though, and I played and ended up losing in the third round to an Aussie, Mark Philippoussis. The conditions were perfect for an upset: Mark had an adoring home crowd behind him and it was a night match, with some eighteen thousands fans jammed into the Rod Laver Arena, hungry for an upset. Mark just overpowered me – he was in the mythic zone, and when that happens to a player who has as big and versatile a game as Philippoussis, you’re in trouble.

Down deep, I didn’t feel too badly about the loss. I’d done my best. It might have been different if I’d been able to have six or eight weeks off to recharge my batteries and prepare for the new year. It also might have been different if it were any other major but the Australian. I never really liked playing in Melbourne, and my results over the years reflected it (I won just two titles there). This surprised many people, because on the surface the Australian Open might have looked like the perfect Grand Slam for me.

The Aussies have a great tennis tradition, yet even their icons tended to be regular, plainspoken, understated guys, somewhat like me. That was an immediate affinity I felt with Australia. The Australians also are a friendly, easygoing people, and the atmosphere at their major is laid-back; that also suited me. You could get gut-shot in the street there and if you crawled up to a guy for help he’d probably say, “No worries, mate!” and then do all he could to help.
The facilities at Melbourne Park, including Rod Laver Arena, are modern and first-class. You don’t have that feeling of chaos and crowding that characterizes the other majors; even the media presence is considerably smaller. So you have a little less of that intensity and crazy pressure.

In Melbourne you could always count on a few days when the temperature pushes the 100 degree mark, and even though it isn’t very humid, the heat can be draining. It was a special problem for me, because I secretly suffered from thalassemia, a mild disease common to men of Mediterranean descent. It’s basically a blood-iron deficiency that causes anemia, and those who have it are prone to wilting in intense heat.

Another unpredictable thing about the courts at Melbourne Park was the Rebound Ace surface (which was replaced by Plexicushion for 2008). Rebound Ace was a rubber compound that they painted over the typical hard-court base of asphalt. The surface provided a little cushioning and slowed the bounce, but it did strange things in the heat. It was so hot in Melbourne one year that a TV crew cracked an egg on court and, using time-lapse photography, recorded it frying. The heat made the Rebound Ace very sticky.

Yet the conditions in Oz can change in the blink of an eye. The difference between playing day and night matches there is huge (the Australian and US opens are the only two majors that have night tennis, and the retractable roof over the Laver Arena means you can have night indoor tennis). The surface reacted easily to ambient changes of any kind; it was simply a different court when the temperature was a comfortable 75 or 80 degrees – which was often the case during the night matches that followed scorching afternoons. To me, the Australian major was a crapshoot in the areas where I most preferred consistency – the surface, the balls, and the ambient conditions.”

Pete Sampras would end up winning 6 more Grand Slams. As for Philippoussis, despite 2 Grand Slam finals (1998 US Open and 2003 Wimbledon) he never fullfilled the expectations placed in him.

Pete Sampras, 1994 Australian Open champion

Excerpt of Pete Sampras autobiography A champion’s mind:

“Down in Australia for the start of 1994, I played my first two matches and then came up against a newcomer from Russia, Yevgeny Kafelnikov. People had warned me about this tall, rangy kid with straw-blond hair, a jack-o’-lantern grin, and a high-quality two-handed backhand. His forehand was one of te all-time ugly shots in tennis; he hit it with a bent arm and it looked really ungainly, especially in comparison to his smooth, sweet backhand.
But that forehand was a better shot that it looked, and the guy had plenty of talent – enough to push me, hard. What’s worse, I never really did well with guys I hadn’t played before. What advantage I had in terms of my reputation was offset by the fact that it usually took me a match or two to figure a guy out, and get into a comfort zone against his unique game.

But I survived Kafelnikov, then beat Ivan Lendl and got my old friends Jim Courier and Todd Martin, back to back, in the semis and finals. I rolled through Todd in straight sets to win my third major in a row. I was on fire. Next I won the two big US winter had-court events, Indian Wells and Key Biscayne. I began to sense that people were a little in awe of me, a little fearful, and I liked that feeling.”