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.

Lukas Rosol caused the biggest upset in tennis history today. Ranked number 100, he defeated Rafael Nadal 6-7 6-4 6-4 2-6 6-4.

Here is a quick look back at Wimbledon’s recent upsets:

2002: George Bastl defeats Pete Sampras
Swiss player Bastl was ranked 145 in the world when he tooked on the seven time champion of Wimbledon, Pete Sampras. Bastl, who only got into the tournament as a lucky loser after failing to qualify, beat the American in five sets.
2 months later, Pistol Pete played his last match at the US Open, defeating long time rival Andre Agassi in final, to win a 14th Grand Slam title.

2003: Ivo Karlovic defeats Lleyton Hewitt
Lleyton Hewitt joined 1966 champion Manuel Santana in becoming only the second defending men’s title holder in Wimbledon’s history to be knocked out in the first round. Unknown qualifier Ivo Karlovic went in to the 2003 tournament ranked 203 in the world, coming back from one set down, to beat Hewitt in 4 sets.

1987: Peter Doohan defeats Boris Becker
Becker, an unseeded champion at 17 in 1985, went on to successfully defend his title the following year. But in 1987, the Australian Doohan denied him a hat-trick of titles, beating Boom Boom in the second round.

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Andre Agassi, Wimbledon 1992

Extract of Andre Agassi‘s autobiography Open:

The talent assembled in London in 1992 is stunning. There’s Courier, ranked number one, fresh off two slam victories. There’s Pete, who keeps getting better. There’s Stefan Edberg, who’s playing out of his mind. I’m the twelfth seed, and the way I’ve been playing I should be seeded lower.

In my first-round match, against Andrei Chesnokov, from Russia, I play like a low seed. I lose the first set. Frustrated, I rip into myself, curse myself, and the umpire gives an official warning for saying fuck. I almost turn on him and fire a few fuck-fuck-fucks. Instead I decide to shock him, shock everyone, by taking a breath and being composed. Then I do something more shocking. I win the next three sets.

I’m in the quarters. Against Becker, who’s reached six o the last seven Wimbledon finals. This is his de facto home court, his honey hole. But I’ve been seeing his serve well lately. I win in five sets, played over two days.

In the semis I face McEnroe, three time Wimbledon champion. He’s thirty-three, nearing the end of his career, and unseeded. Given his underdog status, and his legendary accomplishments, the fans want him to win, of course. Part of me wants him to win also. But I beat him in three sets. I’m in the final.
I’m expecting to face Pete, but he loses his semifinal match to Goran Ivanisevic, a big, strong serving machine from Croatia. I’ve played Ivanisevic twice before, and both times he’s shellacked me in straight sets. So I feel for Pete, and I know I’ll be joining him soon. I have no chance against Ivanisevic. It’s a middleweight versus a heavyweight. The only suspense is whether it will be a knowkout or a TKO.

As powerful as Ivanisevic’s serve is under normal circumstances, today it’s a work of art. He’s acing me left and right, monster serves that the speed gun clocks at 138 miles an hour. But it’s not just the speed, it’s the trajectory. They land at a 75-degree angle.
[…] He wins the first set, 7-6. I don’t break him once. I concentrate on not overeacting, on beathing in, beathing out, remaining patient. When the thought crosses my mind that I’m on losing my fourth slam final, I casually set that thought aside. In the second set Ivanisevic gives me a few freebies, makes a few mistakes and I break him. I take the second set, then the third. Which makes me feel almost worse, because once again I’m a set away from a slam.
Ivanisevic rises up in the fourth set and destroys me. I’ve made the Croat mad. He loses only a handful of points in the process. Here we go again. I can see tomorrow’s headlines as plain as the racket in my hand. As the fifth set begins I run in place to get the blood flowing and tell myself one thing: You want this. You do not want to lose, not this time. The problem in the last three slams was that you didn’t want them enough, and therefore you didn’t bring it, but this one you want, so this time you need to let Ivanisevic and everyone else in this joint know you want it.

Now Ivanisevic’s serving at 4-5. He double faults. Twice. He’s down 0-30. I haven’t broken this guy in the last hour and a half and now he’s breaking himself. He misses another first serve.He’s coming apart. I know it. I see it. No one knows better than I what coming apart looks like. A puff of chalk shoots up as if he hit the line with an assault rifle. Then he hits another uneturnable serve. Suddenly it’s 30-all.
He misses another first serve, makes the second. I crush a return, he hits a half volley, I run and pass him and start the long walk back to the baseline. I tell myself, You can win this thing with just one swing. One swing. You’ve never been this close. You may never be again. […]

He tosses the ball, serves to my backhand; I jump in the air, swing with all my strength , but I’m so tight that the ball to his backhand side has mediocre pace. Somehow he misses the easy volley.

His ball smacks the net and just like that, after twenty-two years and twenty-two million swings of a tennis racket, I’m the 1992 Wimbledon champion.

Extract from Agassi‘s book Open:

“I’m the second seed in the 2003 Australian Open, and I come out growling, ferocious. I reach the semis and beat Ferreira in ninety minutes. In six matches I’ve dropped only one set.

Andre Agassi

In the final I face Rainer Schuettler from Germany, I win three straight sets, losing only five games and tying the most lopsided victory ever at the Australian Open. My eighth slam, and it’s my best performance ever. I tease Stefanie that it’s like one of her matches, the closest I’ll ever come to experiencing her kind of dominance.

Rainer Schuettler
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Only 20 sentences dedicated by Andre Agassi to his 2001 Australian Open win in his autobiography Open? The Australian Open, a tournament he “loves some much”…… as much as he loves tennis, or not.

Sure, there’s not much to say about his 6-4 6-2 6-2 routine win over the surprising Arnaud Clément.

Agassi-Clément

Extract from Agassi’s biography:

“In January we fly to Australia. I feel good when we land. I do love this place. I must have been an aborigine in another life. I always feel at home here. I always enjoy walking into Rod Laver Arena, playing under Laver’s name.

I bet Brad that I’m going to win the whole thing. I can feel it. And when I do, he will have to jump the Yarra River.
I batter my way to the semis and face Rafter again. We play three hours of hammer-and-tong tennis, filled with endless I-grunt-you-grunt rallies.
He’s ahead, two sets to one. Then he withers. The Australian heat. We’re both drenched with sweat, but he’s cramping. I win the next two sets.

In the final I face Clément, a grudge match four months after he knocked me out of the US Open. I rarely leave the baseline. I make few mistakes, and those I do make, I put quickly behind me.
Clément is muttering to himself in French, I feel a serene calm. My mother’s son. I beat him in straight sets.

Agassi-Clément

Andre Agassi

It’s my seventh Slam, putting me tenth on the all-time list. I’m tied with McEnroe, Wilander, and others – one ahead of Becker and Edberg.
Wilander and I are the only ones to win three Australian Opens in the Open era. At the moment, however, all I care is seeing Brad do the backstroke in the Yarra, then getting home to Stefanie.”

Steffi Graf and Brad Gilbert