In the ongoing global game of tennis where there's always another match to be played, another practice session at stake and more ranking points to pursue, many players are too preoccupied to realize the most meaningful moments of their careers while they're happening. Today, Jurgen Melzer's lifetime commitment to tennis culminated with the best tennis of his life.
Playing astute, all-court tennis the 23-year-old Melzer stunned 10th-seeded Andre Agassi, 6-3, 6-3 to advance to the third round of the Tennis Masters Series-Canada.
The match lasted one hour; the memory will last a lifetime.
"This is the tennis of my life and the best day of my life," a smiling Melzer said after the stirring victory.
The match was a showcase for Melzer's shot making skill. The left-handed Austrian set the tone from the outset boldly delving down the lines off both sides and forcing Agassi forward to chase down deft drop shots. Refusing to allow Agassi to establish a rhythm or engage him in extensive exchanges, Melzer imposed his tempo on the match and often went for winners within the first strokes of the rally.
The 61st-ranked Austrian reaped the rewards of his high-risk approach, hitting 28 winners compared to 10 for Agassi.
"If you play with Agassi from the baseline, you're going to lose," Melzer said. "I went for shots down the line and he doesn't like that too much. Normally, you miss more than that, but I was making the shots today."
In contrast, Agassi looked out of sorts; his footwork and racquet work out of sync. Typically, Agassi's backhand is his most reliable shot and the stroke that he uses to both break down opponents' ground games and open up the court for his own offensive options. Today, the Agassi backhand frequently flew long.
Staring down at his strings as if questioning the tension of his racquet, Agassi never looked completely comfortable. He fell behind 4-1 in the first set and failed to take advantage of two of his three break-point chances. Melzer maintained his lead and looked confident when he stepped up to serve for the set.
Two errant Agassi backhands bounded beyond the baseline to give the Austrian a 30-0 lead. Melzer's left-handed serve lacks the pure power of other top players, but can be deceptive and difficult to read. He struck an ace down the middle to reach set point then cracked an ace wide in the ad court to seize the first set.
The three-time tournament champion's lack of recent match play — Agassi has played only eight matches in the past four months — was apparent in the second set when Agassi couldn't convert a pair of break-point chances in the fourth game. On the first break point, Melzer hit a strong service winner wide. On the second, Melzer hit a sub 90 mph second serve — the sort of serve an in-form Agassi normally swats aside with all the assurance of a man brushing away a mosquito — but an indecisive Agassi seemed unsure of how to attack the soft second serve and looped a backhand return long. Two points later, Melzer held to forge a 2-2 tie.
Melzer's ability to hit fast, flat strokes down the line over the high part of the net robbed the reaction time from Agassi and forced him to reach for shots on the run. Unlike his opening round victory over Tommy Haas when he moved so well both laterally and forward, Agassi looked slightly slow in covering the running forehand and when Melzer pushed him wide to that side, Agassi sometimes reached with his racquet to wrist forehands back rather than taking the extra steps necessary to get to the spot and hit a shot with authority.
In the seventh game of the second set, Melzer struck backhand winner crosscourt to earn break point then broke serve with a brilliant running forehand pass crosscourt struck from several feet behind the baseline. Pumping his fist in excitement, Melzer trotted to his court-side seat with a 4-3 lead.
Trailing 15-30 in the ensuing game, Melzer got even with his 10th ace and followed with a pair of forehand winners to hold for 5-3.
A running topspin lob looped over Agassi's head gave Melzer match points at 40-15. Agassi saved both, but stuck a stretch forehand into the net to hand Melzer a third match point. Caught out of position Agassi struck a swing forehand volley wide as Melzer completed one of his biggest wins.
The victory raised Melzer's record to 18-17 on the season and while he's been below .500 for stretches of the season, Melzer has a history of playing his best tennis in Masters Series events: he upset Indian Wells finalist Tim Henman, 7-6(3), 2-6, 7-6(4) to reach the third round of Miami and knocked off both Nicolas Massu and Marat Safin to reach the Hamburg quarterfinals.