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post #20 of (permalink) Old 02-12-2004, 01:55 PM
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Re: ** Andre Articles & Interviews !! **

Hope this hasn't already been posted. It's from right before the AO, but I wanted to post it anyway because it's a nice tribute!

Final verses in sweet redemption song
By Rohit Brijnath
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January 17, 2004

One day next week I'll be there. Without a notebook. With no pen. No break point noted, or forehand winner circled in red. One day it will be fitting to go there not as reporter but as spectator. Just to watch, to admire, to take him - Andre Agassi - in like one last deep breath.

To note the impossibly abbreviated strokeplay. The swift, short steps between points like a man late for dinner with Steffi Graf. The unfussed serve. The forehand so quick he would leave Billy the Kid for dead. The pate polished with a towel, the glinting earring a reminder that the maverick is not all dead. The return, a product of some sophisticated radar, that brings to mind Newton's third law of equal and opposite reaction.

This is history walking pigeon-toed, this is player as era in himself, this is geometry practised at full speed. Connors, McEnroe, Lendl, Becker, Edberg, Wilander, Sampras, Courier, Chang, Rafter, Stich, Mecir, somewhere, sometime, he has played them all, chastised many, an encyclopedia on shot-making, an almanac of audacity. This you have to see.

This you have to see because as the past few years suggest, he is at his most complete here (he has not won a slam elsewhere since 1999), legs fresh, mind alert. On hardcourt, too, his game these days finds its fullest expression, his repertoire is at its most damaging.

This you have to see because it could be the beginning of the journey's end, although if you said that to him, he might still spit at your feet.

Perhaps he will play on, and on, "34 in April" just another number of many affixed to his name (like more than 1025 matches played . . . over three decades).

He suggested, last Open, that if he found his best was not good enough to win, then the racquets would be mothballed. It has not come yet, but that cowboy Roddick, that matador Ferrero, that artist Federer, that marathoner Hewitt, all just out of nappies when he began, they are going to gang up and tell him to pick up his pension cheque.

He is not ready to listen, but eventually it's not them but time that will stand as an unconquerable opponent. On his day, he is still master of his universe, but how many days in succession he can summon up greatness, even he will not know. The curtain is threatening to begin its slow-motion fall.

He will not, you think, go easily into the dying light, intent on squeezing every last victory out of his second coming.

If we can casually slate sportsmen into heroes and sinners, winners and wasters, then few men are able to cross that divide and erase what is part-truth and part-stereotype. Only George Foreman, perhaps, who journeyed from bristling, surly brute to jesting, jabbing preacher, has reinvented himself more completely.

Years ago, an American writer constructed a haunting appraisal of Jimmy Connors, that read in part: "There will come a time when Connors is 50, that he will be sitting alone in an airport between flights over a cup of coffee faced with the shards of his past. He will be a man then and he will wish that as a boy he had done it better." For too long, it seemed that epitaph would capture Agassi as well.

He was born to extraordinary gifts but seemed oblivious to them. It was as if F. Scott Fitzgerald were satisfied writing supermarket flyers. He was style sneering at substance, a long-haired rebel with no adequate cause, genius gone wild. When, later on, he was appraised in the shadow of Pete Sampras - all silent, disciplined desire - this shallowness was heightened.

But there must be courage to a man who turns a cautionary tale into an inspiring one. Agassi might still wish he had done it better as a boy, but he has compensated for it as a man. The poser who showed us his aerodynamic hairless chest now has us gawp at his musculature; the utterer of inanities like "I'm as happy as a faggot in a submarine" now is tennis's resident philosopher.

The player who won only three grand slam titles of the 34 he contested between 1986 and 1998 won five of 19 from 1999-2003. The dilettante who earned headlines for his girlfriends is lauded for his humanitarian work. The mutineer against tradition has become its embracer.

The showman lives through his post-match blown kisses, the last residues of his petulance occasionally surface (his 2001 comment of a lineswoman who complained of his audible obscenity was "I blame her husband for that"), but as a transformation it is compelling. It is appropriate that only Agassi could shave his head and grow in strength.

Is he slower now, more attracted to domesticity, less taken by tennis's grinding schedule? We do not know. But this we do: he will see this Roddick and Federer and Hewitt and Ferrero, with their winged feet and youthful ambition, and he will want to have a final say, provide one reminder that at disciplining babies he is well-versed.

It's why you have to be there, to hear what could be the final verses of this redemption song.

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