Australian Open diary: Andre Agassi amazed at game's rising standard
The former world No1 believes he 'would have had to be a different player, would have had
to have a different body' to compete with the leading players today
'It’s been amazing watching the standard continually get better. You wonder how it’s possible to continue at that sort of rate,' says Andre Agassi, the former world No1. Photograph: Marianna Massey/Getty Images
How would Andre Agassi beat Novak Djokovic? "Let's see," he ponders. "…I would have probably gotten in a fight with him in the locker room before the match. I might have had a chance there."
As for tennis, the former world No1 is as taken aback as anyone by the rising standard at the top of the men's game.
"It's been amazing watching the standard continually get better. You wonder how it's possible to continue at that sort of rate. What [Roger] Federer did when he came and when I said goodbye, a lot had to do with what I knew was untouchable.
"It's just a different standard of tennis. It's different rules of engagement when guys can do what these guys can do. I don't recognise it from a standpoint of strategy, because I counted on getting somebody behind in a point and then slowly smothering them. But nobody's behind in a point. You never know when they're behind in a point. That would have eliminated any ability I had to move forward in the court.
"I would have had to be a different player, would've had to have a different body. It means the game has gotten a lot better. Fed raised it; [Rafael] Nadal matched and raised it; [Novak] Djokovic, for that intense little period of time, even raised it. It seemed like last year settled down a bit, and now all of a sudden [Andy] Murray is in the equation.
"When I see those top three guys, I see what history will say is the golden age of tennis. You're talking about arguably the three best guys. Djokovic will still need some distance to cover, but best of all time, if you're having that discussion in the same generation, it's remarkable."
Agassi agreed that Lance Armstrong's recent admission that he doped during his cycling career has thrown the spotlight on all sports, including tennis, and said stricter testing in his own playing days "would have kept me from destroying a few years of my life. That's what I did to myself with the use of the recreational, destructive substance of crystal meth. It would have saved me on a lot of fronts."
As for testing, he said: "The more the better as far as I'm concerned. The stricter, the better; the more transparency the better; the more accountability the better. Describing a problem is a heck of a lot easier than solving it, is one thing I've learned."
Asked if it was possible for modern players to recover as quickly as they do without using performance-enhancing drugs – as the former Belgian tour player Christophe Rochus suggested last week – Agassi had a more circumspect view.
"I marvel at [what they do], first of all. My whole game was based on playing with that sense of urgency and to force guys to be ballistic out there, to treat a marathon like a sprint. I benefited from raising the stakes for that. I had more or less four hours in me before I knew I was running on borrowed time physically. That's four hours of me running other people.
"They're more calculated now. They play slower, so six hours is not the same six hours that I played. But they're also much better athletes. They also appear [in the lower body] to be a lot stronger than I was; upper body probably not as much. But my game was never about using my legs as much as it was bullying the ball around the court.
"So, yes, I believe it's achievable. I think they've gotten very aware at an early age how important it is to be prepared, and I think there's a lot you can gain from training right and training smartly.
"So, I don't watch it and wonder in light of the Lance situation. But I also have the luxury of knowing that there's no time to ... The negotiation of what one would have to go through to figure a way around [testing] or to figure a short cut seems implausible."
Implausible does not mean impossible. And, earlier, Agassi had this to say when he heard about Lance Armstrong: "My reaction to it is the same as everybody. It was shock, hard to stomach, sadness, disappointment. I think 'anger' is a fair word. I was certainly one of those that flat out believed him that long period of time. The thought of it not being the case was unconscionable to me."
Unconscionable. That's probably a better word. You'd hope it doesn't have to be used in tennis in the near future.