Hi, it isnīt a new article but I didnīt know where else to post it. Itīs quite interesting, maybe you have read it before..
The man to watch
By Mats Wilander
January 25, 2004
Andre Agassi serves during his Open match against Thomas Enqvist.
The first time I played against Andre Agassi was in 1986 in La Quinta in California. I was seeded No. 1 for the tournament, and here I was, up against this skinny kid from Vegas. I'd say he hadn't even turned 16.
I'd never seen him before, and I had no idea about him, other than having heard people say that he was really good, a genuine prospect.
We went onto the court and in the warm-up, after the first four or five shots, I'm thinking, "Oh my God, this guy can really hit the ball." He was just hitting the ball so clean, like nobody else, even at that age.
Yes, he was hitting them, but he was hitting them out of play by a metre or more.
We started the match and he kept hitting the ball the same way. He just kept hitting the middle of the racquet, but it was going way long, going everywhere. I'm thinking, "What the hell's he doing now?"
Afterwards, in what became a famous press conference, I was asked: "So, what do think of Agassi?"
"What do I think of Agassi?" I said. "You REALLY want to know what I think of Agassi? I think he doesn't know how to play the game. He understands how to hit a lot of shots, but he doesn't understand how to win points or construct points."
Only two years later, I'm playing Andre Agassi in the semi-final of the French Open.
Before long, I was clearly in a kind of shock. He was just standing in one place and pounding the ball all over the court, running me all over the place.
To me, there were so many times when I believed I was out of the match. I thought, there's nothing I can do any more. I was trying to run everything down, but I just wasn't fast enough.
Even so, I could feel that Agassi didn't know how to capitalise on what he was doing to me. If I could just get this shot over here or this shot over there, then I knew I had him, and I beat him.
Andre was only 18 back then, and his tennis was still very immature. But even at Wimbledon four years later, I believe he won his first major without really knowing how to construct points, either.
But Agassi knows how to construct points now. He has acquired a mental strength that means he knows his game better than any other player, and he knows precisely what he needs to do to win. He has honed his tennis brain.
This, I believe, has come relatively late in his career, but I think it's why he's able to be so fresh so late in career. Because it's new to him.
He's found something else, to the point that he's probably improving as he gets older. He's certainly not getting any worse. The game is better now than it was 10 years ago, and he's still winning majors, so he has to have improved.
Yet again, Agassi leaves the court a winner.
Picture: Paul Harris
I believe Agassi, like Bjorn Borg and Boris Becker before him, has changed the way the game is played in his time. Borg was the first player to hit with such huge top spin, and Becker brought incredibly hard hitting to the game.
Everybody was trying to play like Borg and they started keeping up with him, and likewise with Becker.
Similarly, many players have tried to play the way Agassi does. The significant difference is that he has honed his game to such a degree that they can't keep up with him simply by trying to play him at his own game. It's like he's actually lured them into a trap.
I wouldn't say he's set it up that way for himself, but that's how it's worked out.
And that's why I believe that every other player should be there watching and learning when Andre Agassi is on the court.
I'm looking at him. As a coach, I've learned more from watching Agassi than from watching anyone else.
They don't need to look at the way he hits the ball - that's an individual thing - but they need to look at where he hits the ball.
Players simply are not doing that, and in the process they are robbing themselves of a wonderful learning opportunity.
Nobody constructs a point better Agassi, even though it doesn't look like he's constructing the point. Mostly, it looks like he's just hitting, and I think a lot of players think that's all he's doing.
But he's not just hitting. He's hitting with particular reasons. He'll hit four hard ones, then he will just put a little extra top spin on and that produces the short ball and that's when he can hit his winner.
What he also does that they can't see is that he minimises his errors. He's just not making the errors that they're making but he's hitting as many winners. He has 20 errors and 40 winners and the other guy has 40 errors and 40 winners.
If you can't hit twice as many winners as unforced errors, you are going for too much. This is where I believe the men's game is in a little danger. Too many players are going for too many big shots without being able to back it up.
Agassi has played so many matches over 17 years that he figured it out at last, and now he is reaping the benefits. That's why I think it's so important that players try to figure it out earlier. It's not a natural thing. Mental strength can be learned, and Agassi has worked hard.
That's not to say he has no special talent.
His great talent, I believe, is possessed by his eyes. He must have the fastest eyes in the world to be able to return serve the way he does.
I don't know how he does it, because he doesn't actually take a step sideways either. He takes two steps forward, cuts the angles like a good soccer goalkeeper. Anyone can cut the angles, but then when you have that much less time, how are you able to hit the ball?
On certain surfaces, he's made it more advantageous returning than serving. He hits winners off a serve, and that was considered dumb in my time.
I think he's the reason why the guys are not serving and volleying any more. With guys serving faster you would think they would serve and volley more than they do, but they can't because it's coming back at them faster again. Players are using the speed of the serve in their returns, and that's what they've learnt from Agassi.
They can also learn from the great way he controls and shifts the momentum of a match.
He knows that as one of the world's best players, his opponents are already intimidated before the start. What he's figured out is that while he's got them a little psyched out, he's going to jump on them early and they're going to be totally psyched out.
If he's up 2-0 in the first set, he's basically up 4-0. If he wins the first set, he has basically won the first two sets, because it's a steeper hill to climb back up against him than anybody else.
That's not the case for the better players, because they know they can get back in the match. But in tennis, you don't play to the score, you play to the momentum. Like many things in the game, Agassi does that better than anyone.