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Old 02-05-2004, 11:54 PM   #18
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Really nice Andre article, and very true. He is going to be the biggest loss to the ATP tour ever, in my opinion.
Guru Agassi is irreplaceable

January 31, 2004

JOHN McENROE posed Andre Agassi a hypothetical question. Say in 20 years, if the child of Agassi and his wife Steffi Graf met the child of Lleyton Hewitt and Kim Clijsters in a match at the Australian Open, who would win?

The champion wasn't sure other than that the winner would probably meet him in the next round. As Agassi methodically steered his way to the semi-finals this fortnight, it did not seem so far-fetched.

Reality returned at Melbourne Park on Thursday night. At 33 years of age Agassi has limited time at the top. There will be no public slide. When he realises defeats like the one he suffered at the brutal hands of Marat Safin are inevitable then Agassi will walk away. That's official. "I come here with the belief I can win," he said last week. "My motivation is the fact that, if I play my best tennis, can I still win? I need to be able to answer that question 'yes'."

So those famous short little steps will soon take him to retirement.

Agassi has been everything to tennis. Brash and belligerent in youth, a wise and considered veteran. The freaky kid in denim, the guru in old age. He has won a Grand Slam on grass, clay and hard court. He has confronted the greatest players - McEnroe, Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Stefan Edberg - and he has beaten the new generation of Andy Roddick, Hewitt and Roger Federer. He has been ranked No.1 and as low as 141.

Most of all he has been sensible when the game has been silly. He is leaving when the sport fines Fabrice Santoro threepence for spitting in the direction of a linesman, when no action at all is taken after Karol Kucera suggests Australian linesmen and women cheat.

God knows what he thinks of the argument that has raged around Mark Philippoussis and his loss to Hicham Arazi. It has been nonsense yet it has lasted days. Pat Cash apparently now all but fears for his life.

There is no ready replacement because the sensible Todd Martin has probably played his last Australian Open, too. Roddick would seek to speak for the game but cannot see the difference between fact and propaganda. A furious Hewitt has taken the game to the legal court over, of all things, a television interview. The women's game is lucky it has Lindsay Davenport.

Tennis will miss Agassi the ambassador just as much as it will miss Agassi the player.

Players are seeking to take more and more control of the game. Hewitt was influential in the establishment last April of a breakaway players' union, the International Men's Tennis Association. Agassi is moving on at the very moment he is required.

During this tournament Agassi has been asked to comment on matters as varied as the weather to the death of David Hookes.

There were two questions and answers that best sum up Agassi.

"Have you ever been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn or a king? Each time you find yourself flat on your face, do you just pick yourself up and get back in the race? That song is one of your favourites. Would that sum up Andre Agassi in some ways?"

Agassi: "Yeah, I suppose I leave that for others to read into more than I ever have. I just have a strong sense of appreciation for anybody that has experienced a number of areas in their life, lived it, learned it, gotten themselves through some tough times. That's why I've connected to the song. I'm not quite sure I would flatter myself with the power of those words. But you certainly strive for that."

Question: "What do you say to people to inspire them to reach their dream?"

Agassi: "Any dream, just by definition, is a long way off. It's something that you dream about. You need to sort of work backwards from it. To me, you have to first understand what it is you want to accomplish. You have to then sort of look at yourself and be honest about where it is you actually are. Then you have to set up a plan that keeps you focused on a million small steps that need to happen that continually build that momentum for your life. So you set your plan, and then you work your plan. And your plan should include a lot of little victories every day ... Long live dreams."

He always had a great return of serve.
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