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Now for Agassi's real challenge: getting Steffi Graf back on the court for doubles
By Richard Hinds
January 27 2003

On Australia Day, it was supposed to be Hewey. Instead we got the man one desperate fan dubbed Schuey. As in "Come on, Schuey".

The nickname was catchy but the call was rather unfair. Rainer Schuettler could not have done much more to get the final over and done with. By the end he was pumping out unforced errors at such a rate the usually hyperactive Andre Agassi looked no more animated than the net posts.

It all went by in a 76-minute blur, the last set dispensed with in just 21 minutes. You could have written the whole thing off as an embarrassing exception but this sort of rout is not without precedent. Too often one of the no-name players supposedly representative of the game's great depth finishes his grand slam final debut as the answer to a trivia question. In a few years' time some will still remember that Schuettler was Agassi's victim in the most one-sided Australian Open final since 1926. Anyone who paid $115 for a centre court ticket will try hard to forget.

Unlike last year's Thomas Johansson-Marat Safin yawner, this final at least produced some historic footnotes. The crowd saw, albeit briefly, a great champion put the eighth notch on his grand slam belt - the fifth since his 29th birthday.

Agassi's belated quest for statistical greatness has become the game's greatest plot line. The enormous potential that once seemed likely to be wasted has now yielded more grand slam titles than John McEnroe, and as many as Ken Rosewall, Ivan Lendl, Fred Perry and Jimmy Connors.


But while Agassi cannot be held responsible for what comes back over the net, history is supposed to be made. From the time Schuettler shanked a forehand halfway to Dusseldorf on the way to losing the first eight points, this time history was conceded. Meekly.

Allowance can be made for nerves. For how Schuettler was intimidated by his opponent's reputation and overawed by the occasion. "Some people respond to it beyond their abilities, some respond above their abilities," said Agassi. Put Schuettler down as a "below" man.

Of course, given Agassi had started a $1.11 favourite, it was no surprise the match was one-sided. That was not merely due to the American's outstanding record and incredible form, but because Schuettler had celebrated his semi-final victory over Andy Roddick by collapsing on his back. It was the act of a man who had won his personal final and who gave himself little chance in the real thing.

So abject was his performance it will take Agassi more time to clip off coach Darren Cahill's hair, mix a margarita for teetotalling trainer Gil Reyes and talk Steffi Graf into playing mixed doubles at the French Open than it did to clinch those bets.

The crowd laughed when Schuettler raised his hands in mock triumph after finally milking his first point. They should have stormed the box office and demanded a refund. Like David Nalbandian's limp effort against Lleyton Hewitt at Wimbledon, this final was only really funny for its absurdity. Like the fact that one of the most sustained bursts of applause was for the chair umpire after he asked fans to turn off their mobile phones.

Schuettler did not settle long enough to reveal any plan he might have hatched to upset Agassi, other than the misguided notion that a) Agassi's ageing legs might be susceptible to drop shots and b) Schuettler could play them.

It turned out he couldn't. Instead, the four drops shots Schuettler attempted jumped up like dolphins eating fish. No clues needed about what Agassi did to them, except to say if it happened during feeding time at Sea World there would be a lot of traumatised toddlers.

The one time Schuettler had a chance to make inroads came in the second set, when he led 2-1 and had Agassi 0-30 on serve. For once, the German did not buckle. Instead, Agassi raised his game yet another notch, knocked off four points and restored the imbalance.

At that point Graf could have headed for the practice court to prepare for Roland Garros, although it might take more than that to make her budge. "I don't think anyone appreciates how hard it is going to be for me to get her out there," Agassi said.

While we could scarcely have seen less of Agassi yesterday, we are likely to see more. He will play, he says, until: "I still play my best and don't feel like I can win."

During yesterday's rout, the time when Agassi looks over the net and doesn't fancy his chances seemed distant. Perhaps that is an indictment on his younger opposition. Undoubtedly it is testament to the greatness of his game.

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Sorry if the article is long, but the last phrase got me thinking if Agassi's present success is a direct result of an underachieved opposition or further proof of his greatness... or both?
What do you guys think?
 

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it is proof of his greatness. need you really ask...? :p :p

if you judge it solely on the basis of Rainer's lackluster performance, then it looks like Andre simply had inadequate opposition. if you take the entire tourny into account, things improve considerably.

i hope an occasional posting friend of mine taks you up on the question however. i can't do it justice as well as he can. he has interesting, articulate ideas about Andre's place in history.

finally, this excerpt, in hindsight, was so palpably true!
Schuettler had celebrated his semi-final victory over Andy Roddick by collapsing on his back. It was the act of a man who had won his personal final and who gave himself little chance in the real thing.
thanks for posting. Hinds is reliably funny. ;) ;)
 

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Great article.

Schuettler did not settle long enough to reveal any plan he might have hatched to upset Agassi, other than the misguided notion that a) Agassi's ageing legs might be susceptible to drop shots and b) Schuettler could play them.
LOL!!

The one time Schuettler had a chance to make inroads came in the second set, when he led 2-1 and had Agassi 0-30 on serve. For once, the German did not buckle. Instead, Agassi raised his game yet another notch, knocked off four points and restored the imbalance.
Again, LOL!!
 
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