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September 12, 2005
Here's Hoping Agassi Keeps Defying His Age
IN pigtails and pedal pushers, Jaz Agassi ran full tilt down the carpeted hallway of Arthur Ashe Stadium, her feet trying to catch up to her momentum, her direction set on her daddy's weary legs as he walked off the court.

A moment earlier, Andre Agassi had been standing at a trophy ceremony, leaning slightly to his left in an ode to his finicky back, as Roger Federer held the United States Open cup.
Jaz was just happy that her daddy's work was done. It was everyone else who was so dispirited, so unsure if they'd seen the last of Agassi, hopeful that his tennis mortality has yet another ounce of elasticity.

Why not? If Agassi's health is intact, there is no reason that last night had to be a sunset. Instead, think of it as extended daylight.
Agassi can play on because he isn't Pete Sampras. At the end of his career - one underscored with his memorable 2002 United States Open title - Sampras was in search of the right exit sign. He was always looking, wondering when to say when.
True to his serve-and-volley form, Sampras liked the game quick and easy. One, two, three, point. Sampras was a marvelous champion and has a sacred place in history, but he wasn't into the labor and patience, as his French Open experiences revealed. And Sampras was not a fan of the process, as his abbreviated practices sometimes displayed.
Agassi craves the process and digs the labor. He is inspired by the results he sees from running up the mountains high above the Las Vegas Strip. He is pushed to disprove the myths of aging by running youth ragged on the court.

Agassi doesn't deny age. He just tries to defy it. All the cortisone shots in the world can't numb him to the high of competition and the pain he still feels from losing.
"Right now, the fact that this hurts so bad will be encouraging," said Gil Reyes, Agassi's longtime friend and training guru. "I think it will light the fire.
"No one forced Willie Mays," Reyes continued on the subject of retirement. "No one forced Joe Namath. I want to make sure that we're not forcing Andre to do what he probably shouldn't do."
Agassi seemed to feel exactly the same way after finishing off his 20th consecutive year at the United States Open with a journey one part mesmerizing, one part uplifting, and one part unfathomable for a 35-year-old.

"As of now, my intention is to keep working and keep doing what it is I do," he said. "You know, the only thing better than the last 20 years will be the last 21 years."
So it was very appropriate that the man in the gray stubble, the one with the two kids and sciatica, employed a strategy of longevity in a very special effort to outlast Federer's perfection before falling, 6-3, 2-6, 7-6 (1), 6-1.

"He's the best I've ever played against," said Agassi, adding: "Pete was great, no question. But there was a place to get to with Pete. You knew what you had to do. If you do it, it could be on your terms. There's no such place like that with Roger."
How do you nudge Picasso's elbow in mid-brushstroke? Agassi extended the match and Federer with a savvy selection of drop shots and dastardly angles, with Ben-Gay groans as he reached for gets, with winners concocted from years of experience. For a while, Federer's beautiful mind was confused by Agassi's math.

Then, with Agassi ahead, 4-2, in the third set, Federer regained his liquid moves and unflappable demeanor and began methodically dismantling the rowdy vibe of a crowd that was practically linked together in a séance, trying to mentally and spiritually lift Agassi.
"Well, over the last 20 years, I've come full circle," Agassi said. "It's been an amazing journey and discovery of each other as I've grown up out here."
The fans stood in appreciation of a living time capsule. One look at Agassi and out spills two decades of memories. There were the rebellious years filled with rock-star locks, neon shorts, a resistance to authority and a drive-through diet.
There was the Zen period with Barbara Streisand, and his marriage to Brooke Shields and 1997, the season he plunged to No. 141 and was forced to play in a satellite event.
He exited the bottom with enough perspective to start building a school for the disadvantaged and the energy to renew his vows to tennis. Soon, everyone would discover Agassi's true love, Steffi Graf.

Somehow, despite his wealth and fame and celebrity, Agassi was the everyman.
Hadn't everyone been a rebellious kid? Hadn't everyone been into Day-Glo shorts? Hadn't everyone misstepped with love once or twice?

Last night, Agassi was the crowd, and the crowd was Agassi. Who would want to see that relationship end? To let go of Agassi would be for the fans to release a little of themselves.

If Jaz Agassi was latched on to her Daddy after the match, so was everyone else.
It seems only natural for everyone to ask Jaz, "Can your daddy play a little longer?"
Maybe, just maybe, he'll say, "Yes." After all, Agassi is not Sampras. He is not looking for the right way to leave. He keeps working on ways to stay.

82 Posts
Posted on Sun, Sep. 11, 2005

Federer masterful despite Agassi's strong effort


Miami Herald

NEW YORK - When it was all over, after Andre Agassi's backhand return sailed long, ending his improbable U.S. Open run, breaking the hearts of the 22,000 adoring fans at Arthur Ashe Stadium and sealing the title for top-ranked Roger Federer, Agassi sat slumped over in his courtside folding chair, biting a towel, taking in the moment.

He turned to his right and took a long look at Federer, the Swiss maestro, who had just deflated the 35-year-old legend 6-3, 2-6, 7-6 (7-1), 6-1.

Agassi has lost eight straight times to Federer, and would later call him ``the best I've ever played against.'' That's saying a lot, considering Agassi has been around for two decades and faced the likes of Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe and Pete Sampras.

At 24 years old, Federer has won a record 23 consecutive finals, and six Grand Slam titles - two U.S. Opens, three Wimbledons, and an Australian Open. His record improved to a remarkable 71-3 this year.

Agassi took one last look at the star-studded crowd, which included Lance Armstrong, Robin Williams, Dustin Hoffman, Donald Trump, to name a few. They tried to will Agassi to win, chanting his name repeatedly at every tense moment. Surely, some of those people were there 20 years ago, when Agassi showed up at his first Open wearing denim shorts, Day-Glo shirts and a mane of peroxide-bleached hair. They watched him evolve into a grown-up, and cared for him like an adopted son.

Agassi stepped up to the microphone and said, ``It was a tough road, but it was a great road.'' And then a fan yelled, ``I love you Andreeee!'' from the upper deck. Agassi forced a smile. ``I love you, too. Thank you, man. Thank you, New York, for 20 years.''

There would be more love after the awards ceremony. As Agassi walked out of the stadium tunnel, his wife, Steffi Graf, and two children were there with hugs and kisses. He lifted blonde pigtailed daughter, Jaz, 1, into his arms and kissed her cheek gently several times
Who did you play, Daddy?'' asked 3-year-old son, Jaden.
``A guy with long hair,'' Agassi replied. That, clearly, was not the time to explain to the kid just how good that guy with long hair is. But he did gush over Federer at his press conference.

``It's disappointing to lose, but I just lost to a guy that's better,'' Agassi said. ``There's only so long you can deny it. He's the best I've ever played against. There's nowhere to go against him. Every shot has that sort of urgency. If you do what you're supposed to do, it just gives you a chance to win a point. That's just too good.''

Agassi had Federer down a break at 4-2 in the third set, and seemed to be rattling him by rushing the net and varying the pace of the game. But the Swiss kicked into another gear, found his serve, won seven straight points in the third-set tiebreaker and dominated the final set.

``I've played a lot of guys over so many years, and there's a safety zone, a place you can get to, something to focus on,'' Agassi said. ``But with Roger, anything you try to do, he potentially has an answer and it's just a function of when he starts pulling the triggers necessary.

``He plays the game in a special way. I haven't seen it before.''

Not even with Sampras?

``Pete was great, no question,'' Agassi said. ``But there was a place to get to with Pete. You knew what you had to do. If you could do it, it could be on your terms. There's no such place like that with Roger.''

The admiration is mutual.

``This was my most special Grand Slam, to play Andre in the final of the U.S. Open,'' Federer said. ``He is one of the only living legends in tennis we still have in the game, and to play him in this situation, him toward the end of his career and me on top of my game, it was very special.''

Asked if he agreed with Agassi's assessment that he is the best player in the world, Federer smiled and said: ``The best player of this generation, yes, but nowhere close to ever. Just look at the records some guys have. I'm a little cookie.''

Though he lost, Agassi said he would treasure this Open.

``It's 20 years come full circle,'' he said. ``It's been an amazing journey and discovery of each other the fans as I've grown up out here, to be here at an age where I can take in that sort of love and embrace it is a tremendous feeling. I'll never forget this. You can't take away from me ever what I'm leaving here with, and that's the memory of thousands of people pulling for me and showing appreciation for something I care deeply about.''

As much as that might sound like a farewell speech, Agassi insists it wasn't. But he didn't promise he'd be back at next year's Open.

``I'm unsure of what I'm going to do in a month, let alone a year,'' he said. ``As of now, my intention is to keep working, do what it is I do. The only thing better than the last 20 years would be the last 21 years.''
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