Friday, 10 April 2015


I have previously documented in detail the year that I have my fondest memories of as far as the game of tennis is concerned, 1988. It was the year of the Swede, the year that was dominated by Mats Wilander but also involved a 'cameo' from Stefan Edberg as he chimed in with a Wimbledon title, the only Slam Mats didn't win that year.
It was the same year  that my favourite rock band Def Leppard set the World alight with my favourite album of all time 'Hysteria'. It was an album that was in fact released at the end of 1987 but I didn't hear it until the year that the Swedes reigned supreme.
Now there was something about an 18 year old kid from the US who struck me as both entertaining and flamboyant who had a mop of hair which resembled that of the lead singer of Def Leppard, Joe Elliot.
The first time I ever saw Andre Agassi play tennis was in fact in the semi finals of the French Open of 1988 and he just so happened to be up against my idol Mats Wilander. When I first tuned in to this particular match the young fellow from Las Vegas looked just like a rock star, he could have passed as a guitarist for the 'Leps', rocking out a riff for Joe Elliot to sing to. Andre had a look about him that typified that era, big hair, daring clothes and a style of play that you could only admire, a style that suited his image, a style that could only be described as 'cavalier'.
When you see a new kid on the block who at age 18 could hit a forehand like you have never seen before it is a spectacle of sporting entertainment. This was a match you could not take your eyes off, a match that you don't see every day of the week. In fact this match was one of those tennis matches that I still to this day look up on You Tube and view the highlights, I would rate it as one of the most entertaining tennis matches I have witnessed in 30 years.
One of the things that was most entertaining about Andre Agassi in this match was his lack of fear against a man who's clay court credentials were second to none in the 80's, a man who beat the World's best dirt ballers in 1982 when he was just 17. He repeated the feat again in 1985 as a 20 year old.
Mats Wilander was just two match wins from French Open immortality as only his famous countryman Bjorn Borg and Czech Ivan Lendl had won three or more titles at Roland Garros in the previous 40 years.
When however an 18 year old 'rock star' wins the first set against your inspiration to play the game you sit up and take notice. This match was meant to be a formality, a straight sets win to the guy you rely on for your motivation to play. Now to add insult to injury there was a rather famous comment made by Andre to his then Coach Nick Bollettieri after he had won the first set 6-4.
"I thought it was 5-3". Yep that is fact, Andre thought he was only up 5-3 or so he said anyhow, but I believed it because he wasn't saying it as a form of arrogance so his opponent would hear him. It was only directed at his coach, it seems legitimate to this day, so what of the comment that had commentators shaking their heads in disbelief ?
Well one said he believed that because of Andre's rather flamboyant style he adopted a mind set that was of total relaxation, almost a hint of arrogance and a total disregard to any reputation down the other end. I have not seen a kid of that age play a set of tennis like that since, it was a set that should be played to every budding tennis player who has aspirations to play the game at a high level.
The match eventually went the way of Wilander by the score of 4-6, 6-2, 7-5, 5-7, 6-0, I didn't look that up either, I know every score of every title that Mats ever won, I did say he was my inspiration didn't I ?! And so what did I think of 18 year old Andre Agassi ?
Well he became my favourite player once Mats retired, I loved his style from day one, that very first match in Paris but I was never going to 'replace' Mats until he hung up his rackets for good.
The semi between those two in 1988 will remain a match that I will forever remember as a 'benchmark for playing a reputation'. Some players pocket the first three games by just putting the ball into play against opposition who are totally overawed by their status, ranking and reputation. Andre Agassi feared no one and I am certain he ignored his opponent's credentials, he just played the ball.
Perhaps that's the way the rest of us should play this silly game, just keep swinging, ignore the opposition and play each ball on it merits, the score will take care of itself.
No point in complicating an already complicated game, keep it simple.......

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