I can always remember the first time I saw Andre Agassi play tennis, he was just 16 years of age and I watched him hit a few balls on a brief sports report. I was rather taken by his ability to hit a forehand as he did when he was so slightly built and I wondered where that sort of power could come from. It wasn't long after that clip that I watched highlights of Agassi and Lendl at Stratton Mountain, the tournament which put Andre on the tennis radar. That was impressive hitting to say the least.
Andre Agassi came along at a time that America needed a tennis idol to look up to because back when Andre first started playing the circuit the two biggest players from the US, McEnroe and Connors were in the twilight of their careers. Neither Mac or Jimbo won a Grand Slam singles title after 1984 but Mac was still a very successful doubles player who won the US Open title with Woodforde in '89 and Wimbledon in '92 with Stich. Andre was a 'required' singles player no doubt about it.
The Las Vegas flash went from a skinny kid with rather loud denim shorts and Def Leppard style hair cut who didn't win much to possibly the most respected and recognizable tennis player on the planet especially after winning Wimbledon in 1992. Every kid wanted to be like Andre due not only to how he played but how he dressed and grew his hair. He was in a word, different. I for one was a fan from the first time I saw him hit those few shots in practice, he owned an aura about him right from the start.
Despite not winning as many Slams as his biggest rival Pete Sampras I always found Agassi's style to be a whole lot more interesting than watching Pistol play because Pete's style was one that I liken to a school yard bully. Big hitting and ugly.
There were many great matches between these two and Andre lost in the final of the US Open on no fewer than three occasions to Pete. The last shattered Andre beyond comprehension as he explained in his book with great detail. Agassi thought he was almost a shoe in for that title as he went in with around 26 straight wins before that title match but Pete always played his best against Andre.
There was however one particular match between these two that for some reason stood out more than the rest to me due mainly to a statistic that can only be described as remarkable.
Now anyone who saw Pete Sampras play will be well aware of his ability to not only close into the net and put away a volley but his serving was the best of his era, it was ridiculous. Pistol owned a bomb that more often than not was unplayable even for a man of Andre Agassi's returning prowess despite Andre's ability to pick the direction better than most.
So to the Lipton Championships in Florida, 1995, two months after Andre had defeated Pete in the final of the Australian Open, his only Grand Slam final win against Pete. At a set up and 2 games all Pistol Pete had 40-0 on Andre's serve, three break points to take a strangle hold on the match and with the way that he had been serving it would have almost been all over had he broken. Agassi though held on by winning five straight points. 3-2 Agassi.
The next service game by Sampras was perhaps one of those mind games that had even the great man himself thinking "If only I had converted one of those break points". Tennis, so easy yet so frustrating in hind sight as the mind goes about tearing strips off one's decision making at crucial times in a match. No points won on serve for Pistol, 4-2 Agassi. NINE straight points.
Same story next game, Andre on a roll, total control of the mind and body, tennis is now real easy, the boxer has his opponent on the ropes, 5-2. THIRTEEN straight points. Andre's Father no doubt proud, a former boxer. What can Pistol do ? He is now getting hammered by a man who senses a knockout punch. Does he offer some resistance or save himself for the third ?
You guessed it, another break to love, 6-2 Agassi, SEVENTEEN straight points. Outrageous. Andre won the next two points before Pete finally broke the drought that had Andre Agassi take NINETEEN straight points in a row to come back from the jaws of defeat.
For history's sake Andre Agassi took the match in a third set tie breaker seven points to three, perhaps justice for a remarkable run of points that may never be repeated at a standard so remarkably high. Even the best players in the World can be 'zoned' out by another but it is a rarity if a player even loses two love games in a row such is the standard of the elite of World tennis.
This match was a ripper, worth a look. It shows what confidence and a change of mind set can do for a player especially when they are perhaps within a point or two of defeat. After almost losing, think about it, what have you really got to lose ?
Tennis, it's all in the head..........