Jun 30, 2003

1992, Wimbledon Finals: Along with Goran Ivanisevic, I was devastated. An absolute wringer of a final had just concluded and my second-most favourite tennis player had lost a chance to lift the only Slam he would ever have the game and opportunity to win. And ironically, he had lost to the one player that everyone thought wouldn't win at the All England courts. Or to rephrase that, if there was one Grand Slam that Andre Agassi would have the least chance of winning, it was thought to be Wimbledon.

I didn't like Agassi. Very simple. He was too flashy, too flamboyant, he thumbed his nose at a place like Wimbledon which for a kid like me who absolutely adored tennis then, was a temple. And why wouldn't he play? Because it meant that he would have to swap his flourescent dresses for a very sober white. I didn't like Agassi because he was the garish neon light from a Vegas casino in the sparkling starry sky of tennis in the early nineties.

I watched with approval his losses to Andres Gomez and Jim Courier in two consecutive French Open finals. I didn't like it one bit when he beat my personal top-ranker, Boris Becker in Slams, especially at Wimbledon. I thought Goran would pull it off, also because it was his best chance ever. (I thought he deserved to win Wimbledon, but didn't think he would ever win a Slam since. Goran's pummelling by Sampras in a later final seemed to further underline the writing on the wall, but that amazing win over Rafter later in the decade was unexpected but poetic justice (Harish would disagree :-) ). It meant Rafter himself would miss out, but tennis has rarely had a more romantic figure than Goran Ivanisevic. So by a strange coincidence, my best two players are the only two unseeded players to lift Wimbledon.). While a guy who didn't want to play in Wimbledon because of flimsy clothes and even flimsier reasons won it! The injustice of it all, it seemed to me.

But as times changed, so did Agassi. A much-needed boost for the game came with the rivalry with Sampras. With Sampras having mentally retired from the game, Agassi is the one true superstar around. Whatever my personal dislikes of the man's habits, I couldn't help admiring the brilliant groundstrokes, the weapons of a stinging return-of-serve, tactics, and accurate placements that were his hallmark. The man himself has sobered down and is almost unrecognisable from the hirsute, ear-ringed, girl-friend flashing pop icon of an earlier decade. I don't follow tennis so much nowadays, and definitely am not so emotional about the whole thing today. I can understand the value Agassi brought to the game, bringing in starry-eyed followers earlier and helping to keep the interest of the fans today. His interviews today are strictly about the game, a far cry from those tabloid press meets (which one can still sample in the DD Sports reruns of those Wimbledon wrap-ups hosted by Cliff Richards) where the subject of tennis was left outside in the cold. He is getting to the other end of the hairy scale, but his control and clear thought are still the same.

Of a man who has the rare distinction of winning a Career Grand Slam, I can only say that I wronged him by speaking ill of his tennis. It was and continues to be, even 11 years after his first Grand Slam, quite classy.

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