Andre Agassi walks into sunset
A Superman cries at Arthur Ashe as he bids adieu to one of most remarkable tennis careers, writes Atul Sondhi.india Updated: Sep 04, 2006 19:17 IST
When 2006 US Open finishes, the most telling memory will not be of the winner proudly holding the trophy. But it will be of a warrior holding his face in his hands and sobbing uncontrollably on the center court.
And fittingly, after giving a truly memorable performance in the first three rounds of the final event of his professional career.
Virtually a Superman for battling over two decades in a sport where people come and go in a matter of few years, and only the second man to have won all four Grand Slam tournaments in the Open Era, Agassi wept openly unaware that he had kept millions of eyes moist in the past one week.
Clearly moved, the whole of stadium, which can now be rechristened ''Agassi's House'', kept on clapping for good ten minutes as tears flowed openly in perhaps the most open exhibition of mutual admiration for a man who handled fame as well injuries well enough to be considered among the all time greats of tennis.
But what could be behind Agassi's tearful farewell to a career, where he battled the men of iconic status including Connors and McEnroe, subdued them, and eked his name in the history of tennis immortals.
Eighteen years ago, in this very stadium Agassi had fought a titanic battle with three-time Champion Ivan Lendl in 1988 US Open semifinal. The incomparable Czech was so traumatized by the challenge of this exuberant teenager, that he went on to lose to Mats Wilander in a grueling final, ending a streak of 27 consecutive wins on the open turf.
During that match, the commentators were effusive in the praise of the upcoming ''kid from Las Vegas''. The praise and accolades that continued for the next 18 years, increasing with each match, with each tournament.
May be the nostalgic memory of such historic battles with the likes of Becker, Lendl and Sampras brought tears to his eye. After all, Agassi does have a strong sense of history,and knows very well his contribution to it.
In his farewell speech on court, Agassi repeatedly thanked the public: ''you gave me shoulders to chase my dreams.''
Nowhere was it more evident than in the final match with qualifier Benjamin Becker when people booed the German for playing drop shots against ''aging legs and injured back''. Forgetting all tennis etiquette, they even loudly clapped in the fourth set when Becker failed to get his first serve in during critical points.
Even to the extent of being dubbed unsporting, the public wanted an Agassi's win at all cost. It was their expression of loyalty to a great sportsman. The way they had been doing for last 21 years.
Reminder of a tragedy
As Becker's ace sealed his career, while rushing to congratulate the German, the American legend must be thinking ''what next''?
Agassi has a loving wife in Steffi, and two beautiful kids. The family has an extremely secure future too with the amount of money the duo has won in their career. But when the whole life has so far revolved around whacking the ball as hard as possible, it is difficult not to think ''what next?''.
Planning for future goals is virtually an impossible task if you are a sportsperson as successful as Agassi. Nothing else looks as appealing, and the very realisation is most demoralising. That when you are only 36!
If that sinking feeling brought tears to Agassi's eye, one will never know. May be it was the combination of all three. May be not. Only the ''champion of hearts'' can tell that.
But in his tears, Agassi told the world one important truth. That men do cry. And fittingly, it needed a Superman to show that!