Saturday, May 24, 2008

Favorite French moment #1: FINALLY!

The countdown concludes with what is my favorite memory across all sports (and I'm a HUGE sports fan): Andre Agassi winning it in 1999, to complete the career Slam.

Everyone's familiar with the story of how, in 1997, he had slipped to 141 in the rankings and instead of deciding to pack it in, hit the Challenger circuit to get his ranking back up. He stormed back in 1998, finishing in the top 10 in the world. 1999 had a pretty ho-hum beginning to it for him, as over the first half of the year, he only won one minor tournament in Hong Kong. And at the beginning of the year, after he lost to Vince Spadea at the Australian Open, I had little faith he was going to pick up any more majors. What was I thinking, doubting my guy?

What's funny about the French Open win was the fact that it was a last-minute decision if he was even going to play it or not! He had retired from his World Team Cup match due to injury the week before and had the minimalist of minimal clay-court preparation a player could have. He gave it a go, though, and man, did it pay off!

He got through the first three rounds with some struggles, particularly against Arnaud Clement in the second round, going five with him. Then in the fourth round, he played the defending champ, Carlos Moya, and took him out in four. After that, I started wondering, "Can he actually do it?" He breezed through his next two matches and next thing you know, he's in the finals. There, he met someone making a little comeback of his own, Andrei Medvedev, the former top-tenner who had fallen to 100 in the world.

Personally, I was happy with Andre getting to the finals here, a place where he hadn't been since 1991. Still, it was pretty tough seeing him get blown off the court the first two sets. I don't know what went through his head at that point, but somehow, some way, he started to work his way back into the match, winning the third set, then the fourth, until reaching match point in the fifth.

I was thinking back to how I watched him lose those finals against Andres Gomez in 1990 and Jim Courier in '91; dropping an early-round match to Chris Woodruff (Who? Exactly.); and not even playing some years, and here he was now on the verge of history. When he won, I think my celebration was more joyous than his! My girlfriend at the time was in the next room (she could only take so many hours of tennis, not being a tennis fan and all), and I ran out to her screaming, "He did it!" Then I went back and watched every last second of the trophy ceremony, his speech and lifting the big cup, something I thought I'd never see him do.

Even though, if he were still playing, he'd be 38 by now, it's still kind of weird to see Andre Agassi not out there doing his thing. But he's doing OK for himself! And his wife-to-be had a great run: Steffi Graf won her last career major at that tournament.

So that wraps up my favorite French moments. And here's a picture of one of my favorite moments ever: (Who's that great-looking guy standing next to Andre Agassi at a trade-show party in Las Vegas?)

(Photos: Top two: BBC, Las Vegas Review-Journal; bottom: Warren Shoulberg)


Shelia said...

What a wonderful keepsake Van, and great photo too!

This was definitely one spectacular moment in tennis time.

You ready? I am.

Tennis Talk, Anyone? said...

Thanks Sheila. Andre's long been my favorite player and to finally even see him was crazy!

I'm definitely ready for the tournament to start!