Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Does Olympic Gold separate Agassi from the pack?

Winning a career Slam? Check. Leading your home country to a Davis Cup title? Been there. Emerging as the best of the best at the ATP World Tour Finals? Done that.

Getting that Olympic Gold medal draped around your neck for a singles victory?

Well... that's where Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer—two of the greatest players of all time—fall short.

In fact, the only male player ever who can check off "all of the above" is none other than Andre Agassi. 

In the era of the "Big 4" and records falling by the wayside, Agassi's solo accomplishment becomes even more impressive. Prior to this year's Summer Games in Brazil, which he had to miss due to injury, Federer was the prohibitive favorite for singles Gold in each of the Olympics he participated in. And based on all he's accomplished in the past couple of years—including completing his own career Slam at this year's French Open—Djokovic was tabbed by many to win in 2016. Instead, he fell to his 2012 conqueror, Juan Martin del Potro, in the first round.

So another Olympics will go by with Agassi as the lone male in history to have pulled off one of the game's rarest feats. (He does have company at home, though, as his wife Steffi Graf has also won all of those big prizes, even upping the ante with a "Golden Slam" in 1988. Serena Williams joins them, too.)

Agassi's run to the title was slightly more unexpected than those of Graf and Williams. In 1995, the Las Vegas native had the best year of his career up to that point, winning the Australian Open and reaching number 1 in the world, both for the first time. During the summer hard-court season, he appeared to be unbeatable winning four tournaments in a row before the U.S. Open. Agassi got to the finals in New York, but fell to Pete Sampras in four sets.

That loss knocked the wind out of his sails and he went without a tournament win for the rest of the year. That slump continued throughout much of '96 as he won only one event going into the Olympics tournament in Atlanta. 

The draw that year wasn't exactly the most fearsome: Agassi was the top seed, followed by Goran Ivanisevic, Thomas Enqvist and MaliVai Washington. There was no Sampras, Michael Chang, Thomas Muster or Boris Becker near the tournament. Agassi, in fact, only played one seeded player on the way to the title—Wayne Ferreira, whom he beat in the quarterfinals.

Still, playing for Olympic glory can often inspire athletes to achieve more than they thought ever possible. Look at what Leander Paes did that year, for example. A wild card into the tournament, the now-legendary doubles specialist took home the Bronze. And former two-time French Open champion Sergi Bruguera, struggling as well up to that point, fought through to the biggest hard-court final of his career.

But Agassi wouldn't be denied. He was the favorite going in and spoke often of his desire for the Games, following in the footsteps of his father, who boxed for Iran. Ferreira gave Agassi a tussle during their matchup, but he cruised through his other matches and salvaged a difficult year.

Three years later, Agassi completed his career Slam at the French Open in 1999 and put the finishing touches on his all-time feat—one that might never be matched now. When the 2020 Olympics roll around, Djokovic will be 33 and Federer will be pushing 40. Rafael Nadal is a World Tour Finals title away from expanding upon Agassi's club of one, while Andy Murray would still need to win an Australian and French.

Despite achieving something no other man has done, Agassi is often left out of the GOAT conversation. But perhaps that should be re-evaluated, particularly as more players state how important getting that top prize at the Olympics is to them.

For Djokovic, Federer and the rest, they're still chasing Agassi, the man who set the Gold standard.

(Photo: Getty Images)

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Absolute rubbish........JO gold is nice but honestly means nothing. Glorified exo......André a great but no where near the top 7