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Écrit par Jerome   

Article d'InsideTennis de Juillet 2005 :


Andre's Last Wimbledon?

It could be one of the last big stage performances by a member of one of the foremost string quartets in entertainment history. Tennis’ fabulous foursome — Sampras, Agassi, Courier and Chang — first crossed the wide pond to play Wimbledon in’87. Of the four, Agassi had the most pizzazz. Long-haired and loud-mouthed, he was both an extension of and answer to the Mac-Connors generation which defined the raucous and riveting modern game. Here was the King of Charisma.

But while Sampras, Courier and Chang scored historic Grand Slam wins, Agassi dithered. Long winless at majors, he lost leads and dropped finals he was supposed to collect.

At Wimbledon, he’d get into snits over having to wear white at the All England Club, suffered inexplicable losses and even skipped playing there from ‘88 to ‘90, claiming he had to use the time for conditioning. The Brits response ranged from rage to a kind of judgmental sense of superiority. “Oh that Agassino’” said one London octogenarian, “he’s a decent lad, but he needs a good hairwash.”

But then, in one magical fifth-set moment in ‘92, Andre scored his match point over a perplexed Goran Ivanisevic and fell to Wimbledon’s storied turf, having scored his first Grand Slam win. Tears flowed, prompting one tab headline to call him a “Bawl Boy.” Another asserted “Agassi No Longer A Bimbo In Limbo.”

“It was probably the most emotional win of my entire life,” Agassi said. It was a very soul-searching moment. I had to dig down really deep to win there. Of all places to win, Wimbledon on grass, where I never really ever got the respect.”

Since Andre’s first Slam triumph, there’s been much glory, great introspection and growth, seven more Slams and his annual Wimbledon adventure. Here, whether Barbra Streisand was by his side or not, there was always a storyline. When he shaved his chest hairs, he explained it was so he would be more aerodynamic. So the press noted, “The hair went quickly, but the tennis is rather better.” And a while ago we asked, “Is it best to compare Agassi in Wimbledon — land to Jimmy Connors (another in-your-face American individualist with a great backhand and return of serve); to Bjorn Borg (a fast moving baseliner who shouldn’t have won Wimbledon, but did) or to Elvis, (another Vegas kind of guy who performed well in white)?
Of course, Andre’s baseline game was not exactly made for grass, save for his remarkable hand-eye coordination and blazing return of serve. Asked to explain one particularly painful misadventure to the net, he explained, “I don’t know what got into me I probably won’t do it again.” So over the years there were many a notable triumph, as well as plenty of tough losses to the likes of Sampras and Rafter, as well as No. 281 Doug Flach in the first round in’96.

But now many wonder if this year’s Wimbledon will be Andre’s last. After all, for the second straight year at the French Open, he lost to a qualifier. It was agonizing. Fans saw ghosts. Tears were shed. One envisioned the over-the-hill Willie Mays in a Mets uniform and reporters volleyed push-pull questions like “Is it possible for athletes to stay around too long?”

Head down and in pain, Andre showed little of the ferocity and freedom of movement he’s long displayed. Gone was his geometric precision. Instead he sprayed rally forehands and offered artless drop shots before suffering a 7-5, 4-6, 6-7, 6-1, 6-0 loser to Finn Jarkko Nieminen.
Later he explained that an inflamed sciatic nerve in his back sends sharp pain through his right hip and leg. He received a cortisone shot in February and it worked for 10 weeks. But it wore off and in Paris (where he set the record for the most appearances, 58, in Grand Slam tournaments) he grimaced through his last sets.

“I couldn’t walk off the court. I just didn’t want to leave that way,” said Agassi. “It’s bad...I can’t be out there like tha ...but I have to live with it.”
Andre, who’s been coping with it on and off for the past two and half years, says it’s unlikely to get better. “Something tells me I’m going to be living with these injections because this is unplayable when it feels like this. There’s nothing you can do...To be out there against some of the best athletes in the world, it’s impossible...When I’m walking three blocks to the restaurant, you wouldn’t guess I’m a professional athlete...When it cools down, it’s a problem. I get a little stiff. The pain gets worse and goes from my hip into my ankle.”

Agassi has been able to mask his discomfort with cortisone for a few months and it’s more than unlikely he’ll have surgery and attempt another comeback at age 36. So he’s biding his time, hoping for a mini-miracle at Wimbledon or the U.S. Open, where the draw might open up like the Red Sea.
Agassi says that his wife Steffi hasn’t given him a clear signal that she wants him to stop. But given all the painful injuries Graf endured toward the end of her career, one might just imagine that she’s ready to have a sit- down with her hubby. After all, Andre doesn’t need to have his kids be running circles around him when he’s 40.

His longtime confidante and conditioning coach Gil Reyes, admitted that it was painful to watch his man suffer so much and noted, “There’re a lot of miles on his odometer. Tennis is not so much a game about running as it is about violent starts and stops. There are a lot of starts and stops in those hips of his.”
Of course, Andre’s public persona is of a thinker capable of reflecting on wide-ranging issues; a man of multiple pursuits who could easily step away from sports and run his charity or school full-time or become a broadcaster or businessman. But he may have a blind spot. After all the eight-time Grand Slam winner has been batting balls around since he was in his crib and after his French loss he poignantly confided, “I’m a professional athlete. That’s what I do.”

So it just may be that tennis’ most beloved player may be in denial about the masking effect of the cortisone or is having a tough time envisioning his next steps which would take him away from the game he loves so much. “I’ll assess the necessary components at the end of the year,” said Agassi. “But I can’t afford to pollute the potential of my tournaments with sitting on the fence, [asking] what I’m doing, why I’m doing it ... [Instead] I choose to put my head down and work and I’ll look at it at the end of the year.”


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