Ray on 'Dre

Thursday, August 31, 2006 /by

(Ed. note: in keeping with the community spirit we try to foster here at TennisWorld, Steggy asked Ray Stonada, one of TW's Elders, to try to put into words why he's such a dedicated Andre Agassi fan - a Kool-Aid drinker, in TW patois. His thoughts are below - PB)

Ever notice how tennis crowds almost always root for the underdog? It's a natural human instinct, both to prolong the match and to see someone do the impossible: turn it around. Since we identify with the players on the court, it's much easier to identify with and root for the guy who's losing -- that's what we'd be doing!

Andre Agassi's career has been like that.  Bursting onto the scene, his hair told us a great deal about his personality. Andre wasn't your average tennis-bot. He thought he was special and didn't mind showing it. Agassi was all of these things but he was also undisciplined, lazy and sometimes tactless. Losing his first three Slam finals told us something else.. Andre cared too much in order to settle down and win at the big moments.

Then, Agassi redeemed himself for the first of many times at Wimbledon. Remember, the career-defining comeback he made in 1999 was only the most dramatic of many for Andre. There was also his comeback out of nowhere in 1994 and his comeback for the 1996 gold medal after a heart-rending loss to Sampras in the 1995 U.S. Open.

Last year, at the US Open, the idea that he could blaze through the draw and worry Federer in the final would have been pretty laughable in June. Andre has a habit of lowering our expectations and then bolting past them.

In doing so, Agassi has humanized himself in a rare way. Despite his career Slam, eight majors, seventeen Master's Series titles, 100 straight weeks at number one, and his seven wins over Pete Sampras in tournament finals, Andre has never been the dominant player on tour.

Now Federer has clearly eclipsed Agassi as well. Some people moan about what he could have been - to me, this misses the point of what Andre's accomplished over the years and the amazing journey he has taken.

The placement of head and heart in tennis is a common topic here at TennisWorld.  It's impossible to question Agassi's head. Andre's analysis of matches, styles, and his recall for important moments is beyond compare. Agassi is the ultimate Elder. As for heart, well, one comeback from adversity is considered a special thing in sports. Agassi's done it about six times. Often, a player challenges for number one and, after being rebuffed, cannot find the motivation to do it again, knowing they might again experience the pain of failure.

Andre Agassi has conquered the fear of failure like no other athlete I know. Overcoming early adversity, mid-career disappointments, and late struggles, Andre picks himself up off the canvas and fights on. Call him 'The Rebound Ace'.

When I watch Agassi, I see something that inspires me; Andre has the determination to return to the site of previous losses. I also think there's a link between Agassi's on-court bravery and his laudable generosity (the foundation, the school, buying Justin Gimelstob dinner) -- the size of his heart.  Agassi is not large, yet he is big.

Often, while playing my little 4.0 matches, I try and analyze what's working and what my opponent is doing. I've watched Agassi so much that sometimes, in these moments, I find myself unconsciously doing his little penguin march from one side of the court to the other.  Andre is in my subconsious and there is a reason why.

Something about Agassi makes me identify with him in a way I find impossible with other players -- his courage in the face of his fallibility. Andre has made me believe in second chances -- on and off the court.  For me, Andre Agassi defeats the very idea of winning and losing.

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