Andre Agassi delivered the speech at a dire time. At the onset of 2006, he was ranked No. 7. He had a bum ankle and a failing back. By the U.S. Open the 36-year-old was unseeded and living in a world of pain.
At Flushing Meadows, Agassi managed to beat two quality opponents before losing to 112th-ranked Benjamin Becker. At last. He was ready for the end, even if the pain would continue.
When the match ended, Agassi co-opted Mary Jo Fernandez, standing by to do the stock post-match interview on court. Tears in his eyes, he asked for the microphone. He was crying. Losing it. Agassi did something he’d become an expert at: He pulled it together and gave his speech.
It’s not much. It’s everything. It’s the heartfelt farewell of a single man, but it feels like the valedictory address delivered on behalf of a tennis generation the likes of which we’ll never see again. It feels like an epilogue. How lucky we are that it was so touching. So inspiring. So gracious. That it so quickly got out of its own way.
Agassi’s paean to the game was both a confession and an admission. It completed the lifelong journey of tennis’ most celebrated prodigal son. Without overt intent, the address passed judgment on a life lived in tennis, a life that incorporated all the joys and sorrows and all the rewards and pitfalls of a specific era.
Agassi’s career was a wild ride. He closed his speech with these words:
“Over the last 21 years, I have found you, and I will take you and the memory of you with me for the rest of my life.”
Many would say the same of him.