There's nothing like Paris in the springtime, they say. As these 10 epics—the 10 most memorable French Open matches of the Open Era—show, there's also nothing quite as stirring or sensation as tennis in Paris at this time of year.
Agassi and Medvedev had spent the spring of 1999 trading conspiratorial smiles whenever their paths crossed. Andrei the Russian was playing some of the best tennis of his career, and Andre the American could take more than a little credit for it.
That April in Monte Carlo, Agassi had come across Medvedev drinking himself into a stupor after a defeat. The 24-year-old Medvedev told Agassi he was through, he was old, he couldn’t play “this f---ing game anymore.”
Agassi sat down and said, “How dare you? Here I am, 29, injured, divorced, and you’re [complaining] about being washed up at 24? Your future is bright.”
Medvedev asked for a few tips, and Agassi obliged. Whatever he said worked. Medvedev spent the next month, in Agassi’s words, “on fire.”
Now, as he sat in his hotel room in Paris, Agassi realized that he may have done his job a little too well. The next day he would play in the French Open final for the first time in eight years; it was the only major he had never won. To do it, he would have to beat Medvedev.
“He has my game,” Agassi thought to himself nervously. “I gave it to him. He even has my first name. Andrei. It’s going to be Andre versus Andrei. Me versus my doppelgänger.”
WATCH: A Day in the Life of Agassi - The 1999 French Open Final
To the astonishment of his coach, Brad Gilbert, Agassi opened the minibar in his Paris hotel room and downed a bottle of vodka.
Andre the American, it turned out, was right to be anxious, because Andrei the Russian was still on fire the next day.
“He’s doing everything he’s supposed to do, everything I told him to do,” Agassi thought bitterly as Medvedev jumped out to an early lead.
Agassi lost the first 6-1 in nineteen minutes. He knew this was likely his last chance at becoming the first man since Rod Laver to complete a career Grand Slam, his last chance to forget the two French Open finals that he had lost here at the start of the decade, both of which he was heavily favored to win. He knew this was his last chance to put the demons of his misspent youth, the memories of his pink spandex outfits, his training meals at McDonalds, his tears of regret, behind him. Agassi knew this was his last chance at redemption, and he knew he was blowing it.
This time there was help, literally, from above: During the third set, it started to rain. The players retreated to the locker room, where Gilbert engaged in what be the most effective screaming fit in tennis history. After informing Agassi of everything he was doing wrong, he finished by telling him to “go down with both guns blaaaazing.” In a final flourish of rage, Gilbert opened a locker and slammed it shut. A few minutes later, Agassi walked back on court and won.
When it was over and Andrei the Russian’s final forehand had flown long, Agassi rubbed his head and sobbed.
“Winning isn’t supposed to feel this good,” he thought. “But it does.” He walked off court blowing kisses to the four corners of the stadium, and vowed that he would do that after every win for the rest of his career.
Agassi’s win at the French Open in 1999 was an end and a beginning. The “Image is Everything” underachiever of 10 years earlier had been vanquished. In his place stood a man who had pulled off one of the sport’s unique achievements: A career Slam.
But destiny, in the form of Brad Gilbert, wasn’t quite finished with Agassi that spring weekend in Paris. Flying back to New York on the Concorde, a smiling Gilbert asked Agassi who had won the women’s event at the French that weekend. Agassi smiled back; it was Steffi Graf, a woman he’d had a crush on for years.
“That’s right,” Gilbert said, before making a seemingly outlandish prediction that, we know now, would come true: You’re going to marry her, Gilbert said to Agassi.
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