Serena and Agassi Have Shots at a Grand Slam (by Bud Collins)
Andre showing no signs of age
Agassi and Serena Williams have shots at a Grand Slam
April 3 — If you want to send Andre Agassi a birthday card, it would be worth the price of a stamp because Andre, the glorious geezer, who turns 33 on April 30th, is carrying the men’s tour on his aging back and looking like Atlas in sneakers
A TOP-NOTCH AMERICAN DUO
Agassi was the story of the first quarter of the 2003 season and Serena Williams, who could probably pick him up and put him in her backpack, was the strength.
Agassi will lose matches, of course, but will Serena?
Coming off their titles at Key Biscayne in the Nasdaq-100 Open, Andre and Serena are a star-spangled American package, whose play could make this one of the greatest years in the sport.
You see, having both won the Australian Open in January, Agassi and Sister Serena are the only eligibles for a Grand Slam, a rarified feat of wrapping up all four majors within a calendar year.
That hasn’t been accomplished in 15 years ever since Mrs. Steffi Agassi (nee Graf) was bashing everybody in sight as Fraulein Forehand.
HISTORY IN THE MAKING?
“Can I win every match I play this year? I don’t think so, but,” Serena grins, “that’s my goal.”
A worthy goal, an undefeated season, something that hasn’t happened since Californian Alice Marble went 45-0 in 1939 and 1940. The closest anyone has come since was Martina Navratilova’s 86-1 mark in 1983.
As for winning a Grand Slam, Serena’s is the better chance than Agassi’s.
AGASSI ELATED OVER HIS GAME
Agassi’s goal is simply “to be in the best possible physical and mental shape, to peak for the important occasions, so that to beat me somebody has to play a great match.”
The next such occasion is the French Open at the end of May and Andre “will assess how much, or how little, I have to play on European clay to be ready.”
Though Agassi has spent half his life as a tennis professional, he remains excited.
“I feel I’m playing my best tennis and I think I can improve. That’s what it’s all about.”
I’m not alone in agreeing with him.
Pancho Segura, the capital G Guru of tennis gurus, says, “I’ve been watching Andre since he was 6 and can see he’s at his best now and — barring serious injury — can get better.
“I think he’s ahead of Jimmy [Connors] and Bjorn [Borg].”
A strong endorsement.
WHAT’S BEHIND ANDRE’S SUCCESS
Agassi is a triple-threat in this respect: he’s superior physically through his training regimen with Gil Reyes; he’s superior mentally with more experience than anybody else; and he’s superior domestically.
Life with ex-Grand Slammer Steffi and their son, 17-month-old Jaden Gil, has made him serenely happy.
Maybe he is a true Zen master as an old friend, Barbara Streisand, once dubbed him.
THE SEARCH FOR SAMPRAS
But where is Agassi’s longtime rival?
Why is Pete Sampras hiding from his public?
I don’t think Pete, also blissful in marriage and fatherhood, realizes that he’s being a naughty boy by not communicating. Obviously he’s confused about what to do — retire or return?
Seven months after his stunning U.S. Open triumph over Agassi, Sampras has entered five tournaments and dropped out of each beforehand, although he’s been practicing.
A friend of his says, “Pete’s having trouble with motivation.”
Another says, “He’ll find motivation when he gets tired of changing diapers and Wimbledon approaches.”
Many feel Sampras ought to quit while at the top. Not I. I believe he has much yet to give to the sport and receive from it.
I’m surprised that the impressive accomplishments of Agassi, 15 months Sampras’ elder, haven’t inspired Pete.
But Sampras does owe the public a press conference, to announce his retirement, if that’s the decision, or even to say he can’t make up his mind.
Seven months of silence is too much for a great athlete with a vast following.
SOMETHING AMISS WITH HEWITT AT NO. 1
I’ve been writing as though Agassi were top-ranked in the world. Certainly he is in the hearts of many tennis fans.
But Blinky, the ATP computer, continues, correctly, to list the 22-year-old Aussie Lleyton Hewitt at the top of the pack, although he hasn’t looked that role.
In fact, he’s been shown the door early by a couple of geezers not named Agassi: the explosive Moroccan Younes El Aynaoui, 31, at the Australian Open, and a qualifier on the verge of retirement, Spaniard Francisco Clavet, 34, at Key Biscayne.
Hewitt and his Belgian girlfriend Kim Clijsters did make romantic news as champs in the California desert at Indian Wells (Agassi and Serena were absent) by scoring a “Lovebirds Double.”
The last we heard of such was Wimbledon 1974 when the affianced Chris Evert and Jimmy Connors took the title and paid 33-to-1 with London bookmakers.
DAVIS CUP NOT IN AGASSI’S PLANS
Agassi, the object of much affection is looked at longingly, but hopelessly, by U.S. Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe.
Andre, having helped the U.S. win the Davis Cup in 1990 and 1995, has declared that his days playing in this international team competition are over.
That leaves McEnroe, whose squad was a first-round loser to Croatia, with the Growing-Up-Together Gang — Andy Roddick, James Blake, Robby Ginepri, Taylor Dent, Mardy Fish, Brian Vahaly.
McEnroe is hoping they’ll mature a little quicker. They’ve been erratic.
Soon McEnroe will learn the name of the U.S. opponent and the location of September’s second-chance series.
If this generation’s American guys fail, then the U.S. plummets to the nether world of zonal play, ineligible for the Davis Cup in 2004.
That last occurred in 1987, after losses to Paraguay and Germany.
And who restored the U.S. to the 16-nation World Group the following year?
Oh, an outrageous 18-year-old named Andre Agassi.
Happy Birthday, Andre, and keep those competitive candles burning within.
"You are not judged by the height you have risen, but from the depth you have climbed." Frederick Douglass