Andre Agassi began the end of his professional tennis career tonight with a great match vs. Andrei Pavel.
Like many people, I’ve been watching Andre Agassi for almost his entire career. Along with a very few others (including Sampras, Conners, and McEnroe), he has brought the sport to new heights of both talent and popularity. He’s also had his slumps. But when he was “on,” he was remarkable to watch.
As his body has started to succumb to injury he has lost some of his famous speed and power, but he is still a world-class tennis player. Tonight, he came out with guns blazing, gaining a quick break in the first set, then quickly found himself in a battle with Pavel, who refused to give Agassi any ground and broke him right back. At the end of the first set, Pavel firmly had the upper hand through the tie-breaker.
The second set had some great shots, and though it was close, Pavel continued to give Agassi trouble and again forced a tie-breaker. But this time, Agassi pulled through with a 10-8 lead.
Coming off that little victory to even up the match, Agassi should have been raring to go, but instead he faltered, seemingly unsure of himself and making unusual errors. I’d seen this happen to him in the past, and it’s the moment I dread in his matches. Typically, when he mentally loses the game it becomes a blood-bath â€” and this was no exception. Suddenly the two-hour old match seemed likely to end in short order, with Agassi down 0-4. When he called for some new rackets, however, he completely regained his focus and came alive, winning 5 games in a row.
With the third set score now 5-4, Pavel stepped it up enough to force yet another tie-breaker, but by this point it was obvious that Agassi was all but unstoppable. Agassi easily handled the tie break and began the fourth set with two quick breaks on his way to a 6-2 victory.
For the entire match, it was obvious that the crowd was firmly behind Agassi. When he lost the first set, there was almost complete silence in the stands. As the match progressed and the cheering for every Agassi point increased, Pavel was obviously annoyed by the fans’ partisan (and disrupting) behavior. By the time the final points were played at nearly 1am, the entire stadium was on its feet.
This being Agassi’s farewell event, it came as no surprise that the crowd would be firmly behind him, but Pavel should be proud of the way he played, and of the game that he gave Agassi and the fans. It was certainly the most exciting first round match I’ve ever seen. I haven’t been that emotionally invested in a match in years.