I’m sure people are curious, so I’ll just get right to Andre Agassi and maybe post about the rest of the day later.
We spent most of the first set in the Grandstand watching Marat Safin-Nicholas Mahut, while keeping an eye on the scoreboard during the change-overs and listening to the cheers from the Stadium.
I really thought it was going to go to a first set tie-break, so I went over near the end of the set. We were standing by the chain waiting to go in when Andrea Stoppini broke Agassi to take the first set 6-4, marking the beginning of the end. Agassi completely smashed his racquet to bits in a tirade while the crowd gasped and sighed at what they had just witnessed. No one really seemed to have prepared themselves for the second set yet, and I regret having missed the best of what the man apparently had to offer last night.
Andre was hitting balls long, far wide, and into the net. Suddenly the younger guy was up 3-0. With every point Andre managed to win, the sold out crowd rocked the place with cheers. With every point Andre lost, the fans still cried “You can do it!” and whispered to each other about how sad it was to see him choke.
Darren Cahill sat at the baseline expressionlessly watching when, close to the end of the second, Agassi walked over near him and screamed, “I can’t fucking see it! It’s getting smaller and smaller!!”
Soon it was over, and the place went crazy. He immediately tried to make for the exit, but he could see all the fans waiting by the player tunnel, and knew he could never walk out like that. With his bag over his shoulder, he walked back to the center of the court, dropped his bag, and blew his signature 360 degree kisses to DC for the last time. Charlie Brotman was screaming on the PA, over the crowd, “We love you man!!” but you could barely hear him over the roar of the crowd. People were wiping their eyes and trying to applaud at the same time.
After that we walked back over to see how Marat was doing. A friend and I were deliberating about how long it was going to take Agassi to get it together to go face the media. Just then I saw Kenneth Carlsen come up next to me texting someone on his mobile and we exchanged greetings. I missed the end of his match against Paradorn Srichapan, but knew that he was up a break in the third, so I said, “Hey, did you win?” He smiled and told me he did and I congratulated him.
About twenty seconds later I saw James Blake‘s mom go flying past me to avoid the throng and get into the Stadium to see her son play. I walked into the front of the player area and talked with Kenneth some more. We talked a bit about Agassi’s match and he lowered his eyes when I told him about the end.
Andre then walked past me to go do his media bit. He must have just gone into the locker room, toweled off, put on a clean shirt and some sweats and headed over. All of a sudden we were outside and the swarm descended on him for the 20 yard walk he had to make. I moved over to the side and actually saw a woman lift up her daughter, who couldn’t have been more than 4 years old, and told her, “Say, ‘I love you Andre!’ honey. Say it to the nice man…” as an inducement to get herself an autograph.
A few moments later we were in the press room and he started off with a creaky voice. There were a few times when I really thought he was going to start crying. You can read some of the quotes, but the thing that stuck out for me was how he repeated that with every point, the court just got smaller and smaller. He said he was swinging, but he had no idea where the ball was even going. He never got comfortable and never found his rhythm, the typical things you say when you don’t have another explanation.
Someone asked him what it felt like to be in an arena with thousands of cheering fans while he was losing like that and he joked, “Instead of throwing things at me? I felt like I wanted to have dinner with everyone.”
As most people know, Perry Rogers, Agassi’s manager and lifelong friend, is a Georgetown grad. Rogers is credited with keeping Agassi coming back to DC over the years, but Washingtonians know that there’s something more to it than that. The Legg Mason has captured snapshots of Agassi’s career over the years: He’s been here with long hair and then no hair, dressed in neon and then in white, with Brooke Shields as his girlfriend and then as his wife; and in more recent years with Steffi Graf as his wife holding their newborn son in her arms.
After he lost his opening match in the then Sovran Bank Classic at age 17, he wandered out onto 16th Street, handed his racquets to a homeless man and swore that he was quitting tennis forever.
A year later he was Number 3 in the world.
He threw up in a courtside planter during his final with Stefan Edberg in 1995, recovered, and took the title. In 1997, with his career totally in the dumps, he repeated his Wimbledon loss of a few weeks earlier to unseeded Doug Flach in his first match. A year later he beat Scott Draper in the final, and said, “I love this city, I love the enthusiasm created in this stadium. As long as I’m playing this game, this is where I want to be to start every summer.”
Last night in an awkward presser, a quiet and reflective Agassi talked about ending his career in a few weeks at the U.S. Open, and reiterated that it just “happened” that way. He added that by ending it this way he realizes that he put a lot of pressure on himself.
Soon he was meekly looking around to see if there were any more questions, going through the motions of being forced to explain himself, and plainly looking like he just desperately wanted to get through with it and get on a plane home.
He walked down the side aisle of the room, stopping to chat with a guy he recognized who’s worked at the tournament for about a decade, asking about his family and being pleasant. Then he headed for the side door, briefly stopping to look over his shoulder and looking like he wanted to see if there was a way to avoid the crowd if at all possible.
Then he was gone.
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