Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Andre .... the Legend .... !!

Andre Agassi ... champion, legend, gentleman, humanitarian, favourite, sex symbol, trend-setter ... you can add as many synonyms as you are capable of ... but tiz a wee bit too emotional to see the great man hang up his boots this August. I hope he prolongs his career till September .... he deserves every bit of it. And even if he loses early on in the US Open, no one can dare take away his achievements.

He brought a refreshing attitude to tennis, something unforeseen, unpredictable. His long hair was the most distingushing attribute. He took a battering via the criticism of purists and all the advertisments he was part of in the late 1980's and early 1990's. They thought it was an excuse for him not able to win any major tournaments. Losing in the French Open finals for two consecutive years in 1988 and 1989 didnt help his cause much. Nick Bolleteri, his coach, tried every thing to get his ward to stay focussed on the court. And it paid off within a short time.

They say Wimbledon brings out the best in a tennis player. Analogous to what Lords does to a cricketer. If you score a hundred at Lords it matches winning Wimbledon. The final of Wimbledon 1992 was a classic case of the bride and groom not turning up for the wedding. The semi-finals were expected to go in some expected manner but it didnt happen. Agassi was pitted against the self imposing figure of John McEnroe who had already won Wimbledon 3 to 4 times while Pete Sampras was to battle another favourite of mine, the big serving Boom-Boom Goran Ivanisevic. It was expected to be Sampras and McEnroe. McEnroe was the sentimental favourite while Sampras was already breathing down the neck of the then Number One Jim Courier for the Number 1 ranking.

Agassi outclassed McEnroe with his baseline game and trade mark return of serve while Goran just hit more aces than Sampras. So it was a kind of an anti climax for the people. Very similar to what happened in the 1987 Wolrd Cup Cricket semis. India and Pakistan were the 2 best teams in the world and by a long way too. Yet, both lost in the semis and Australia still hasnt let the stranglehold slip. The rest, as they say, is History.

I remember as a kid in 4th grade staying up late one rainy monsoon night in 1992 and viewing the final with my sister. She was a Goran fan and I was mad about Agassi. It was billed as a match-up between Goran's serve and Andre's returns and his baseline game. The match went back and forth right uptil 2 am IST. It was a pity that the match had to come to an end due to Goran's strength or the lack of it deep into the 5th set, he served 2 double faults in the final game ... Agassi won and his legend had just put on its shoes ......

Such was his charisma that guys started growing hair from 1992 onwards while girls painted the walls of their room with his posters. He had become the most widely publicised pin up .... region no bar. He actually made the baseball cap more famous than the sport of Baseball itself. He brought the knee length bermudas into tennis. He chatted to spectators while playing. His trademark sense of humour in press meetings had an almost parallel TRP to his matches itself. Hollywood beauties, as always, made him their next target. Brooke Shields might have done the only sensible thing in her life by dating Agassi.

Post Wimbledon 1992, Agassi went through s surgery, Im not sure which one, but that kept him away from the game. Sampras by now had become numero uno. When Agassi finally came back sometime in late 1993, he just wasnt the same. He played ATP tour events and somehow it felt that he would never be the same player again. Thats when Brad Gilbert took up the task of honing Agassi's skills and extract the optimum out of him. Agassi's rank was languishing in the 100's. Then something strange happened.

I guess he got a wild card entry to the US Open 1994. He was unseeded. He made history by becoming the first unseeded player to win the US Open since 1966. I remember he defeated a plethora of seeded players .... Michael Chang, Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Thomas Enqvist, Greg Resedski and Michael Stich in the finals, that too, in straight sets. What an achievement.

He now had 2 grand slams and people were already looking forward to the Australian Open in Januray 1995 .... just 4 months after his US Open triumph. I remember I was watching a match of the Australian Open. I saw 3 or 4 games and then out of nowhere the commentator said .... Agassi leads 3-2 first set. I couldnt make out where Agassi was in that match. On close scrutiny though, I was dumbfounded. Agassi had shed his blonde locks, sported an unkempt french beard and had a handkerchief like thing on his head. Talk of Pirates of the Carribean ..... we had our very own Pirate of Las Vegas.

He nearly killed every opponent that came his way until he met Sampras in the finals. I for one hadn't seen Sampras and Agassi battle in a grand slam before. Sampras won the first set but Agassi played nearly inch perfect tennis and won the next 3 sets and his third grand slam. I guess that was the only instance when Agassi has defeated Sampras in grand slams, one of the few blemishes to his glittering career which is also a tribute to the genius of Sampras.

By this time, Agassi and Sampras both had just one Grand Slam eluding them .... the French Open and it seemed like no American can win this title. In between Agassi and Sampras fought many a battle at Wimbledon and the US Open, though somehow, Sampras always came out on top. This doesnt any in sense mean that Andre couldnt win the big matches. Sampras will be the first to admit that Andre gave him the toughest tests in his career. Who can forget the 4 tie breaks match at Flushing Meadows. It will go down as one of the game's greatest rivalries if not the best. They also had a memorable Nike ad which will also go down as one of the best sports ad of all time.

Agassi also won the Olympic gold at Atlanta in 1996. I remember he defeated our very own hustle master Leander Paes in the semis. Leander went on to win the bronze medal then.

Soon after, Agassi married Brooke Shields and it got to him. His form deteriorated faster than Ajit Agarkar went back to the pavilion evrytime he came out to bat. He slumped to 140 or something in the rankings. Was always a wild card entry in grand slams. I remember he was dumped in straight sets in the first round of Wimbledon in the late nineties. That was horrible to watch as an Andre fan. The marriage didnt work out and Brooke and Andre separated.

He returned a rejuvenated man in 1999. The world was witness to the biggest jump in rankings in Tennis history when he climbed to the top 10 again from around 140. One record that I feel no one can break is that Andre has been Number 1 in 3 different decades. The 80's, 90's and 2000's. He won the Australian Open 4 times but the icing on the cake was the 1999 French Open.

He looked battled and bruised pretty much the whole tournament. Went thru a series of 5 setters and favourites. The red clay at Roland Garros further accentuated his weariness upto the extent of him looking lost in the final. First of all, it was a huge surprise to see an American in the finals. His opponent was an under achiever pretty much his entire career ... Andrei Medvedev but he had played amazing tennis to finally do justice to his talent. He pretty much sorted out Andre's game in the final too. First 2 sets 6-3, 6-3 i guess plus a break up in the third. But as they say, cometh the hour cometh the man. I dont know what hit Andre but he completely turned the tables on his opponent. Im sorry im not even taking the name of his opponent anymore but thats what Andre did to him. He finished the match in another 80 minutes or so winning in 5 sets although it looked like a straight set victory.

This was a unique feat. No one in the history of the game has won all four grand slams plus the Olympic gold if Im not wrong. Hats off Sir ..... !!!

He went on to dominate the game for the next 4 years which coincided with Sampras's farewell. He also got married to another champion, Steffi Graf during this period. By the way Steffi Graf won all 4 grand slams and the Olympic gold as well just like her husband but the only difference is that Andre took close to 13 years to achieve this feat while Steffi did it in one year .... 1988. What a couple. Just imagine what their kids would do .... :)

If you look at his humanitarian work in Las Vegas and other cities in the States, you can only add some more adjectives to the millions already existing for this great man. His trademark blow of kisses all around the court left spectators wanting for more. The flair, the zeal, the flambuoyance, the enigma, the larger than life image, the mannerism and the champion .... all these attributes separate Agassi from his contemporaries.

It would be tough not to cry when he bids adieu at the US Open. End of an era ?. End of American domination at tennis ? Long Live Sir Andre Agassi. Sure shot Hall of Famer. Im so proud to share my birthday with him .... Cheers !!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

First day at Solaris .....

I had my first day at Solaris yesterday. Quite a bit of homecoming .... talking plainly in terms of a gym. This is my 3rd gym after the one I joined post 12th and then the in house gym at Persistent. The difference between a small gym and a renowned one is quite visible. You dont have much time to breathe at Solaris and you dont have to wait for a long time to use any equipment. Add to that, the steam bath or a hot water shower .... the only sad part is the following day ... that is today ... still counting all the body parts that are aching ..... Cheers !!