Andre Agassi wins a big one for the U.S. and himself
On that far-off day when Andre Agassi has finished winning his couple of dozen Grand Slam championships, he may well look back on an obscure September Sunday in 1991 as the moment he proved himself not merely to the tennis universe but also to someone vastly more important: himself.
The occasion was only a Davis Cup semifinal meeting (or tie) against Boris Becker-less Germany. The location was just another tacky, USTA-created clay court placed somewhere near the center jump circle at Kemper Arena in that tennis coldbed of Kansas City, which was so excited by the event that a couple of hundred German fans were able to outcheer the local citizenry for most of three days. Finally, Agassi's opponent was none other than Carl-Uwe Steeb, who on the Immortals Recognition Meter registered right there with John Doe Dweeb for all anybody in K.C. cared.
Nonetheless, when Our Andre, dressed in the traditional colors of Old Glory—O.K., O.K., of New Glory: cerise, white and black—and firing his ground strokes at wicked angles, routed Steeb 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 in the fifth and deciding match, he not only turned the U.S. Davis Cup team's attention toward a final-round meeting with France in November, but he may also have turned around his career. Following his first-round flame-out at the U.S. Open three weeks earlier, Agassi had gone home to Las Vegas and rededicated himself both physically and mentally. "I felt like Rocky going back to his roots," he said last week. "I wanted to find out who I am as a tennis player."
Echoing the Agassi-thrashers of yore, Double A confirmed that "my biggest problem had been concentrating and raising my game to the occasion. But this week I kept focused and carried that through the matches. My play was just a reflection of how hard I've been working."
Before the tie, U.S. captain Tom Gorman said Agassi arrived in Kansas City "in the best frame of mind I've ever seen him." That meant that when Agassi was supposed to show up for a four o'clock practice, he actually showed up at four o'clock. Further, his coach, Nick Bollettieri, assured everyone that "this is the start of something big. The world will experience a new Andre."
That the world had heard this before—new Andres have been as prevalent as confirmation conversions on Capitol Hill-did not prepare the world for a trio of remarkable occurrences in Kansas City:
1) Agassi was accompanied only by his girlfriend, Wendy Stewart, rather than by his entourage of ills—Phil (Agassi, his brother), Bill (Shelton, his agent) and Gil (Reyes, his trainer)—which was a neat display of independence hard by a real Independence (Mo.), the hometown of that old two-fister himself, Harry Truman.
2) Agassi announced that he might take on an additional coach, a veteran player who could aid him in tight situations. Maybe someone like John McEnroe, whom Agassi consulted after the Open. John McEn-Who?
3) In Friday's opening match, Agassi, combining some vintage McEnroe and Truman, gave absolute hell to Wimbledon champion Michael Stich in a 6-3, 6-1, 6-4 thrashing that made Stich look like a first-round loser in the local Rockhurst College intramural league.