Thursday, September 08, 2005

Life on the Court

Last night's Agassi-Blake match was one of the five or six best matches I've seen in the last several years. James Blake played the finest tennis of his career. He came out firing and for two and a half sets played with confidence and ran down every ball sent his way. And for those first two and a half sets, Andre Agassi looked, if not old, then at least diminished. He was a step slow, he couldn't power the ball past Blake, he double-faulted away the first set--he even had trouble picking up Blake's first serve.

But it takes three sets to win.

In many ways, last night was a metaphor for Agassi's entire career. He was favored, but he started out slow, fell behind, and was left for dead. But he kept fighting. Not screaming, not yelling, not brooding--just punching away. Every point, every shot.

Agassi has as much God-given physical talent as anyone who's ever played the game, yet he isn't a fluid, effortless player. He's a grinder. It never looks easy for him and that's because, for some reason or another, it never has been easy for him. But he keeps on swinging. If you watch Agassi move between points and games, he's always the same: head down, shoulders squared, with that funny, compact power-walk. He motors around the court between points, walking so fast that you think he might break into a run at any minute. It doesn't matter if he's winning or losing, his gait is always the same and it screams: Okay, next point, let's get on with it.

So last night, when it seemed that he was going to be blown off the court, Agassi did what he always does: He slugged it out. No self-pity, no arguing. He just kept firing, hoping that Blake might flag. And when it finally happened, when Blake suddenly realized where he was and his first serve deserted him, Agassi was still in it. He never checks out early.

To his eternal credit, Blake did not pull a Jana Novatna. He quavered, but by the fifth set had found himself again and he acquitted himself courageously. As the years pass him by, he'll be proud to have been part of this match.

After the match, Agassi had this to say:
I question myself every day. That's what I still find motivating about this. I don't have the answers, I don't pretend that I do just because I won the match. Just keep fighting and maybe something good happens.

It's true about sports; it's true about life. And it's a lesson that we all need to learn from time to time.


MeTooThen said...

Admittedly, as a kid I played competitive tennis but now I don't play or watch much tennis anymore.

I watched the Agassi-Blake match last night at your suggestion.


What was so amazing to me was the speed at which the match was played. There was very little time taken by etiher player between points or games.

And the shots were explosive. Watching Blake run around his forehand to hit that down-the-line winner during the tie-breaker was the most ferocious shot I have ever seen.

Patrick McEnroe said repeatedly that last night that "Agassi was the best-ever serve returner" in tennis history.

I don't know about that, but Agassi hit several winners, off both first and second serves, that were impossible to believe.

Lastly, for anyone who hasn't played tennis at a competitive level, it's difficult to explain how great pros like Agassi and Blake are.

Whereas anyone of us could sink a "clutch" 20 foot putt, or hit a free-throw, NO ONE could even get their racquet on the balls these guys hit. In fact, it would be fair to say that by the time you saw the ball it would be by you.

They're freakish.

In a good way.

Just sayin'.

Anonymous said...

Agassi reminded me of a great power pitcher who sometimes gets a little wild, and can appear vulnerable. You just knew, however, that when he found that slot he was going to lock in and become dominant again. To his credit Blake wasted none of the oppurtunities provided to him in the first two sets. Like an early 2-0 lead against a great pitcher, I hoped it would be enough. Early in the third set Agassi finally found that slot and he just started hitting all of his spots. I was rooting for the upstart (and fellow Yonkers-native) Blake but Agassi at his best has always been difficult to root against. Just a great match played by two gentlemen. And I think that James Blake will be heard from again.

Pat said...

Agassi's fighting spirit is admirable -- watching the match Wednesday night and again last night I commented to my wife about how quickly he sets up for the next serve. Compare that with the Williams' sisters habit of balking their serve after they've just lost a point. It's an indicator, I think, not only of his pluck and superior conditioning but also superior sportsmanship.