May you rest easy long-liners, in fair winds, and calm seas...
--- From The Perfect Storm (2000)
Andre Agassi looked pretty fit at Indian Wells this week. Not bad ... not bad at all for someone considered over the hill at 35, showing off his guns with fashion statements normally reserved for the likes of young gun Rafael Nadal.
He's played fairly impressively through his thirties, considering some of his contemporaries: Pete Sampras (playing World Team Tennis), Yevgeny Kafelnikov (picking lint out of his belly button) and Goran Ivanesevic (jockeying for captainship of the Croatian Davis Cup team). Agassi's putting it all out on the court, making Grand Slam finals, balancing his desire to win with newer obligations to family.
The bad news is that he lost in the second round to Tommy Haas at Indian Wells. In the tournament before that, in Dubai, he went down to some guy named Bjorn Phau in the Round of 16. Agassi has to get painful cortisone shots to quell the hip pain that had him limping through the French Open first round last year. That's just to play.
Why does he keep it up? Agassi's always said that as long as feels he can compete for majors, he's lacing up. Anything can happen (like Sampras winning the U.S. Open in 2002) but realistically, the journey's a much steeper hill these days. Not only is there near invicibility at the top of the game, but there are up-and-comers, like Haas, Blake, Gasquet and those who are appear to be fading, like Hewitt and Roddick, who Agassi would have his hands full with. Since Sampras' run, men's tennis has gotten deeper, and the likelihood that he can advance past the second week in a major draw is grim.
Here's hoping Agassi doesn't feel he needs to make up for lost time. Yes, he started out the rebel, refusing to play Wimbledon because of the dress code. (The irony: Now he's trying to preserve his body for one last All-England run.) He let his ranking dip to the mid-100's through the late 80s, watching Sampras dominate as he slugged away at Challengers events. But he came back and won the one major that Sampras can only dream about ... and they're probably clay-caked nightmares. There was the bleached-blonde hairstyle, and even that he rectified.
If he feels he has something left to prove, consider this: Eight Grand Slam titles, former world No. 1, one of five men to win all four majors in his career on four different surfaces, seven times the runner-up in majors, 60 singles titles, and right this second, ranked in the top 10.
Rest easy, Andre. Anytime you're ready.