Saturday, September 16, 2006

Kudos to Agassi, et al.

by Tibor R. Machan

Next to tennis, for me, there's only the blues that really rocks. The blues is more a participatory art for me, since I love dancing to it. Tennis, on the other hand, is my only pure spectator sport. I do play a little but not enough to speak of.

Over the years I have been witness, sometimes in the stands but
mostly via TV, to the brilliant play of such champions as Jimmy
Connors, Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, Pete Sampras, Ivan Lendl, Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert, Steffi Graf, and many, many others from even earlier days, men and women both. I should admit, however, that one aspect of tennis that appeals to me very much is how close-up and personal one can get to the players merely by watching a match and some of the interviews that follow it. The enormous value of the technology that brings this game to my home is totally under-appreciated -- TV is a priceless asset here, what with all those who shoot the games with such superb skill so that I and millions of other fans can enjoy those fantastic rallies and serves and drop shots.

Of course there are other sports -- bowling, baseball, track and
field, football, golf, soccer and the rest (some, sadly, rarely shown on TV, like fencing and rowing) -- but for me tennis tops them all. No, I am not claiming some kind of universal superiority for the sport. One size does not fit all, here or elsewhere. But for those like me, this sport is dazzling, as perhaps the most individualistic of them all.

Which is just one reason I was so touched by Andre Agassi's farewell remarks after he lost to Germany's new (Benjamin) Becker in the third round of the 2006 US Open championship. The two matches Andre played before were ever so thrilling events; Agassi never dropped the ball, as it were, despite suffering enormous pain in his back, something many of us can relate to big time.

Anyway, Agassi has won eight Grand Slam singles titles, being one of only five players who won all four Grand Slam singles events over the span of his career. A great many tennis connoisseurs consider him to be, as Wikepedia put it, the most "complete and natural talent tennis has ever seen." (I actually think that in his prime Jimmy Connors was every bit as good, as was Bjorn Borg, but they didn't manage to last so long at the top as did Agassi, the only one to have won "every Grand Slam singles title, the Masters, the Davis Cup, and an Olympic gold medal." In all of this he managed to be an extremely pleasant, even sweet guy, with only his garb suggesting some measure of childish rebellion.

In his farewell remarks at the US Open this September 3rd, Agassi was eloquent, a bit overly humble for my taste (I believe someone as good as he ought to show that he understands what he himself put into it all). That stuff about "standing on your shoulders" Agassi told his New York audience is nice and good for the game, I suppose, but a little demonstration of his understanding of just how much his achievement is due to his own input would have been even more refreshing. (No, I wasn't hoping for some kind of Bobby Fischer arrogance, only a bit more of the whole truth.)

In any case, I wish to give my thanks to this wonderful tennis player and, from what I can tell, fine human being, as well. He has certainly contributed some great thrills to my life as to that of millions of others. I should even confess that as with Fred Astaire, Johnny Carson, Louis Armstrong, Claude Monet, Paul Cezanne, and, especially, Henre de Toulouse-Lautrec, I am very glad to have been alive during or after these people did their best work so I could enjoy it in museums or on film. (Again, hurray for that technological factor!)

Let us hope that Andre has a good, fulfilling life now that
competitive tennis seems to be in his past.

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