OLYMPIC GAMES: Tennis: Agassi hits high point of career

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The Independent Online
You get tears of all types at an Olympics; joy, frustration, despair even laughter. Emotions run high and then spill over. It's a release, a safety valve. It is normal. Where you do not expect them is on the faces of battle-hardened granite-souled professionals.

Andre Agassi, for example. A man who has had the word brat written after his name almost as often as John McEnroe. But there he was on the podium, the rising Stars and Stripes reflected by the water streaming from his red eyes. The magic of the Games had touched even this tennis-toughened spirit.

To the point where he was almost gushing after his 6-2, 6-3, 6-1 victory over Spain's Sergi Bruguera. "This is the greatest accomplishment I've ever had in the sport," he said. "It's an amazing moment. It's a small part of a wonderful thing called the Olympics. If you can't come here and give everything you can for your country... I would keep this gold medal over anything I've won."

Then Agassi's performance had been the sort that would stir strong emotions in a stone. The American has frequently been brilliant in a career that has yielded Wimbledon and US Open titles, but he has rarely touched the incandescent heights as he did at Stone Mountain Park.

He sensed he might be making contact with his genius the day before when he beat his coach Brad Gilbert 6-0, something he had not done for nine months. When he got on to court he was like a little boy who had just rediscovered a much-loved toy.

Bruguera, winner of the French Open in 1993 and 1994, took the first game with three aces, but it soon became apparent that the venom of his opponent's shots would leave his service as vulnerable as a buttercup against a lawn mower.

Agassi danced around the back court, moving forward to hit the Spaniard's serves almost on the half-volley and such was the precision and power of these ground shots that Bruguera spent most of his time five yards adrift of the baseline. Bjorn Borg might have been able to turn the tide from there, he did not have a chance.

He was broken seven times and by the end had the bewildered and hurt look of a man who had been unexpectedly dismissed from a cherished position. His own saving grace was the cleanliness and speed of the execution, a mere 1hr 18min.

"This is as good tennis as I can play," Agassi said. "I didn't care who was on the other side of the net. I was going to win. It's what I can do day after day and it's what frustrates me when I'm not there.

"I ran for every ball. I was going to give everything I have out there. That's the kind of intensity that makes guys want to leave the court after 25 minutes."

Looking forward, he added: "Keeping it going will be easier than getting it started."

To add to Agassi's moment, unbeknown to him, his father Mike had flown to Atlanta to watch and reminisce. He had boxed for Iran in the 1948 and 1952 Games before emigrating to America and he could savour his son's triumph in a way that only someone who has been so close to a dream can.

"It was a surprise to see him there," Agassi said. "I didn't know he was coming which is probably just as well. Being a second generation Olympian added to the occasion definitely. Certainly he's got closer to the gold now than he ever did when he was competing."

At the end Agassi Snr ran on to the court and said something, but the emotions were stirred so thoroughly his son had lost the meaning. "I'm not sure what he said. We had a memorable embrace that we'll have for ever," he muttered, his eyes glazing over again.

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