Tennis: Agassi stokes passions with grand victory

French Open final: Tears of joy as Las Vegan joins the immortals by clawing back two-set deficit against Medvedev
Click to follow
ANDRE AGASSI'S emotional triumph at Wimbledon in 1992 was surpassed at the French Open here yesterday when the 29-year-old American joined tennis immortals Fred Perry, Don Budge, Rod Laver and Roy Emerson, as one of only five men ever to complete a collection of the four Grand Slam singles titles.

As Agassi finished a tearful celebration on the Centre Court, incorporating a homage to his entourage in the players' box, a warm embrace from his heartbroken opponent, the Ukrainian Andrie Medvedev, blowing kisses and bowing to each section of the 16,000 crowd, and kneeling in prayer at his courtside chair, the incomparable Laver was there to present the Coupe des Mousquetaires.

Agassi, the No 13 seed, finally reached his summit the hard way, recovering from two sets down to overcome Medvedev, ranked No 100 in the world, 1-6, 2-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4, after two hours and 51 minutes. The 24-year- old Medvedev seemed to be cruising through his first Grand Slam final until Agassi produced a forehand drop volley in the third set to rescue a break point that would have left his opponent serving for the match at 5-4.

"To be quite honest I was in shock," Agassi said. "I was embarrased that the final was a potential blow-out. But I did leave scope for nerves kicking in with him in the third set."

There may be misgivings regarding Agassi's misbehaviour on courts around the world from time to time, along with suspicions that he has not always given of his best, but he now stands alone as the only man to have won the Grand Slam titles on four different surfaces: grass at Wimbledon, concrete at the United States Open, rubberised concrete at the Australian Open, and clay in Paris.

In the days of Perry, Budge, Laver and Emerson, three of the four majors were played on grass, the exception being the French. Budge and Laver are the only men ever to have won THE Grand Slam - the four majors within a calendar year - and Laver stands alone as the only player ever to have accomplished the feat twice, as an amateur in 1962 and as a professional in 1969.

For a time, Agassi seemed destined to become one of the sport's most charasmatic underachievers, especially at the turn of the decade, when he was defeated in consecutive finals at the French Open, by the 30-year- old Andres Gomez, of Ecuador, in 1990, and by Jim Courier, his American compatriot, in 1991.

Agassi, it was said, had an ideal style for success on the slow clay courts, nimble footwork, quick wrists and aggressive ground strokes backed by the most effective return of serve in the game. But glory in Paris had to wait as the Las Vegan broke through initially at Wimbledon, at the expense of the big-serving Goran Ivanisevic, and then made his backcourt skills pay on the hard courts of Flushing Meadows and Melbourne Park.

Many observers considered that Agassi's prospects of adding to his last Grand Slam title, a souvenir of his first visit to the Australian Open in 1995, were dwindling after a series of injuries and a perceived lack of ability to raise his game for the seven matches over the best of five sets required to win a major.

It is astonishing to think that, as recently as November 1997, Agassi's world ranking had slumped to No 141, and he took a wild card into a second tier ATP Tour event in Las Vegas, losing in the final to Germany's Christian Vink. Today, Agassi's ranking will skip to No 4 from No 14.

Aside from injuries and motivational difficulties, Agassi has experienced difficulties in his personal life, his two-year marriage to the actress Brooke Shields ending in April. While continuing to talk a good match, Agassi had been unable to produce encouraging form in the important events.

He struggled to win his second round match here against Frenchman Arnaud Clement, and did well to stifle a recovery by Carlos Moya, the defending champion, in the fourth round. Medvedev, who had accounted for Pete Sampras in the second round and Gustavo Kuerten, the 1997 champion, in the quarter- finals, and must have felt he could almost touch the trophy after the opening sets.

Medvedev also created the first break point of the fifth set, but hit a backhand service return long in the second game. The Ukrainian then overhit a forehand to be broken for 2-3, perhaps having too long to ponder where to deliver the shot.

The pounds 410,00 cheque seemed almost irrelevant to Agassi as he lifted the trophy. "This is the greatest feeling I've ever had on a tennis court," he said. "And it hasn't even sunk in yet, which makes it even more incredible. It's not possible to explain what was going through my mind at the end. I was somewhat numb. I had so many reasons to be overwhelmed at that moment."

And his next goal? "It's 20 years since anybody won the French and Wimbledon back-to-back. That would be something." It certainly would.