01 September 2006

The Funny Thing About Tennis

Two things happened 21 years ago: Andre Agassi played in his first U.S. Open, and Marcos Baghdatis was born.

It's a funny thing about tennis: great tennis can be boring to watch, and lousy tennis can be exciting to watch. I'd say pretty much every Wimbledon from 1993-2003 was the former, and tonight's Agassi-Baghdatis match was the latter.

To be blunt about it, there is no excuse for Agassi to not have won this match in 3 straight sets. I would further add that there is no excuse for Baghdatis to not have blown Agassi away in final 3 sets. Here's how I figure it:

Baghdatis played poorly in the first two sets. You may not have noticed because Agassi's level of play was not much better, but Baghdatis made enough errors to become an honorary member of the Bush administration. Agassi didn't win the first two sets; Baghdatis lost them.

But then Baghdatis pulled himself together and took control. Agassi, the veteran, didn't change anything. He just stayed back and played like a practice partner, trading baseline shots and-- this is unbelievable-- falling prey to his opponents drop shots. Agassi has been hitting the best drop shots for two decades, and yet here he is being toyed with by a 21-yr old. Unbelievable.

So Baghdatis wins sets 3 and 4 (don't even get me started on Agassi blowing a 4-0 lead in the 4th). Then he cramps up in set 5. What does Agassi do? Pretty much everything except close out the match. He serves slower, he misses first serves, he blows shots wide, long and short-- all against a limping, injured player. Unbelievable.

Luckily for Agassi (and I really mean luckily), Baghdatis lost enough physical ability that he couldn't close out the match, either, and in a fitting end, Agassi won on a Baghdatis error.

Baghdatis deserves a lot of credit for the way he played. He fought hard and he was very well spoken and gracious at the end. It says a lot that he stepped onto the court as the "bad guy" but in the end he endeared himself to the NYC crowd (see KatieG, I told you he was a good guy!).

I'm glad Agassi will be around to play at least another round, but if he keeps playing like he did today, I'm almost scared to watch...


KatieG said...

from100000 rows up in the stadium, they looked awesome. and the intensity of the match and the ride Agassi took the crowd on was amazing to be a part of. it was perfect because agassi won. Had i been privy to the McEnroe & Co. commentary, i perhaps could have understood the things you saw wrong with the match. but, in that stadium, the only thing that mattered was that agassi found a way to win.

Um, that 9th game of the 5th set, that went to like 8 deuces....the stadium groaned, sighed, cheered, swore, and prayed collectively. its nice to see 20,000 people coming together to do anything.

we did have a small Cyprian contingency up near us that sang their hearts out all season. probably about 20 guys - that sang and cheered for baghdatis the whole 4 1/2 hours they were on that court. often at the quietest times. i don't know if you could hear them, but the whole stadium heard them.

its a tough match to play when 20,000 cheering fans cheer your ever error. even to a net first serve that lands just 3 inches beyond the service line. to the double fault you hit when you can hardly move.

i don't know how it looked on t.v., but after baghdatis cramped up, he literally could not hit a running forehand over the net. his backhand, he could muster up enough strength - but the forehand was clearly his weaker ground stroke. i was yelling at agassi to exploit that, but instead he slowed down.

I kept saying to my friend "this is just like Chang/Lendl 1989!!" where there was simply NO REASON for a great like Ivan Lendl to lose to an unseeded 17 year old american on red clay....especially when that american was so weak and so tired that the only two shots he could hit were topspin lobs and underhanded serves. Yet Lendl, clearly the physical powerhouse, stood stunned on the court, and blew lob after lob past the baseline, himself freaking out more than he ever did - as he clearly thought to himself - "Why am i not CRUSHING" this kid??"

some german dude named Becker, then perhaps roddick in the 4th round....

good luck andre....

WestEnder said...

Oh, I assure you, everything you describe about the crowd and the atmosphere of the match was there on TV. It was palpable. I could hear all those cheers on missed 1st serves and the groans when Agassi missed. I've never seen anything like it.

And the commentary was nothing like my post. I don't think anyone could be in that stadium and not get caught up in the emotion of the match. McEnroe & Co. were no exception.

But emotion is one thing, and quality of play is another. If you can find someone who recorded the match, watch it again and count the number of times Agassi dictated play. I cannot even recall one time. It drove me crazy.

If I didn't know better, I'd think Agassi was the newbie and Baghdatis was the veteran. He turned his game around, he played through pain, he was gracious in defeat. Agassi is lucky he pulled this one out.

Then again, the great ones always find a way...