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'I have more titles in me'
Rededicated and rejuvenated Agassi loving life
Posted: Monday September 13, 1999 12:27 AM
NEW YORK (Reuters) -- Two years after Andre Agassi had been written off as washed up, the people's choice is on top of the tennis world, appreciating life like never before and starting on his second set of Grand Slam titles.
"It's incredible. It's been a long road for me and something I'm very proud of," Agassi said Sunday night after capturing his second U.S. Open title and ascending to No. 1 in the world.
"This year I just started playing my best tennis in the biggest of situations. That's what you always hope for," he said.
"Coming in here today I just really was allowing myself to appreciate this time in my life. I can't think of a better place to be than in the final of a U.S. Open. You don't get to see too many of them."
It was a long trek back from the depths to which Agassi had allowed his tennis career to sink. In 1996 he started to lose his way and by 1997, the former phenom had plunged to a ranking of 141st in the world was playing lower tier events where they don't even have ball boys.
"I had to make a choice if I was going to really play the game or quit. If I was going to play, I had a lot of work to do."
He chose the more difficult path of hard work and rededication, getting himself, at the ancient tennis age of 29, into "the best shape of my life."
That all the hard work has come to fruition is undeniable.
In a span of four months, Agassi won the French Open -- coming back from two sets down in the final -- reached the Wimbledon final, and won the U.S. Open, again relying on his new-found mental toughness and physical fitness to outlast Todd Martin in five tough sets.
Not since former No. 1 Ivan Lendl did it in 1986 had someone played in the men's singles finals of the last three Grand Slams of the year, an accomplishment Agassi admits he could never have envisioned for himself two years ago.
But he insists that the effort it took to come back from tennis oblivion has made it all so much sweeter.
"Part of me is convinced that if it wasn't for those valleys, these peaks wouldn't be this high. It's kind of how my spirit has always worked.
"Who knows if I could have accomplished more, but there's still time. I definitely feel like I have more titles in me. I feel like I can get stronger," he said.
"I don't know if you ever make up for missed opportunities. The best you can do is not live in regret from here on in and that's kind of been my commitment," he said, demonstrating a self-awareness that comes from maturity and a few hard knocks.
"What I missed out on through a few years in my career I can never get back, but it is nice to actually get another shot at it," he said.
"Every time you win a big one it has its own special feelings attached to it," he said. "I don't think anything can top the first time you win a Slam, but there's a certain special feeling I felt this time that it wasn't possible to appreciate last time.
"It was much more emotional last time," he said of his 1994 U.S. Open title as an unseeded player that was the culmination of another comeback. "This time it feels quite real."
Agassi said it was during his French Open campaign that it really all came together for him
"I don't think it was until the middle of Paris that I actually felt like I started to let my shots fly in the biggest of situations," he recalled.
"It wasn't till after Paris that I started developing that sense of focus and confidence," he said of the victory that put him in the company of tennis luminaries Rod Laver, Roy Emerson, Don Budge and Fred Perry as the only men to have captured all four of tennis's major titles.
Agassi professed a special affinity for New York and its fans and had his own theory as to why they seem to adore him.
"It's hard not to care on some level when you watch somebody develop from a teenager who says and does a lot of the wrong things to a person who gets out there and appreciates the opportunities," he said.
It's been a long, strange trip from the scruffy, teen-idol wannabe with the long dyed-blond hair to the hairless sage who addressed the press after claiming his fifth Grand Slam title.
"I believe there's a lot of dignity in any professional that goes out there in that kind of intense arena and maintains a standard of professionalism and work ethic," he said.
"I've been on the other side," he said of his days of youthful bravado and questionable dedication.
"So I can say now that I do walk off the court mighty proud."
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