Unless it was not really a tennis match but rather just another figment of some ad agency's wild imagination, America's favorite out-there, happenin' commercial dude, the hipster with the shades, the earring, the spandex undies and the squirrel-tailed hair, the guy who was described in racetrack parlance by one of Fleet Street's finest as "George Michael out of My Little Pony"—yeah, none other than the adorably blow-dried Andre Agassi himself—turned out to be right after all. Image is everything.
Why else would Agassi pick this time—wallowing in a slump, his shots and his psyche in shambles, his ranking having dropped as low as 17—to win his first Grand Slam title? Moreover, after having lost serious face in his three previous Grand Slam finals (twice at the French Open and once at the U.S. Open), after having been ridiculed as some sort of tennis pariah with no substance or heart or nerve, why else would this bizarre yet somehow endearing Las Vegas-bred celeb pick Wimbledon—fair, green, staid Wimbledon—to turn it all around and make one of the more long-awaited breakthroughs in pop culture history?
Image, sweet and simple, babe. Think of the London tabloid possibilities: AGASSI AND ECSTASY! A dynamite look and sound. Everybody heard those debutantes of all ages squealing for Double A all over the All England Club, as if Elvis had returned. This whole deal had a beat the target audience could boogie to. Think the kid can pull down some more endorsements now? Poor tennis—not to mention MTV—it ain't seen nothin' yet. Hey, babe. Andre, like his female counterpart, Steffi Graf, who rolled to her fourth Wimbledon crown, has not left the building.
In as compelling a Wimbledon men's final as has been witnessed in nearly a decade, the slick-handed Agassi courageously remained in the building and on the baseline and left eighth-seeded Goran Ivanisevic, 20, wondering just what had happened to him. As Bjorn Borg had done from the baseline five times before him, Agassi won a Wimbledon title. Final score: 6-7, 6-4, 6-4, 1-6 (uh-oh), 6-4 (whew!).
It wasn't merely that the 22-year-old Agassi had defeated Boris Becker and John McEnroe—two All England legends who have six Wimbledon championships between them—in the two previous rounds; McEnroe, after all, is over the hill, and Agassi beats Becker in his sleep. No, the crux of the matter came down to the 10th game of the fifth set of the championship round. Ivanisevic, a 6'4", 160-pound rail-splitter from Split, Croatia, had been ripping ace after ace after ace with his low-toss hatchet swing: 11 in the first set, 10 in the fifth, 37 on the day, an astounding 206 for the tournament against such worthies as Ivan Lendl, two-time champion Stefan Edberg and Pete Sampras. Yet there stood Agassi, who for once had not cowered on the grand occasion. Instead he nailed nearly every serve he got a glimpse of right back at Ivanisevic. "It wasn't, like, I didn't expect aces and love games," said Agassi later. "I enjoyed watching Goran's serves myself."
This was only Agassi's second Wimbledon as an, uh, adult. He had bypassed the tournament in 1988, '89 and '90 because of some stupid advice by his handlers while figuring out what color to dye his hair. As this year's fortnight progressed and Agassi looked more and more as if he had been raised on turf, his coach, Nick Bollettieri, kept trying to justify Agassi's absences in previous years by insisting that he "wasn't ready." Grinning, Bollettieri said before the finals, "Now he is. Andre's so strooong. And the hump's off his back, whatever happens."
What already had taken place was the repeated spectacle of Agassi mending fences with Wimbledon officialdom, even while he was throwing his shirts to, and escaping from, the frenzied grasps of all the girls whose teeny-bopper predecessors used to do the same thing to the similarly coiffed Borg. One day Agassi said about playing on Centre Court, "I was scared, nervous, intimidated and excited all at the same time." Another day he spoke of "the crown," meaning the All England title, not the thing that the Wales spouses seemed to be despoiling with their marital spats. "This isn't just a Grand Slam, it's Wimbledon," Agassi kept repeating with all the correct reverence.
He even kept his humor in the often testy exchanges with the press, which had jumped all over the story that the players were kidding Agassi about losing his hair. (Back in the States TV talk show host Dennis Miller had started an Agassi bald watch.) "I started wearing a cap because I wasn't wearing sunglasses," he said. "Sometimes fans like to see the other side of the token." Say what?
For his part, Ivanisevic has a tendency toward clowning—he showed up at a tournament in Stuttgart in February with a Mohawk 'do—and he has taken over as the tour's goofball prince from Ilie Nastase. Mostly, though, the talented but inconsistent Ivanisevic is as unfathomable as his serve. In the last two Wimbledons he lost in the semifinals to Becker and in the second round to the unsinkable (No. 591 on the computer at the time) Nicky Brown of England. The ragin' Croatian on his game: "Serve, serve, serve. Forty aces. Win. Boring." On preparing for Sunday's finals, after he had ripped the fifth-seeded Sampras in the semis with 36 aces: "I never keep my mind so well, so long. I have one more day to do that, then I can relax my brain."
In the fourth set on Sunday, Ivanisevic received a warning from the umpire for swearing in Croatian. Some Yugos watching on TV had phoned in their objections to the All England Club. Ivanisevic, who has been outspoken in his support of Croatia in its civil war with Serb-dominated Yugoslavia, was furious. "Serbs, obviously," he said later. "Did I call the umpire a monkey? Probably."