Stunningly, no one on tour has become more of an authority on that subject than Agassi. After 11 years marked as much by flameouts and Taco Bell runs as by streaks of on-court brilliance, Agassi became a man in full this year. He won the French Open to become the fifth man to win all four Slam events, fell to Pete Sampras in the Wimbledon final and then lost serve only six times while blazing through a Flushing Meadow draw that was riddled by injuries. With Sampras out with a herniated disk, Patrick Rafter sidelined with a torn rotator cuff and third-seeded Yevgeny Kafelnikov content to pocket his checks and buckle under serious fire, Agassi provided the men's tournament with its one spectacle: Day after day, at the first opportunity, he would strip off his shirt and parade his shaved chest about the practice courts and locker room. It was a comical display of self-love—but well-deserved. After beginning the latest comeback of his career in 1998 with a string of impressive showings at lesser tournaments, Agassi confronted his personal trainer and close friend Gil Reyes last January and declared it time to carve himself into greatness. Reyes told him, "You have to mean it, Andre. If you're going to dream big, you had better get big."
Reyes then retooled Agassi's fitness program, directing him straight from two hours of practice to two hours in the weight room and then over to a paved hill near Agassi's house in Las Vegas that they took to calling Magic Mountain. Almost every day Agassi would chug up the 320-yard-long hill countless times, lungs searing, stomach heaving in the 112° heat. Each time, Agassi would hear Reyes yelling, "Your legs will never let you down!" Agassi kept going. On Sunday, even after five grueling sets, Agassi looked ready to go five more. "I've got to be honest: I'd rather throw up on Magic Mountain than throw up in front of 20,000 people," he said. "Without that I wouldn't have won today."
Without that, too, he wouldn't have achieved the best comeback of his career. After sinking as low as 141st in the rankings in the fall of 1997, Agassi is now in the No. 1 spot, and with his two '99 Slam titles, he can lay undeniable claim to the one thing that matters: At 29, he's the best player in the world. "The reward and the fulfillment is so much greater knowing it's something I had to fight for," Agassi said. "I lost my first three Grand Slam finals. It would have been a lot easier if I had won even one of those. In hindsight, I could have done a lot of things that would have made my life easier, but I wouldn't be half the person I am."
As a result, Agassi's name is on the lips of any tennis player seeking inspiration. Everyone from Jennifer Capriati—who at 23 won her first Open match in seven years, played her way into the fourth round and then proceeded to break into tears at her final press conference—to Hingis cited Agassi as an example, but only time will reveal how this new generation will respond to adversity. Its first test has already begun. Hingis, who succumbed to a spasm of petulance at the French Open and then lost in the first round at Wimbledon, concedes that Serena's rise will make her recovery tougher. "I didn't know what to do," she said after Serena blasted her off the court. "I felt lost out there. I didn't know if Serena was going to hit to my forehand or backhand. I couldn't read her game."
Oracene sat in the family box during the final, more nervous than she had ever been. "As a mom you think, Not the younger one first," she said hours later. "You want to pull it back to the natural order of things. But sometimes things just come unnatural."
Once Hingis's final backhand sailed long to end the match, Serena staggered backward and clutched her chest. She didn't know whether to laugh or to cry or to scream, so she did them all. The court was bathed in an odd wash of sunlight and stadium lights; her yellow dress glowed like a new school bus. "I touch everyone," Serena had said the night before. "Everyone wants to see me. I don't blame them: Got to get a look at Serena."
She was right: CBS's rating for the 1999 women's final increased by an astonishing 100% over the '98 final. Oracene leaned out of the players' box and hugged her. Richard came down to the court level and hugged her, too. "I knew it," Richard told her. "That's great. You did terrific." The 22,000 people in the stands cheered. In the family box Venus wore a black hood. Her face was a complete blank. She looked as if she were in mourning.
"Maybe this is a wake-up call for Venus," Oracene said. "To be tougher. This will be an example. Venus has ability that no one has seen yet; it would be impossible to even describe it. It's that side of her—what Serena has—that Venus needs. So hopefully she can gain something from this."
Oracene didn't sound convinced. Who knows? This hadn't been part of the plan. She had seen Venus in the box, watching her little sister become a champion. Venus tried clapping, but her hands barely touched.