- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Tom Gorman, the U.S. captain, had found out only the weekend before that McEnroe's ailing left shoulder would prevent him from competing. Gorman's first choice for a replacement had been the 17-year-old Chang, the surprise winner of this year's French Open. But Chang had already planned a fishing trip with his father. Further, both Chang and his parents were displeased that Gorman had not asked him to be on the team for its April meeting with France.
"Michael's got things in perspective—he's not hounding the spotlight," said Agassi, 19, who lately had been, uh, pooching it a bit himself. But while Chang and Becker were winning Grand Slam events, Agassi had slammed himself into grand shape with the help of Pat Etcheberry, a former strength coach at Kentucky.
Weights, sprints, stretching, diet, haircut (just kidding). "I've trained harder in three weeks than in my entire life," said Agassi before facing Becker. "Now I can go the distance full guns." This from a kid who is 0-4 lifetime—whoops, 0-5—in five-setters as a pro.
Against Becker, however, the new Agassi showed more heart, guts and work ethic in defeat than he has in any victory. The result was one of the most marvelous big matches of any era. Tuck it right in there with Laver-Rosewall in Dallas, Borg-McEnroe at Wimbledon and Connors-Anybody, Anywhere.
It wasn't simply that Becker-Agassi in Munich roared through almost 4� hours over two days. Or that Becker had home-crowd as well as home-carpet advantage, but still had to serve 28 aces and hit an amazing 102 winners to get out alive. Or that Agassi outslugged the compleat slugger for most of three anguishing tiebreaker sets. Or that Agassi outclutched Becker in the first two tiebreakers with brave, whacked-on-the-rise returns. Or that Agassi was within a point of falling behind 5-1 in the third set, but served for the match at 6-5.
The majesty of the battle continued in the fourth set, which began at 11:19 p.m. In it Becker actually served harder than he had all night. And when he drew even around midnight, everybody just knew Agassi would be finished the next day. But in Saturday morning's fifth set, with Becker serving at 3-1, 30-all, with Becker having won 10 of the previous 12 points, with Becker poised for the kill, the kid who couldn't go the distance jumped in his opponent's face one more time. Blistering his returns, Agassi broke, held and broke again to pull ahead 4-3.
Becker's final comeback was devised with craft as much as power. He charged behind backhands sliced low and away from Agassi's wheelhouse forehand. Serving to save the match at 4-5, Agassi's first serve deserted him, and Becker simply pounded second deliveries to end it. Afterward, Agassi leaped the net and gave as heartfelt an embrace as men's tennis has seen in years.
"If there's one person I look up to and respect, it's Boris," said Agassi, all grace in a wondrous moment.
The match's drama, intensity and level of play drained Flach and Seguso, who were waiting to face Becker and Jelen in doubles. "We went out feeling empty," Flach would say later. "For Andre to play so great and lose was deflating to the whole team."
An exhausted Becker was broken in the second game, and Flach and Seguso, who were 10-0 in Davis Cup competition, served out the first set. But soon enough Becker began to dominate play, and Jelen was obviously inspired. Jelen would save six break points in the first three sets and not lose his serve all afternoon en route to a 3-6, 7-6, 6-4, 7-6 upset for the West Germans, DAS DOPPEL-WUNDER! screamed the newspaper Bild.