Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Monday, July 3, 2006

Images that are Everything

Those early images were of a roughly-hewn diamond. When Andre Agassi broke into professional tennis, he had those rock star locks and a celebrity girlfriend (and later wife) in Brooke Shields. He wore brightly-colored garb and displayed antics reminiscent of Jimbo and Mac Nasty that brought flair to an otherwise staid game.

He was irreverent. He pooh-poohed the All-England club for two years because he refused to conform to the all-white uniforms the tournament requires one to wear. On a powerful US Davis Cup team that had Pete Sampras and Jim Courier, Andre stole a page from team captain John McEnroe as he breathed fire and belched brimstone to rally the US victory against Switzerland.

Andre Agassi was no flash-in-the-pan. By the mid-90s, he had won three of the four Grand Slam events and his storied rivalry with erstwhile teammate Sampras electrified tennis. Yet for all his on-court accomplishments, his off-court goings-on seemed as much to define him. During the 1995 Australian Open, his newly-shaven plate received as much press as his victory over Pistol Pete. The nagging injuries caused tennis observers to write him off and a crumbling marriage that eventually took its toll on this son of a former Iranian Olympian was tabloid fodder.

In 1998, Agassi reinvented himself and rededicated himself to the game. Whipping himself into shape, he made a quantum leap from being ranked #141 in the world to #6 by year’s end. A triumph at Roland Garros the following year shot him into history books as the only male tennis player in history to win in all four Grand Slams and an Olympic Gold medal. Coincidentally, his second wife, Steffi Graf is the only female player in tennis history to have done the same (can’t ask for a more perfect match now, can you?).

The turn-around would become even more remarkable as he would go on to win four more Grand Slam titles and a host of others in the years since that would cement his place as one of tennis’ all-time greats. But during a tepid press conference that preceded this Australian Open, two sentences changes made the setting more significant and set off a wave of nostalgia:

"It's been a long road this year for me, and for a lot of reasons. It's great to be here. This Wimbledon will be my last, and the U.S. Open will be my last tournament."

It was 20 years ago when Andre Kirk Agassian turned pro. He has lasted longer than anyone has expected. His contemporaries have all retired. But by no means is he a pushover for younger foes. He has gamely battled today’s stars and if weren’t for an assortment of ankle and back injuries (aside from age), he probably would have beaten them.

The diamond has now been expertly carved. He is now an elder statesman of the game. His maturity and sincere love for the game are evident for the entire world to see. His induction speech of his wife Steffi at the International Tennis Hall of Fame left nary a dry eye in the house.

Three minutes within Agassi’s stepping off the podium during the Australian Open Press conference, new clay court sensation Rafael Nadal (who has oft been described as a new version of Andre) could only gush about his idol. What your best image of Andre, Rafa?

“A legend.” And that says everything.

(Three rounds into this Wimbledon Championships, Nadal ended Agassi’s run at Wimbledon with a 7-6 (5), 6-2, 6-4 victory)

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