Friday, September 01, 2006

Day 4.5: Late Night with Andre

Andre Agassi is squeezing every last drop of emotion and drama out of the final Act of his career playing out at the U.S. Open.

Thursday night at Arthur Ashe Stadium, for a while, looked as if it was going to include a surprisingly routine win for the 36-year old American over #8-seeded Marcos Baghdatis, fifteen years his junior and runner-up at the Australian Open this year before his semifinal run at Wimbledon earlier this summer. The Cypriot was curiously off his game and perhaps distracted by the atmosphere that made the homemade signs that read "Andre's House" seem perfectly appropriate.

Agassi won the first two sets 6-4/6-4 and was on his way to an under-two hour victory. Baghdatis seemed to sense that the crowd wanted Agassi to survive to fight another day more than it desired a great, epic match, and he seemed willing to oblige as he watched the wave travel round the stadium with a grin on his face. He seemed to want no part in playing the villain in Agassi's Superman play. Boy, was that assumption wrong. As it turned out, Baghdatis turned the big afterschool party into another unforgettable episode of "Late Night with Andre."

Move over, David Letterman.

Baghdatis is one of the most exciting and excitable players on tour, and he proved it once again on perhaps the sport's biggest stage in this 2nd Round match. As he began to pump himself up with brilliant shotmaking and pounded his chest as he showed the heart that makes him so fun to watch, he claimed the 3rd set 6-3 and roared back from a 0-4 deficit in the 4th to knot the match with a 7-5 win.

Then things really got weird... in a matter of minutes, we were only an episode of projectile vomiting away from seeing a Stephen King novella play out before our eyes. (Well, that or one of those old Pete Sampras matches where he's tossing his lunch in the corner of the court in between hitting blistering forehands down the line.)



As the 5th set turned into a game-by-game fight for the continuation of Agassi's career, at 4-4 Deuce on Agassi's serve Baghdatis was suddenly struck with leg cramps that alternately sent him crumpled into a heap on the court, bent over in the corner, hopping around like a mad kangaroo, or hobbling from side to side like a stoop-backed great grandfather.

Suddenly, we had something different altogether.

But rather than fold, Baghdatis began going for outright Sampras-like winners early in points, while Agassi became tentative and/or perplexed about how to play a hampered opponent backed into a corner and throwing out any and every weapon at his disposal simply to keep from shriveling up into a raisin in front of 20,000-plus spectators. Eight deuces later, Agassi finally won the game.

Whew!

The match had turned into a classic before everyone's eyes, with Agassi's career (and tired back?) teetering in the balance, and everyone wondering whether that 20-minute cortisone shot would last as the match time ticked past 3:30 and 12:30am (again) quickly approached.

In the end, when Baghdatis' final shot sailed past the baseline and a relieved Agassi approached the net, everyone in the stands was allowed to breath again. The legend was still alive and kicking (even if he won't be able to stand up in the morning).

With Baghdatis outlasted and unable to play the role of "villain" (ironically, he probably became a "hero" himself in the process), Andre's New York show now brings us a final Agassi-Becker clash. No, it's not that Becker, but it doesn't matter. Maybe it'll be Andy Roddick who ultimately dons the black hat in the Round of 16, but who's to say how this story will end at this point?

No one wants this ride to end... and maybe it won't. At this point, this bald guy doesn't seem to be able to do anything wrong. Maybe he never will in this final, potentially magical journey.

Ah, just another "average" night in New York, huh? Eat your heart out Mr. Letterman... Andre owns the late night now. At least for a little while longer.

(Boy, now we're REALLY going to miss him when he's gone.)

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