By Fernie Ruano Jr.
Dear ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls,
I’m just writing to let you know, Pete Sampras, my final-round opponent today, one of the best players ever and somebody I respect tremendously, is feeling a bit sick, so I have decided to give him as much time as he needs to get the proper medication and fully recover, in order to play later this afternoon.
Andre Agassi –
No actual letter was written or delivered on that hot, 1994 Key Biscayne day when Agassi and Sampras were scheduled to renew their great rivalry in the final on Stadium Court; instead, the crowd implicitly understood that Agassi had shown some of the best sportsmanship in the quarter century of history at the tournament that would go on to become the Sony Open Tennis.
Agassi, 23 at the time, trim-bearded and white cap wearing, was gracious enough to let No. 1 Sampras, battling a stomach ailment, take all the time he needed before the start of the men’s final.
The thoughtful gesture allowed Sampras to get more IV and fluids into his body, but put Agassi, ranked No.31 before the tournament and adjusting to Brad Gilbert, his new coach, in a position to lose championship price money and valuable tour points. Sampras defeated Agassi in three sets.
But even as he waved to the crowd in defeat, Agassi, the Las Vegas-born, forehand fire-baller with the black sneakers and hair to rival Miley Cyrus, was transforming right before our eyes. He would go on to create the greatest male legacy ever at the Sony Open as he provided some of the best moments over the next 20 years of the tournament.
From 1990-2005, Agassi, a six-time titlist, became the youngest tournament champion (1990), the only player on the ATP tour to capture three straight titles (2001-03) and the oldest title-holder at 32 years, 11 months (2003). He appeared in 10 semifinals and was a combined 61-13 (.824) in Key Biscayne. Here’s a look at his greatest moments.
1990: At 19, Agassi, became the youngest player ever to win a Key Biscayne title at the time, defeating Stefan Edberg in the finals. The baseline artist made believers out of traditionalists thinking that only laser-like servers could win. A year earlier, Agassi had lost in the first round.
1994: Even in defeat, Agassi proved he was maturing, both on and off the court. He lost a in a grueling match, but it came in the finals after giving his eternal rival (Sampras) time to recover. Imagine: Peyton Manning sending Tom Brady some aspirin before an AFC Championship Game.
1995: Agassi defeated Sampras in a three-set classic, including the first third-set tiebreaker in tournament history, and then sped off to New York on his private plane – with Sampras – to see the musical “Grease,” starring his ex-girlfriend, Brooke Shields. What were the chances of Andre pulling off such an act in 1989?
2002: At 31, Agassi notched his 700th career victory by defeating then-20-year-old Roger Federer in the finals. “I think as you get older, you have a greater capacity to appreciate everything,” Agassi told the Miami Herald. “Those moments are not promised. Who knows if it will happen ever again?”
2003: Agassi became the oldest player ever to win in Key Biscayne with a near flawless straight set finals’ victory over Carlos Moya. Agassi made only 13 unforced errors and produced 28 winners to dispatch of Moya in an hour-and-11 minutes, while capturing title No.6.