NEW YORK – Andre Agassi’s run sure was fun while it lasted.
The oldest finalist at the U.S. Open in 31 years teased fans Sunday, playing some of his best tennis in years for three sets and looking as if he might finish off his magical run with a title.
But like virtually everyone else the past few years, he couldn’t keep up with Roger Federer.
“It’s disappointing to lose,” Agassi said. “But the first thing you have to assess is why did you lose. I just lost to a guy that’s better. There’s only so long you can deny it. He’s the best I’ve ever played against.”
After blowing Agassi away with seven straight points to win a third-set tiebreaker, Federer raced through the last set in 23 minutes. He won the last game at love, jumping into the air when Agassi’s backhand sailed long to end the 6-3, 2-6, 7-6 (1), 6-1 victory.
Agassi’s brown eyes were somber as he sat and stared straight ahead for several minutes after the match, a towel to his mouth, perhaps wondering how many more chances like this he’ll get. At 35, he has no idea how much longer he’ll be playing.
“I’m unsure about what I’m going to do in a month, let alone a year from now,” he said. “(But) as of now, my intention is to keep working and keep doing what I do.”
The fans certainly don’t want to see him go. They gave him a standing ovation when he skipped onto the court before the match, and several more when he made dazzling plays during the match. Anytime he fell behind or faced a critical chant, there were cheers of “Come on, Andre!” and “Let’s go, Andre!”
And when his picture was shown on the large scoreboards after the match, fans cheered again. Agassi smiled at the applause. After jokingly putting a towel over his head, he got up to salute the fans with his traditional bows and kisses, and even Federer clapped.
“Over the last 20 years, I’ve come full circle,” said Agassi, who has played every U.S. Open since 1986 and won it twice, in 1994 and ‘99. “To be here at an age where I can take in that sort of love and be at an age where I can embrace it is a tremendous feeling.”
An eight-time Grand Slam winner, Agassi has stayed on long after his peers faded to memory. Pete Sampras, Jim Courier, Michael Chang – they’re all gone now. And three months ago, Agassi wondered if he would soon be joining them. Pain from a herniated disc in his lower back sent pain shooting down his leg at the French Open, leading to a first-round loss, and he had to skip Wimbledon.
But he and trainer Gil Reyes worked relentlessly to get back in shape, and he’s more spry now than some men a decade younger. When he returned to the tour in late July, he won his first tournament and reached the final at the next.
And at the Open, he’s been simply spectacular: Playing with the spirit of his youth and borrowed energy from the fans, he overcame three straight five-setters for the first time in his career to reach the final.
After Federer sprinted through the tiebreaker, winning seven straight points, Agassi was all but finished.
The crowd tried to rally him, but Agassi had nothing left. Those shots he’d been hitting with pinpoint precision now landed long or wide. Instead of chasing balls down with ease, he could only watch as they blew by him.
“If we didn’t have a tear in our eye and a lump in our throat, we don’t have a right to be one of the two finalists,” Reyes said.
“It hurts real bad because it matters so much. But that doesn’t mean that from here on it’s doom and gloom.”
Someone asked Agassi if this was the best way to go out. Maybe losing to the No. 1 player in the Open finals would be the perfect end to his story. But Agassi had another idea.
“Beating the No. 1 is better,” he said.
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