For all of his victories during two decades on the tennis tour, including eight Grand Slam titles, Andre Agassi looks back most fondly these days on the aftermath of a loss.
During an interview in the city where he played his last professional match 10 years ago, Agassi called the way he walked away from the sport as good a moment as he had on court during his lengthy, successful always-in-the-spotlight career on Sept. 3, 2006, Agassi lost a third-round match at the U.S. Open against Benjamin Becker, then delivered an on-court speech in Arthur Ashe Stadium to an adoring crowd that gave him a lengthy standing ovation as he headed into retirement.
"It really brought together what it’s all been about from the beginning, which is people and connection. And it put everything into perspective: the ups, the downs, the successes, the failures, the triumphs, the comebacks. I not only grew up in New York, but New York helped me grow up," the 46-year-old Agassi said.
"So when all of a sudden it was over, and there was that raw emotion — both on my end and 20,000 other people who were in the stadium — it made me realize how connected we’ve all been over the years," he continued, thinking back on that occasion. "And I’ve got to say, I look back on that moment as probably the best moment I’ve ever had on a tennis court."
He famously wrote in his book "Open" that he always hated tennis "with a dark and secret passion" because of his overbearing father, and so maybe it shouldn’t come as surprise that Agassi said he rarely picks up a racket these days.
"I’ll give charity lessons but that’s about it."
Becker, who is 35, was on court at the U.S. Open on Tuesday, losing in the first round.
Asked what he recalls most from his long-ago match against Agassi, Becker replied: "It was a tough match, and I don’t remember that much."
Then he paused, before adding with a grin: "But I remember I won. I hit an ace on the final point."
Becker said that day is brought up to him by others "quite often, obviously, but I understand it," and he referred to having "the honor of playing him in the last match."
Agassi, who won the US Open in 1994 and 1999, planned to be at Ashe as a spectator for tonight’s session, in connection with his new role as a spokesman for Lavazza coffee.
As part of the arrangement, 1 per coffee sold at the brand’s cafes at the two-week tournament will go to the USTA Foundation to benefit the Andre Agassi Foundation for Education. Between matches Tuesday, the stadium scoreboards were supposed to show an ad in which Agassi is seen having an espresso in an Italian piazza, leading to a series of flashback videos of him as a kid and a pro.
It’s capped by Agassi "transforming" into his long-haired, day-Glo-outfit persona of yesteryear and declaring, "I’m back!"
"Initially, when I read it on paper, I was like, ‘No way I’m doing it,’" Agassi said. "But then, when I talked to the director, and they sort of said: ‘Listen, here’s how it’s being filmed. It’s like this flashback. It won’t be a close up.’ … Just putting on that outfit made me feel real old, let me assure you."