View Full Version : Agassi: Over/under-achiever?
06-07-2009, 08:45 AM
Last time I did this on Davenport. This time it's Agassi's turn.
Yes, he won 8 slams, 60 titles overall. Yes, he's the only man to achieve a career golden slam (4 slams + Olympic gold). Yes, he played competitively until 36. And did all this being only 5'9" (I doubt he was ever 5'11").
Still one has to wonder what he could have done if he was more mature in his earlier years, didn't hook up with Brooke Shields, suffered nagging back injuries, and came up short in slam finals so many times. He didn't play the AO until 1995 and when he finally did so he ended up winning it 4 times. He avoided Wimbledon until 1991 and then won it in 1992, which broke the monopoly of mindless serve and volleyers winning it. Add to it he never beat Sampras at Wimbledon or the USO.
Feel free to debate and discuss.
06-07-2009, 09:04 AM
I voted bit of both. He was an underachiever early in his career, overachiever towards the end, and for a large period in the middle about right. He had his worst slump from 1996-1998 but most players go through atleast one of those, ok maybe his was worse than many greats but you get what I mean. He is definitely a great player with amazing talents in many areas- great hand eye coordination, return of serve, timing, agressive overall baseline play. However I dont think he has quite the overall firepower (including serve), athletic ability, or all court game of Sampras or even Federer; nor the combined athletic ability, amazing defensive skills, and insane mental strength of a Nadal. Of course he was a contemporary of the great Pete Sampras which made it hard to win fast court slams for anyone. On clay there were a number of players in his era who were better, so while the 90 and 91 finals look like blown chances (especialy 1990) I would say overall 3 finals and 1 title are about what he should have come out with there relative to others of his era on clay. He might have achieved more at Australia if he played earlier, then again I dont really think he was favored to win any of the years he missed, whereas the years he did win were actually mostly years I thought he had a pretty good shot. It is just hard to say he was an underachiever even there with 4 titles, when he isnt even the dominant hard court player of his era. So while he is extremely talented I am not sure if I consider him the underachiever some do, certainly not an overachiever though. He overachieved some in old age at the end of his career, he earned every bit of it working his butt off to make up for lost time so to speak. If he hadnt had that late career surge I would say he was an underachiever somewhat.
06-07-2009, 09:13 AM
I said a bit of both. Early on his his career he seemed more focused on being the tennis Rebel than actually trying to be a tennis champion. It wasn't until a good 5 years at least into his career that he really seemed to smarten up and focus on the game more. More focus early on, he might have been able to win more than he did in his younger days.
However later in his career Sampras came along, and to me Sampras was really the one that smartened Agassi up and made him a better player. No Sampras and I doubt Agassi accomplishes as much as he does. People say without Sampras Agassi would have been better off, I think its the opposite, Agassi needed a rival like Sampras to make him, well, straighten up and fly right. Sampras beat Agassi in many big matches, and it was not for lack of effort from Agassi, Pete was just better, and than of course Rodger came along. In the early days of Agassi's career he underachieved for sure, but later it was his competition that really held him back.
06-07-2009, 09:25 AM
I voted neither. I tend to think that reality is an accurate indicator of the state of the world. That records are very nice measures of truth in sports.
But that's just me.
06-07-2009, 12:25 PM
I guess the Bit of Both option is the safe one for voters...haha
At first I wanted to vote underachiever, but seeing how many mini-generations Agassi's career spanned the fact he was competitive for 20 years is quite amazing. Especially when 16 of those years he ended in the top 10. I guess underachiever is not an option for my vote after all.
06-07-2009, 12:29 PM
I think his sucess between 29-32 doesn't make him an underachiever.
06-07-2009, 12:47 PM
Bit of both. He underachieved in his early years some. He could have done more if he was more commited early and didnt go through his self imposed sabatical between 1995 and 1999. Then again the gods smiled on him a few times in his later years. I am not sure if any player in history had the luck to win 2 different slams in the same year as Agassi had in 1999. 1 maybe, but twice in the same year, cant think of any.
2001 and 2003 Australian Opens the draw gods were out in full force and sent Schuettler, aging Ferreira, Clement down as final round opponents for the aging Agassi. Lastly they sent cramps to Rafter and an injury to Sampras when they were on their way to 4 set wins over Agassi in the 2000 and 2001 semis otherwise. Overall he probably did what he ought to have done more or less.
06-07-2009, 01:31 PM
Wow, great question. So had to answer. I feel like the reason he was an overachiever later in his career is because he was such an underachiever earlier. He saved his legs and mental reserves a bit. If he would have met Brad the Coach earlier, and actually listened, who knows.
But I think it happened just right. His transformation from a rock star into a an elder statesman into, now, almost the warrior philosopher of tennis, couldn't have happened IMO if he hadn't experienced so many humbling moments early on.
06-07-2009, 01:40 PM
I voted neither. His career was what it ought to have been, no more and no less.
06-07-2009, 01:54 PM
Agassi could have done a lot more with his career, I think. He was probably the greatest 30 year-old player, but before that for some reason he wasn't doing the same thing.
Also I think that Pete Sampras ruined a lot of his chances.
One thing I don't agree with is that Agassi was just a bit lacking in top level of play vs. others. Imo, Agassi's TRUE highest level of play was as good as anyone's or better that I've seen. Bruguera said after Agassi's 96 Olympic finals performance that it was the best Agassi had ever played against him and that when he plays like that to him, HE was the unquestionable best player in the world, not Sampras.
Really, it's all relative to matchups. Sampras' greatest level of play would feel greater to some top players, but imo, DEFINITELY not all. Sampras matched up better with some and Agassi better with some, unfortunately for Agassi, imo, I never felt he matched up nearly as idealy with Sampras as it was made out to be. I always felt that in terms of style if both were playing their best, all things being equal, Sampras would hold the edge simply because he matched up better stylistically. To this me, this had nothing to do with whose peak level was "better." There is no definitive such thing.
Say what some will about Agassi's "draw" at that Australian, but that form was some of the most astonishing I've ever seen. He struck the ball SO clean as a whistle that tournament against Lee, Ferreira, Schuettler, and Clement that I don't think I've ever truly known what it meant to strike the ball clean as a whistle until I saw him do it.
Agassi at his best, struck the ball so clean, so pure, so quick that quality opponents looked lucky to just win POINTS. It was crazy stuff when he got on like that.
Primarily, to me though, Agassi was an underachiever...but only just slightly.
He was an underachiever to me because I felt he could have actually squeezed out one or two more slams late career than he did.
To me, Agassi's problem near the end was that he became TOO obsessed with the whole fitness obsession and "paying the price" and the blah, blah, blah gibberish he was being fed by Gil Reyes. That kind of philosohy is good no doubt, but taken too far and I think you lose sight of what made you great in the first place.
Agassi's "greatness" is split in two halves. He had two dimensions that he was really known for. The first half, it was his explosive shot making...or rather, AUDACIOUS shot making.
The second half, it was for his fitness and you've got to "pay the price" attitude, the never wilt in the heat Farmer's pride, type deal, the incredibly chiseled phsyique, the bruising blows, the thought that he was going to try and BREAK you physically rather than just putting it away FEARLESSLY like he used to...in other words, late career Agassi FORGOT how to pull the trigger. The fitness became a SAFETY BLANKET for him imo.
It is WELL-KNOWN that as you get older in sport or have suffered a few confidence knockers/blows, you play with more fear about you can lose rather than how you can win. Bruguera said after his loss to Guga at the 97 French, when asked what he thought the difference was; he said he thought Guga played more to win, and he played more hoping he would lose. And it's true, he never seemed like he could quite get himself to just let go and FREE-FLOW it the way he did against Medvedev in the 93 semis for instance or in the first set of the 93 finals. As you get older, or have been through bad spells where you realize your mortality more, this is what happens to players. They constrict and hope their opponent will get nervous against them, or get overwhelmed by the moment, rather than try to TAKE the win. Guga years later said the same of his 97 French, when a reporter told him of how Bruguera had said as you get older you can't get yourself to let go as much, that he had observed himself how Bruguera had constricted over the years since when he first won it, and Guga said, of course! That is the way it is for all of us, that as you get older, you think about it too much, and you just can't get yourself to let it go anymore.
Of course, LATE career, Guga let go TOO much...but then again, that's an abnomoaly. It wasn't because he played as freely in the head anymore, it was because he had NO CHOICE. The guy could barely move his last few years due to the hip problems. If a guy's walking with a cane, his only hope in a street fight is to swing for the fences not meditate, so that's what he did. It's still not the same thing though as truly swinging from the balls of your seat the way that "undiscovered"...or rather, "UNFULFILLED," younger players are more apt to do.
It's like Martina always points out. It's EASY to swing out when your young, she said this of Capriati when she first busted out. Then life hits, and you think, you realized and understand what it means to be mortal. In other words, the more experience you get, the more you realize how many ways there are to *lose* in this sport, rather than thinking about how many ways there are to win.
One thing is DEFINITELY for certain though. The GREATEST individual performances from EVERY player REGARDLESS of individual style, ALWAYS comes when they play that style UNIHIBITED, without the tight collar, shirt untucked, going with the wind...the breeze...and not OVERLY thinking about it...which causes you to STRADDLE in the wind, doddle, take one step forward then backward and forward again...meanwhile the younger opponent who has that optimium mindset will just TAKE it while you're too busy thinking about your next move...which you no longer have the guts to take and MAKE happen.
To me, Agassi's whole fitness craze thing was a COVER UP for his own increasing FEAR of going for it anymore. He'll never admit it, and he probably didn't even recognize it; but imo, it was DEFINITELY there.
Mr. wild and flashy in later years becaome super conservative, super stingy, super TIGHT in later years. He became an ACCOUNTANT weighing the percentages too much, meanwhile, in big matches the younger guys TOOK it when it mattered most consistently I felt at the end.
He was imo, in good enough shape at that point, that I won't excuse it to age. It was to my eyes, CLEAR AS DAY.
Agassi in his later years, NEVER brought the "magic" anymore. I saw him play close matches against Federer and Safin when it mattered most that COULD HAVE gone either way, but what happened? In those swing moments, and every match has them, Agassi stuck to his ever so well thought out "high percentage" plan, while his opponents came up with the magic and WENT for it.
The problem with the "high percentage" plan in tennis is that it works 98% of the time, but the last two percent require INSPIRATION. It's what Michael Chang suffered from. The quintessential #2, who CONSISTENTLY got upened when it mattered most. The only time he actually did win a slam is when what? When he brung the magic, brung the heavenly INSPIRATION to OVERCOME the debilitating moment. ...and guess what? He was a YOUNG pup then...not the TIGHT AS A DRUM RESTRICTED CHI version that took on Rafter at the US Open in what was supposed to be his "golden chance" (a la Fed at this year's French with Rafa losing early).
When it counts the most, the law of percentages NO LONGER WORK. It'll get you within striking distance, but at some point, it takes the INTANGIBLE nature of inspiration to get over the hump. Safin will consistently flake out on you lots, sure, playing the percentages against him is a winning proposition...but guess what, even the class clown knows when it's time to wise up. Safin understands MOMENT and opportunity, when Agassi was still going for his precious percentages and COUNTING ON Safin flaking out or keeling over from exhaustion or packing it in...he PREDICTABLY, *didn't*.
Play tai-chi all you want old Agassi, but you're bringing mysticism and SMOKE AND MIRRORS to a LIFE OR DEATH *gun fight*. The percentages in situations like this go to the person who realizes it's a LIFE OR DEATH, *do or die* struggle, not a patting contest or game of tic-tac-toe.
To me, Agassi's a SLIGHT underachiever, because I feel that he rarely found the optimum balance in his game between going for it and playing the percentages. His problem was that he was a very enthusiastic about life type of guy who would get OVERLY excited and OVERLY buy into a certain plan or philosophy and over commit himself to it. He was one of those all or nothing type guys, who swings dramatically in one direction until the next "phase" comes along.
To me, Sampras' peak level wasn't necessarily better (more varied yes, but not necessarily better) so much as it was that he found the optimal BALANCE for his game FAR more consistently throughout his career than Agassi ever did.
Agassi was like bursts of lightning or thunder. Brooding thunder near the end...always threatening, but never pulling the trigger, never unleashing the lightning anymore, and younger enterprising opponents eventually recognized this (just didn't tell him about it). OR, he was all lightning and flash early on...but couldn't sustain it for long because he played like chicken little with his head cut off (just ask Lendl about that).
To me, Agassi when he DID find that right balance between the two, lightning and thunder, was as devastating a unified force as I have ever seen on a tennis court. He was lightning and thunder in a 5'11" bottle of hard malt liquor...and opponents truly feared the consequences of THAT Agassi, a.k.a. the one against whom even winning a few points here and there seemed like a huge victory and nothing to be ashamed of.
06-07-2009, 02:55 PM
^^^It's a good thing you were succinct.
06-07-2009, 02:58 PM
had agassi beaten sampras in the '95 us open finals then it's likely that their career grand slam wins would have been reversed. that single match catapulted sampras into GOAT category and destroyed agassi for more than 2 years.
06-07-2009, 03:00 PM
had agassi beaten sampras in the '95 us open finals then it's likely that their career grand slam wins would have been reversed. that single match catapulted sampras into GOAT category
:lol: Was going to vote neither, but for this alone I will vote overachieved.
06-07-2009, 05:15 PM
Agassi squandered his younger years. Although his dad did so much for him, and thought he did the best sending him to the Bollitierri Tennis Accademy, Agassi became the quintessential tennis brat with little understanding that shotmaking and potential don't mean success at the highest levels at tennis. It took him way too long to figure it out. He's not alone in this regard, but just imagine if he had the support of a Majorcan family and an Uncle Toni ...
06-07-2009, 05:24 PM
Underachiever IMO. As charliefederer mentioned, Andre squandered his younger years away. He had some supreme tennis talent, but spent most of his best years, MIA with his focus off the game. He could have done so much more. Definitely more than 8 slams I feel. He didnt play the AO there for a while. His best surface. Underachieved at the French I think a little. Of course he did have Sampras to deal with. No easy task. I dont think people realize how good Andre really was when he was focused on the game
06-07-2009, 05:51 PM
but i think by not going 100% for many of his younger years, it saved his legs for his late 20's and early 30's. if he had the focus of sampras in his early/mid 20s then he might have retired (or at least his play would have diminished significantly) when pete did.
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