Thursday, September 06, 2007

My After-Dinner with Andre

Last night, after dinner, I watched Andre Agassi at the U.S. Open. And, for once, I was rooting for him. And not just because I was sitting there with a heating pad on my sore back, sympathizing with the chronic lower back problems that eventually forced Andre to retire after last year's U.S. Open.

For the record, I was never an Andre Agassi fan. The hair, the atrocious fashion, and all that youthful flash and (at the time, undeserved) hype that came with the package just turned me off. Plus, he was a power game baseliner with a two-handed backhand, which was not exactly my style. But as he aged and his hair fell out, Andre seemed to wake up, reinvent himself and rededicate himself to the game of tennis. I think he realized what a rare gift it was to play the game and he fell back in love a sport he had played for so long that I think he sometimes - amidst all the distractions of dating/wedding celebrities like Brooke Shields and hanging out with hanging out with divas like Barbara Streisand, etc. - forgot why he was playing it.

I say this only because I have a new found respect for Andre after seeing him do guest color commentary at last night's U.S. Open match between Roger Federer and Andy Roddick. In a word, Agassi as commentator was BRILLIANT. His observations showed that he is truly a student of the game and very insightful. As a (not very good) tennis player, I found his technical analysis of Federer and Roddick's techniques especially valuable. He got down to the nitty gritty of grips, strike zones, footwork, all the "clinic-y" stuff that most color commentators gloss over. He rightly pointed out, for example, that Roddick's two-handed backhand is weak because Andy tends to favor his left hand over the right hand that most two-handers use to power the ball. And I especially liked his comments about how he could read where Boris Becker was going to serve by the direction of his tongue: Tongue up toward nose meant Becker was going to hit his booming serve up the the middle, while tongue out the corner of his mouth indicated he was going to serve it wide.

Unlike all his rock and roll media image ("Image Is Everything"), this Agassi in the broadcasting booth alongside John McEnroe and Ted Robinson was soft-spoken (no wonder Streisand called him "Zen-like," with that calming timbre in his voice) and subdued, never overwhelming the viewer with information. He choose his commentary spots well, just as he did during his runs as a player, and volleyed masterfully with his fellow pros in the booth. Perhaps best, he mostly kept quiet and let the beauty of the game speak for itself. And for two sets of last night's 7-6 (7-5), 7-6 (7-4), 6-2 Federer win, it was as good as it gets on a tennis court. Andre allowed us to see it without spoiling it with chatter.

If he ever gets time out from his Andre Agassi Charitable Foundation work with underprivileged kids in Las Vegas, Andre could always find plenty of work as a broadcaster. As with his tennis career, it's all just a question of what he wants to do and when.


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