How Andre Agassi almost lost a chance to secure the career slam in 1999 French Open?

Andre Agassi became the first player in the Open Era since Rod Laver to secure the career slam when he rallied from two sets down to win the 1999 French Open final against Andriy Medvedev.

Andre Agassi won the French Open for the first time in his career as he beat Andriy Medvedev from two sets down in the final. (Image credit: Twitter)

In the Open Era, there were many legends in men’s Tennis who failed to win the Career slam. For many greats, the French Open proved to be the ultimate stumbling block. Jimmy Connors never won the tournament. Stefan Edberg and Boris Becker never won the French Open. John McEnroe was denied by Ivan Lendl at Roland Garros. Pete Sampras won 14 Grand Slam titles, but he never conquered the red clay at Paris. Roger Federer only managed to win the 2009 French Open because Rafael Nadal lost in the fourth round to Robin Soderling. For many people, the French Open proved to be a bridge too far to conquer.

For Andre Agassi, his quest was similar. Agassi had won Wimbledon in 1992 and had secured tremendous success in Australia and the US Open. In the French Open, he was twice the bridesmaid. In 1990 and 1991, he lost to Andres Gomez and Jim Courier. After that, he struggled in the French Open. In 1999, Andre Agassi was making a comeback.

In 1996, he had won the gold medal in Atlanta. Agassi slid down the rankings in 1997 and had suffered a career-threatening wrist injury. During the 1999 French Open, not only would he overcome years of frustration, but he create a unique legacy that no one in his era would emulate.

The run to the French Open by Andre Agassi

Agassi would be facing defending champion Carlos Moya in the round of 16 if he overcame the initial rounds. The signs of his struggle were evident right from the first round. He battled back from a set down to beat Franco Squillari of Argentina in the first round. 

In the second round, Arnaud Clement of France was on the cusp of beating Agassi. After losing the first set 2-6, Agassi bounced back to win 6-4,6-2 but lost the fourth set 5-7. However, Agassi won the final set 6-0 to advance to the third round. Agassi had some relief in the third round as he beat Chris Woodruff in straight sets. In the fourth round, he met Moya.

Moya was the 1998 French Open champion and a renowned clay-court expert. Agassi once again lost the first set. But, by sheer determination and skill, Agassi got the better of the defending champion to reach the last eight. 

In the quarters, Agassi beat Marcelo Fillippini in straight sets. Against Dominik Hrbaty in the semis, Agassi was up by two sets but he lost the third set. But, the America bounced back to win the fourth set to set up a final clash with Andriy Medvedev.

The summit clash and a dream for Agassi

“The night before very nervous. And the nerves made me come out very slow. So, I went out with a game plan to be aggressive but if you’re feet aren’t moving right on the red clay, it’s very difficult to do,” Agassi recalled his feelings just before the final. The nervousness showed on Agassi. His opponent, Andriy Medvedev, was considering quitting the sport at the age of 24 just before the French Open. It was Agassi who had convinced him to drop his retirement plan.

Now, in the summit clash, Agassi was already down by two sets. In the third, he was all but out. The pain of 1990 and 1991 was going to be repeated. In the match against Clement, he was facing a similar situation. Agassi used the experience to claw back and register one of the greatest comebacks in history.

Agassi won the next two sets 6-4,6-3. Crucially, in the fifth and final set, he broke Medvedev and he went on to win the set 6-4 and the championship. The emotions that Agassi displayed summed up his desire to achieve history. 

The greatest year for Agassi

When Agassi lifted the French Open crown, he became the first player since Laver to win the career slam in the Open Era. The American went on to win the US Open and end Sampras’ six-year reign at the top. By winning Roland Garros, Agassi became the first male player in history to have won the Golden slam.

The 1999 French Open was also a beautiful thing for Agassi. In the women’s section, Steffi Graf had won the women’s singles title. Both Agassi and Graf would tie the knot some years later. All the personal turmoil of Agassi’s earlier career was eliminated when he married Graf. 

Agassi’s exploits would be repeated by three more people. Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer became the other players to win the career slam. Nadal would join Agassi as the only other player to win the golden slam. Djokovic has never won the Olympic singles gold while Federer has achieved success only in doubles.

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