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Ready To Serve? Hope Nadal Isn't Across The Net!

  • Posted: Jul 10, 2020

Ready To Serve? Hope Nadal Isn’t Across The Net!

Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers examines the potent returns of Spanish and Argentine players

The two best returners on the planet in 2019 and the first two months of 2020 were Rafael Nadal and Diego Schwartzman.

An Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers analysis of their prowess winning points that begin by absorbing and redirecting the power of a serve identifies two key areas that help elevate them above all others:
• Technique – developing their return of serve skill set to the highest possible level.
• Location – growing up in a culture in Spain and Argentina that perennially produces the best returners in our sport.

Nadal and Schwartzman were the only two players to win north of 42 per cent of their return points during the 14-month period, which was significantly higher than the ATP Tour average of 36 per cent.

Return Points Won (Jan 2019 – Feb 2020)
1. Nadal = 42.39% (2499/5895)
2. Schwartzman = 42.07% (2689/6391)

Both Nadal and Schwartzman like to stand well behind the baseline to return, providing the opportunity for the serve to slow down marginally more, which helps them avoid being rushed by the raw power of the biggest shot in our sport.

Did Nadal and Schwartzman have an advantage developing their return of serve by growing up in Spain and Argentina? They absolutely did, as both countries are a perennial hotbed producing the best returners in our game.

Career Return Metrics (1991-2020)
Spain and Argentina account for seven of the leading 10 players in the Career Return Points Won category and 44 per cent of the Top 50. The data set includes players that competed in at least 100 ATP Tour and Grand Slam matches from 1991-2020, excluding Davis Cup ties.

The top four spots are a trade-off between the two countries with Argentina’s Guillermo Coria leading the way, followed by Spain’s Nadal, then Argentina’s Franco Davin, and Spain’s Alberto Berasategui. The three other players ranked in the leading 10 spots from the two countries are seventh-ranked David Ferrer (ESP), eighth-ranked Francisco Roig (ESP), and ninth-ranked Guillermo Perez-Roldan (ARG).

Coria led all players with a career-leading 43.7 per cent (11,139/25,492) of return points won against first and second serves. His metrics at Roland Garros, where he went 17-7, were some of his career best, winning a dominant 48.06 per cent (1217/2530) of return points. Coria reached the final of Roland Garros in 2004, winning very close to half of all return points played for the tournament at 49.85 per cent (333/668).

The 10 Argentine players ranked in the leading 50 players with return points won are listed below.

Argentines – Leading 50 Players Return Points Won

Return Rating


Return Win Percentage


Guillermo Coria



Franco Davin



Guillermo Perez-Roldan



Diego Schwartzman



David Nalbandian



Gaston Gaudio



Horacio De La Pena



Juan Monaco



Juan Ignacio Chela



Guillermo Canas


Nadal was the elite Spaniard, and it is in Monte Carlo where he has posted the best return metrics of his illustrious career. He has won a staggering 49.93 per cent (2369/4745) of return points in the principality. At Roland Garros, Nadal has also been well above his career average, winning an impressive 47.82 per cent (4245/8877) of return points.

The 12 Spaniards in the leading 50 players with return points won are in the table below.

Spaniards – Leading 50 Players Return Points Won

Return Rating


Return Win Percentage


Rafael Nadal



Alberto Berasategui



David Ferrer



Francisco Roig



Jordi Arrese



Carlos Costa



Sergi Bruguera



Tomas Carbonell



Francisco Clavet



Alex Corretja


The fifth-placed player, Michael Chang, was one of just three Americans in the leading 50 players, along with Andre Agassi (15th) and Aaron Krickstein (50th). Chang’s best tournaments with return points won (min. 1000 return points) were on hard courts at Atlanta (46.13%), Washington, D.C. (44.69%), and Los Angeles (44.49%). The third-placed country overall was Sweden, with four players placed in the leading 50 returners. They were:
•No. 21 Magnus Gustafsson = 41.44%
•No. 25 Stefan Edberg = 41.28%
•No. 40 Christian Bergstrom = 40.48%
•No. 45 Jonas Svensson = 40.32%

When Spaniards compete against Argentines, you know a crucial sub-plot is to be the best returner on the court.

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Wimbledon Pledges £10 Million To Players

  • Posted: Jul 10, 2020

Wimbledon Pledges £10 Million To Players

The grass-court Grand Slam is allocating funds to 620 players from all disciplines

Wimbledon pledged on Friday £10 million to the men and women who would have competed at The Championships in 2020 had the COVID-19 pandemic not forced the cancellation of the event. The grass-court Grand Slam is allocating funds to 620 players from all disciplines whose world ranking would have enabled them to gain entry into the tournament.

The 256 players who would have competed in gentlemen’s and ladies’ singles draws will each receive £25,000; 224 players who would have competed in the genlemen’s and ladies’ qualifying events will each receive £12,500; 120 players who would have competed in Main Draw Doubles will each receive £6,250.

In addition, Wimbledon announced that the grass-court seeding formula it has used for the gentlemen’s singles draw since 2002 will be discontinued beginning in 2021. The seeding will be based solely on the FedEx ATP Rankings.

The All England Club has focussed Wimbledon’s efforts on supporting those most affected by the pandemic at a local, national and international level. These efforts have included the Wimbledon Foundation’s £1.2 million COVID-19 fund to support charities tackling the crisis response and recovery, the donations of strawberries, towels and balls intended for The Championships 2020, the distribution of daily hot meals to those in need in the local community.

ATP Coach Programme

Wimbledon has also contributed to the Player Relief Programme and wheelchair tennis fund established by the governing bodies of world tennis, as well as an auction in support of members of the ATP Coach programme most in need due to the pandemic. Andy Murray will hit with the winning bidder and a guest at The Championships in 2021, and they will follow that session with a private lunch in the All England Club’s members’ enclosure. The winning bidder will also receive two tickets to the gentlemen’s singles final.

The chief executive of the All England Club, Richard Lewis , said: “Immediately following the cancellation of The Championships, we turned our attention to how we could assist those who help make Wimbledon happen. We know these months of uncertainty have been very worrying for these groups, including the players, many of whom have faced financial difficulty during this period and who would have quite rightly anticipated the opportunity to earn prize money at Wimbledon based on their world ranking. We are pleased that our insurance policy has allowed us to recognise the impact of the cancellation on the players and that we are now in a position to offer this payment as a reward for the hard work they have invested in building their ranking to a point where they would have gained direct entry into The Championships 2020.”

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Agassi & Rafter's Hat-Trick Of Wimbledon Magic

  • Posted: Jul 10, 2020

Agassi & Rafter’s Hat-Trick Of Wimbledon Magic

Duo contested three consecutive semi-final showdowns 

The Wimbledon battles between Andre Agassi and Patrick Rafter were a contrast in playing styles that perfectly suited grass-court tennis. Rafter’s relentless serve-and-volleying and Agassi’s blistering returns produced high-octane rallies that frequently left the Centre Court crowd gasping in their seats.

Rafter and Agassi faced off in three consecutive Wimbledon semi-finals from 1999-2001, with the Aussie prevailing in two of them. looks at their epic clashes at the All England Club.


Rafter’s had slipped to No. 21 in the FedEx ATP Rankings after undergoing shoulder surgery the previous October, but he once again found his top form in time for Wimbledon. Leaping around the net to block Agassi’s powerful returns with acrobatic volley winners, the 27-year-old withstood Agassi’s baseline power to prevail 7-5, 4-6, 7-5, 4-6, 6-3.

“Today was a match that I couldn’t have played any better under the circumstances, on a big court against one of the best players ever,” Rafter said. ”I think it was probably very satisfying to have actually done it on these grounds.”

Although Agassi couldn’t have performed any better off the ground, his serve let him down in crucial moments. He was broken to love at 3-4 in the third set and managed to get the break back in the next game, but hit a pair of costly double faults at 5-6 to aid Rafter in taking a commanding lead.

Another double fault at 2-3 in the final set gifted Rafter a break point that he converted with a timely trip to the net. The slight advantage was all he needed. Landing 80 per cent of his first serves in the decider, Rafter held the momentum to become the first Australian to reach a Wimbledon singles final since Pat Cash (1987).

”I wasn’t satisfied with the semi-finals. I got to the semis last year and wanted to go one step further now,” Rafter said. “You never count your chances as great when you’re playing against Andre, but I played very well today.”

Rafter fell to Pete Sampras in the championship match, enabling the American to surpass Roy Emerson as the overall leader for most Grand Slam singles titles with his 13th crown. It was a loss which ate at Rafter until the following year at Wimbledon.

Rafter <a href=Wimbledon 2000 SF” />


Agassi and Rafter’s 2001 semi-final drew plenty of buzz after their thrilling clash the previous year and the high-quality match lived up to expectations. The American served for the match and came within two points of victory, but Rafter, who trailed throughout most of the final set, clawed back to score a 2-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-2, 8-6 win.

“When it’s best-of-five, I know there’s time to work things out and to try different things,” Rafter said. “I was still aggressive, like last year. I had to be. I had to take my chances and give myself opportunities, hopefully get the right bounce of the ball. And it worked the same way.”

Rafter saved four break points at 0-2 in the deciding set, then erased another in his next service game. Agassi continued to hold serve comfortably until he had a chance to wrap up the match. Serving at 5-4, 30/30, a wild baseline error set up break point for Rafter and the Aussie made good on it with a volley winner.

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Andre Agassi: From Rebel To Philosopher

Drama outside of the rallies also played a critical role. Agassi shouted at himself after losing a deuce point at 6-6 and a lineswoman raced to the umpire to report his language, causing the American to receive a code violation. He later admitted that the incident rattled him as a string of wild unforced errors caused him to fall behind 0/40 in the next game. Rafter cracked a backhand passing shot winner on his third match point and raised his arms in delight at reaching another Wimbledon final.

“The closer you get to winning, the harder it is to accept. He won the fifth set decisively last year. This year, I had a lot of chances. It’s more disappointing,” Agassi said. “You’ve got to just shake it off, try to move forward. What else can you do?”

Rafter would come within two points of the title, but fell to Goran Ivanisevic in a match that is still considered to be one of the best finals in tournament history.

Rafter 2001 <a href=Wimbledon SF” />


The first Wimbledon semi-final between Agassi and Rafter provided little of the theatrics that their future encounters would have. Agassi never gave the match a chance to heat up as he produced a flawless performance on Centre Court, cracking 48 winners to only 10 errors in his 7-5, 7-6(5), 6-2 win.

Rafter had a slight opening at 4/2 in the second-set tie-break, but Agassi responded by hitting four winners, including a backhand return on set point, to grab a two-sets lead. The 29-year-old poured it on in the final set and didn’t hit a single unforced error, breaking Rafter twice to reach his first Wimbledon final in seven years.

Although he suffered a convincing loss to Pete Sampras in the championship match, Agassi’s run to the final enabled him to unseat Sampras as World No. 1 on the following Monday.

Agassi <a href=Wimbledon 1999 SF” />

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Why A Millennial Says Borg-McEnroe Final Remains The Greatest

  • Posted: Jul 10, 2020

Why A Millennial Says Borg-McEnroe Final Remains The Greatest

Brilliance of 1980 Wimbledon final holds its own against more recent epic championship matches at SW19

In July 1980, Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe met at Wimbledon for the first time. Any and all who were lucky enough to watch the encounter live will swear the match was and continues to be the greatest that tennis has ever seen. Being 27, I was one with the misfortune of never having seen it. I thought it time that changed.

My own fandom has involved as much a fascination with tennis history as it has with what is happening in the present. But it was not until I sat down on a drizzly June afternoon at my flat in London to watch in its entirety the 1980 Wimbledon final – which celebrates its 40th anniversary this month – that I realised in reality I knew little, if anything, of substance about it.

Of course I was aware of the match and of Borg’s eventual victory, but in reality for people of my age it has been reduced to something of a reference point in debates about whether Nadal and Federer’s titanic Wimbledon final in 2008 topped it.

For me, McEnroe was more familiar as one of tennis’s finest talking heads, a voice of authority to guide me through the game’s nuances and subtleties, while Borg was someone I associated with looking effortlessly cool in Centre Court’s Royal Box. I was aware of their exploits, of their famous matches and even of their diametrically opposed styles on court, but awareness was all it amounted to.

I figured that I knew what I needed to know about them and the 1980 final but 18 points into their legendary 22 minute fourth-set tiebreak, won 18-16 by McEnroe to draw himself level with Borg at two sets apiece, I realised my previous appreciation for the match had come up woefully short.

What became apparent at that most dramatic of moments was a sudden realisation that at no point in the previous two hours and 52 minutes had I even considered the action anything other than utterly compelling, fiercely competitive and, while undeniably less brutish than the modern power game, exquisitely skillful.

A reductive notion often levelled at sports from a bygone era is that they are boring, slow and simply not as exciting as the offerings of the present day. As a millennial myself, I humbly present this Borg-McEnroe final as an example proving this to be a falsehood. If you gave this one a five-star review, you’d be doing it a serious disservice.

I was having reactions akin to those that come with the most dramatic live sport. I experienced sweating palms, an elevated heart rate and audible cries of amazement as I sat alone in my house on what was ironically one of this summer’s wettest days so far.

Throughout, I found myself drawn to both. McEnroe, his heart as clearly visible on his sleeve as the headband penning in his mane of curly locks, married looks of anguish after a backhand slice into the net with shrieks of joy after a cross-court winner.

In contrast Borg, who at the time already boasted four Wimbledon titles to supplement his astonishing five Roland Garros crowns, seemed utterly unfazed, outwardly at least, by any occurrence. Not a bead of sweat apparent on his unquestionably stylish Fila get-up as he metronomically met every McEnroe challenge with one of his own.

What they both possessed was an easy grace of play almost absent from the modern men’s game, where a premium on heavy hitting often trumps all else. Lithe and fleet of foot, McEnroe and Borg hailed from another era of tennis which, at Wimbledon at least, involved endless attacking forays to net and shots demanding delicacy over destruction.

Perhaps the most prominent parallel to be drawn from that famous afternoon to the modern day is the undeniably unique atmosphere produced by Centre Court. Very few sports venues can lay claim to matching it during moments of pure sporting theatre, silence followed by eruptions of noise. There really is nowhere quite like it.

One sad reality of passing time is its tendency to sentence great moments of sporting history to nostalgia. In the moments before, during and after seismic clashes, it is easy to think that the significance of what has occurred will continue to be felt for lifetimes, weaving itself into the fabric of the sporting consciousness.

The 1980 Wimbledon final will forever be the standard of excellence in tennis and remain entrenched as one of the finest athletic achievements of all time. And so, on its 40th birthday, put down your strawberries and cream, raise your Pimms and pay homage to greatness.

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This Was Murray's Life Advice To Kids On Call With Duchess Of Cambridge…

  • Posted: Jul 10, 2020

This Was Murray’s Life Advice To Kids On Call With Duchess Of Cambridge…

Former World No. 1 spoke to young tennis players from Bond Primary School

Young tennis players from Bond Primary School in South London recently got a memorable surprise, speaking to two-time Wimbledon champion Andy Murray and The Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton.

Middleton introduced Murray, who gave the kids life advice they won’t soon forget.

“[The] most important thing is to have fun,” Murray said. “If you’re enjoying doing it, you’ll get more out of your lessons and your practising. Listening to your coach is very important.”

Murray is a natural competitor, but he advised the students to keep tennis in perspective.

“Try really hard in [your matches], but winning and losing isn’t the most important thing,” Murray said. “Enjoying playing a sport and being active is the most important thing.”

Murray has openly acknowledged how much he has simply enjoyed playing the sport he loves since undergoing hip surgery after last year’s Australian Open.

“I have come back from quite a lot of difficult situations, especially recently with injuries and things,” Murray said. “Even when I was in difficult situations or struggling physically or mentally, I just always kept going forwards. It’s always important in those moments, I’ve been very fortunate to have good family around me and friends to talk to and help me through the difficult moments. You’re definitely going to have setbacks. Everybody does [have] difficult moments in your life, but you need to try and keep moving forwards, keep working hard.”

ATP Coach Programme

Murray has enjoyed the extra time he has had with his family due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I started to find it a bit harder [around the six-week mark of quarantine] to find things to do for the kids, to stay creative with ideas and games for them to enjoy,” Murray said. “We were doing home schooling, which is difficult as well. It was difficult, but I at times really enjoyed it as well.”

The former World No. 1 says he didn’t play tennis for about 10 weeks. But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t kept busy.

“I tried to stay in shape as much as I could. I did a lot of cycling. I was going out on my road bike, which I’d never done before. That was something that was new that I enjoyed during lockdown,” Murray said. “I stayed in reasonable shape. It’s quite important during these times to stay as active as you can, because it’s good for the mind as well, for the mental health.”

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Federer's Memorable Win Against Nadal At 2019 Wimbledon

  • Posted: Jul 10, 2020

Federer’s Memorable Win Against Nadal At 2019 Wimbledon

Relive the semi-final between the legends from 2019 Wimbledon

The 2019 Wimbledon semi-finals featured an ATP Head2Head clash that hadn’t been seen at the All England Club in more than a decade: Roger Federer playing Rafael Nadal.

The last time the legendary foes met on the London grass was in the 2008 championship, which many experts still say is the best match in history. Entering the match, Federer had won five of their past six meetings, with three of those victories coming in straight sets.

But Nadal, who was trying to reach his first Wimbledon final since 2011, had just cruised past the Swiss with the loss of only nine games in the Roland Garros semi-finals. The Spaniard led their rivalry 23-16.

“It’s always very, very cool to play against Rafa here, especially [as we] haven’t played [here] in so long,” Federer said.

ATP Coach Programme

After a hiccup in the second set, Federer booked a place in his 12th final at The Championships with a 7-6(3), 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 triumph.

“It lived up to the hype, especially from coming out of the gates, we were both playing very well. Then, the climax at the end, with the crazy last game, some tough rallies there. It had everything at the end, which was great,” Federer said. “I’m just relieved it’s all over at this point.

“But it’s definitely, definitely going to go down as one of my favourite matches to look back at, again, because it’s Rafa, it’s at Wimbledon, the crowds were into it, great weather. I felt like I played good also throughout the four sets. I can be very happy.”

Federer, first set

The Swiss superstar played at his aggressive best on return of serve, at the net and in long rallies across the three-hour, two-minute battle on Centre Court.

Federer seized the momentum in his 40th FedEx ATP Head2Head meeting against Nadal with a break of serve at 3-1 in the third set and, in spite of an early break in the fourth set, kept 18-time Grand Slam championship winner Nadal at bay before converting his fifth match point chance.

The 37-year-old became the third oldest man in the Open Era (since 1968) to reach a Grand Slam championship final. Federer, who registered his 100th Wimbledon match win over Kei Nishikori in the quarter-finals, earned a chance to capture the 21st major crown of his career in his 31st final.

Nadal stood deep behind the baseline on return of serve and Federer soon picked up on the ploy, exposing the angles of the court and serve and volleying with great frequency.

“I thought it was a tough first set with not many chances,” said Federer. “[It] came down to I thought a really good tie-break. I think I served well there, but [I] also came up with some really good returns and rallies. He got off the gates faster with a great lob, I believe, to get the mini break first. As the first set was dominated by a lot of good serving, I thought that was probably a big problem for me. But I was able to get out of that one.” 

While Nadal’s return positioning, deep behind the baseline, was questioned, the Spaniard soon won 10 points in a row, capitalising on a lapse in concentration from Federer, who lost his serve to love after a backhand error in the second set. That allowed Nadal to gain the momentum. 

But as the intensity level increased early in the third set, Federer out-duelled Nadal in the key moments and took over the match.

“The early break in the third set, I had a couple of mistakes in that moment. That was a tough moment I needed to resist. The beginning of the third set probably was one of the keys of the match,” said Nadal. “I started to play much better at the end of the match, but it was too late.”

Nadal, second set

Federer converted his fifth match point and pumped his fists in celebration. He struck 51 winners, including 14 aces, saving six of eight break points against Nadal, who committed 25 unforced errors.

“It’s been a tough one. I had my chances, but he played a little bit better than me,” said Nadal. “Probably I didn’t play as good as I did in the previous rounds, and he played well. So he deserves it. Congrats to him.”

Nadal bounced back from his defeat, triumphing at the Coupe Rogers and earning his 19th Grand Slam title at the US Open. The lefty finished atop the year-end FedEx ATP Rankings for the fifth time.

Federer, however, suffered heartbreak in the Wimbledon final. Novak Djokovic saved two championship points to stun the Swiss 7-6(5), 1-6, 7-6(4), 4-6, 13-12(3).

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Andre Agassi… Remembering 1992 Wimbledon

  • Posted: Jul 10, 2020

Andre Agassi… Remembering 1992 Wimbledon

Twenty five years ago, Andre Agassi wrestled away the Wimbledon trophy from the world’s finest serve and volleyers. It was a title few believed he was destined to win.

Editor’s Note: But for the COVID-19 pandemic, Wimbledon would now be underway. During the next two weeks will look back on memorable matches and happenings at the grass-court Grand Slam. This story was originally published in June 2012.

Green fees are around $500 per round. Tee times are one-hour apart. Only a handful of guests each day get to play the 7,239-yard Shadow Creek Golf Course, built by business magnate Steve Wynn, in 1989, in northern Las Vegas. Here Andre Agassi came to re-group immediately after his 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 loss to Jim Courier, his former Bollettieri Academy sparring partner, in the 1992 Roland Garros semi-finals.

Speaking exclusively to, Agassi remembers, 20 years on, “When we were playing, Steve asked me, ‘So what is next?’

I said, ‘Wimbledon.’

He asked, ‘Do you think you can win it?’

I told him, ‘Very few people show up thinking they can win it.’

He then said, ‘If you get to the final, I will watch you play. I will be in the Mediterranean at that time.’”

Agassi played nine holes.

Ten days later, the world’s 14th-best player had yet to hit a tennis ball. At midnight, five days before the start of The Championships on 22 June, Agassi made a decision. Picking up the phone, he dialled his coach of eight years. The man his father, Mike, had entrusted his faith in 1984.

“I always found that the more I practised on grass, the worse I became”

Two thousand, three hundred and seventy miles away, in Bradenton, Florida, Nick Bollettieri had been waiting. He knows it’s Andre. It’s three o’clock in the morning. It can only be Andre. He must be ready to hit. Bollettieri recalled to his conversation with Agassi.

“‘Nick, what are you doing?’

‘I’ve been waiting to hear your call, Andre.’

‘Nick, let’s go down to Boca Raton and we’ll practise.’


Bollettieri arrived early, a few racquets under his arm. Agassi handed him a bag of clubs. Joining Robert Seguso and watched by Agassi’s girlfriend, Wendi Stewart, they played a round of golf until 4 p.m.

“The day before we were supposed to leave [for Wimbledon], he said, ‘Nick, let’s go and hit some balls on a hard court,’” recalls Bollettieri. “We set a time. Hit for 20 minutes on a green-coloured hard-court, then stopped and headed home.

“Andre was a character. I understood that. All the boys at the academy said, ‘How do you put up with this guy?’ But I saw something special.”

It’s a pity that Agassi didn’t see something special in Wimbledon.

“I always found that the more I practised on grass, the worse I became,” says Agassi. “I started to develop twitches in my swing and doubts would spread in my game.”

His first appearance at the All England Club, in 1987, lasted almost as long as it took Bollettieri to settle in his courtside chair. “He played [Henri] Leconte. I didn’t even sit down. The match was over [6-2, 6-1, 6-2]. He hated the grass and told me he’d never return. In fact, he didn’t return for four years, until 1991, when he reached the quarter-finals [l. to David Wheaton].” During his self-imposed exile from The Championships, Agassi stayed at home, jogged and lifted weights.

Conditioning coach Gil Reyes entered Agassi’s life shortly after his 6-3, 4-6, 2-6, 7-6(2), 6-1 final loss to Alberto Mancini at the 1989 Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome. Reyes told, “He said his body had nothing left. He felt weak against Mancini. He was overpowered and his movement was impaired. On clay, the centre of movement, on soft courts, is in the thighs. He said he never wanted to feel that way on the court again. That was his main drive.” By February 1990, Gil had ‘officially’ signed on to work with Agassi. They won their first tournament together at the San Francisco indoors (d. Witsken).

Reyes knew Agassi wasn’t a weight-lifter. “I knew I couldn’t go to any gym and put Andre on any machine unless I knew for certain what area it worked. That’s why I started to build machines. Andre asked me, ‘Do you know how to weld?’ ‘No,’ I admitted. But in order to use safer machines, I used my garage to produce safe and productive machines that worked different body parts.” In March 2012, BILT by Agassi & Reyes was launched to promote 12 machines the Las Vegan used during his career.

“That began the process of getting stronger. I told him, ‘I know nothing about tennis. I make no tennis promises.’ He knew I was an athlete guy. I wasn’t a tennis guy. He said, ‘No worries. I’ll handle that. Just get me stronger.’ Sometimes he would ask a question I did not know the answer to. I didn’t bluff it and went away and found out. Our relationship was based on faith that we each gave 100 per cent.”

Ten months after their first introduction, Reyes – who had already learned to weld together his own fitness machines in his garage – was standing in an Indian Wells hotel lobby with Bollettieri and Agassi’s International Management Group agent, Bill Shelton. It was Reyes’ first year on tour. “Bill introduced me to Arthur Ashe, who was courteous, polite and cordial,” says Reyes. “As I was ready to leave, Arthur whispered to me, ‘Take care of the kid, he is going to be very important. If he gets injured or anything, it is over.’” Reyes would never forget that advice.

Agassi weighed 152 pounds (70 kilograms) in May 1989. Shortly before Wimbledon in 1992, Agassi tipped the scales at 174 pounds (80 kg), having developed a “love-hate relationship with Reyes’ homemade Flexas machine, which helped to provide him speed and acceleration”, and taken part in sprints training, “to get faster”, with Carl Lewis. Leroy Burrell and their coach Tom Tellez at the University of Houston in January 1992. Says Reyes, “Andre never once told me to tone down the training. He knew the way the game was being played was going away from him. He was a baseliner, in an era of power and serve and volleyers. He felt guys were getting taller and bigger, so he knew he needed to fortify his body.”

Agassi lost seven of his first 13 matches to open the season and questions began to surface over the extra muscle that he had added. Did it hinder his swing? Maybe. But Agassi never criticised Reyes. “We implemented our plan and went over bumps,” says Reyes. “He felt good. He started to think it was all coming together. He felt strong and ready.”

Seventy-two hours before the start of the sport’s biggest tournament, in 1992, Agassi and his team – Wendi; his brother, Phillip; Shelton and Bollettieri – flew into London. Reyes, his strength coach, stayed in Las Vegas, to rest, after a lengthy period away from his family during the clay-court swing.

“When we went to Wimbledon, we gave a clinic in a department store,” remembers Bollettieri. “When he was asked, ‘How have you been practising?’ Andre said, ‘We’ve been practising for two weeks in Boca Raton.’ He then winked at me.”

For Agassi, it didn’t matter. He felt confident. He was ready to mix it with serve-volleyers, such as Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg, Michael Stich, and a new generation of emerging talent, Goran Ivanisevic and Pete Sampras. “Twelve months before, I had a chance to win the 1991 title,” says Agassi. “I was up a double-break in the fourth set against David Wheaton in the quarter-finals [but lost 6-2, 0-6, 3-6, 7-6(3), 6-2]. I therefore returned to Wimbledon excited at the prospect of being able to reach another Grand Slam final.”

Agassi’s ability to assimilate information and to know what might happen in different situations had stood him in good stead at Bollettieri’s academy. In his first-round match, against World No. 31 Andrei Chesnokov, he rode his luck. “The first match, we should have been thrown out of the tournament due to conduct,” remembers Bollettieri. “He played Chesnokov. He gave the referee Alan Mills, a great guy, all sorts of grief. Really, not very nice. We were fortunate to get through that [5-7, 6-1, 7-5, 7-5]. We could have bombed out.” Agassi was fined £850. He beat Eduardo Masso in the second round.

“Two of my first three opponents were baseliners [with the exception of Derrick Rostagno], which were always hard to face on grass,” says Agassi. “Chesnokov made you hit a lot of balls, but I started to dial in my game by the time I faced [qualifier Christian] Saceanu, in the fourth round, where I hit a clean ball. I let my shots fly.” Agassi was never seriously threatened in a 7-6(1), 6-1, 7-6(0) win.

At the house Agassi rented nearby, he sheltered from the rain, played backgammon, watched horror movies and got his agent Shelton to sing Nat King Cole songs. Never once did Agassi look at the draw. He would play one match at a time. No one in the team talked about tennis. That fortnight, nobody ran out for $250 McDonald’s orders as had happened in the past.

In a year when there had been so much discussion about the dominance of the serve in men’s tennis, Agassi was clearly moving towards the sort of form on his service returns – in a 4-6, 6-2, 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 victory over three-time former champion Becker – that would provide the perfect antidote. Afterwards, Becker said, “I have not seen anybody on grass playing that kind of tennis – I mean, from the back.”

Agassi, 20 years on, remembers, “Even after I beat Becker, who had reached four straight Wimbledon finals [1988-1991], in the quarter-finals, I did not feel I could beat anybody. I’d beaten Becker, who owned Centre Court, but there were too many great grass-court players, such as McEnroe, Sampras and Stich left in the draw. But it did give me an inner belief that made me feel this could be it.” For the first time since 1951, none of the top four seeds had reached the semi-finals.

 Next up was 33-year-old John McEnroe. Appearing in his first Grand Slam championship semi-final since the 1990 US Open, McEnroe was the sentimental favourite. Eleven years older than the other three semi-finalists – Agassi, Ivanisevic and Sampras – he was playing his 200th major match and hoping to reach his sixth Wimbledon final. But there was one problem: McEnroe had been Agassi’s practice partner for the past two weeks and recommended that the 22 year old “shorten my strokes on the grass and to forget about hitting neutral balls like I’m playing on clay”. They had also played doubles together at Roland Garros, one month earlier.

Bollettieri recalls how the match unfolded. “McEnroe wanted to get into my boy’s head a bit. He tried to slice and keep the ball low, but Andre was able to strike the ball cleaner and his groundstrokes – including his return of serve – were magnificent.” Agassi operated his forehand like a pile-driver. Watched by the Archbishop of Canterbury and in glorious sunshine, he triumphed 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 in one hour and 51 minutes.

“The McEnroe match was the cleanest I played,” admits Agassi. “I saw the ball big, letting it fly. McEnroe had a different serve to Boris. He was an artistic performer. I never played perfect tennis in my career, but I did play matches where I felt in control and never left third gear. Against McEnroe, I felt I had another gear I could go to if I needed it. I was disciplined in the risks I was taking and everything worked.”

Agassi had reached his fourth Grand Slam championship final, his first on a grass-court – supposedly his worst surface. The press had already labelled him as a person who couldn’t get over the finish line, after he had been beaten by Andres Gomez at 1990 Roland Garros, Sampras at the 1990 US Open and Courier at 1991 Roland Garros. Agassi was believed to be his own toughest opponent. But, “for the first time, playing Ivanisevic, I wasn’t the favourite,” says Agassi. “It freed me up to play. I didn’t play scared and it taught me to go out and strike clean.”

Eighth seed Ivanisevic was a big serving left-hander. His ace count after six matches stood at 169. The 20-year-old Croatian had hit a personal best 36 aces past Sampras in a 6-7(4), 7-6(5), 6-4, 6-2 semi-final win. Agassi had never beaten Ivanisevic in two previous matches. “Back then the big servers had an advantage, but if a player could execute a first return you were able to take control of the point,” says Agassi. “For me, it was very hard without a big serve, so I had to take my chances.”

As a left-hander, McEnroe had enabled Agassi to find his rhythm on returning serves. The day before the final, McEnroe – who won the last of his three Wimbledon titles in 1984 – called his conqueror. “McEnroe told me, ‘Listen, you know what is going to happen. He will ace you a lot and have easy service games. But don’t get discouraged. You’ll have a few chances, so you must stay positive when he aces you.’”

Minutes before the championship match, 5’10” Agassi and 6’4” Ivanisevic both waited in the locker room. Only six of the 113 light blue-fronted lockers were in use now. In all, 128 singles players showed up, but it was guaranteed all but one would go away with a loss. Agassi and Ivanisevic both hoped today was their day. Bollettieri’s advice to Agassi was simple, “Enjoy the day, baby. You’ve waited for this. Go out and be Andre Agassi. Enjoy the match. God bless.” The finalists exited to the clubhouse, walked up seven carpeted steps, through a set of swinging doors, under a quotation from Rudyard Kipling’s poem If, past the eight-feet square Waiting Room and onto Centre Court, the cathedral.

Agassi recalls everything. Even 20 years on.

“Goran was a gunslinger,” says Agassi, who wore a triangular-shaped gold ring in his left ear during The Championships. “When the chances came at the start of the second and third sets, I took them. The fourth set had an inevitable feel. I was living on the edge, I couldn’t do anything. He was firing a lot of aces and winners. The flood gates had opened and I was up against it. In the fifth set, I served first. It was an advantage, because as long as I held serve, the pressure was on Goran to level the score line.

“I never felt I had the upper hand until the match was over. Early in the fifth set, he was holding easily and I was struggling. At 4-5, he served two double faults to go down 0/30. He missed his first serve on the next point and it then crossed my mind I may be able to win it. He aced me on his second serve. At 15/30, he hit an unreturnable serve. At that stage, I thought we’d be in for a titanic battle. It would only last for as long as I held serve. At 30/30, I managed to force Goran into hitting a half volley, which I ran for to hit a passing shot.

“On match point, he missed his first serve. The crowd started to wonder if Goran might hit a third double fault in the game. At this stage, everything was happening too fast. I knew I didn’t want to have any regrets in the future, that I hadn’t swung at a serve on match point. I remember swinging with all my might, connecting with it only to see Goran, mid-court and off-balance, volley my backhand into the net.”

Agassi, blessed with great quickness of eye and feet, had triumphed 6-7(8), 6-4, 6-4, 1-6, 6-4 in two hours and 50 minutes to become the first baseliner since Bjorn Borg to capture the title. He was also the first to do so wearing a cap since Yvon Petra in 1946. “I fell to the ground,” remembers Agassi. “I could not believe it. The moment was all consuming. I couldn’t process what was happening. I can remember what individual members of the crowd looked like, what the grass smelt like as I lay on it and how the hairs on my body were standing up. I was overjoyed. It was a huge relief.”

Bollettieri, who jumped for joy and punched the air in celebration, admits, “When Andre hit the backhand hard at Goran’s body, I have never ever experienced such a feeling of ‘holy mackerel’. In all my years involved in tennis, even now 20 years on. It was something you cannot purchase.” Reyes, watching with his family in Las Vegas, experienced his own emotional rush. “My emotion was of the fulfilment of so much. Goals and aspirations. It was the justification for a really, really good guy. What so many dream of, but never accomplish. The lifting of a load of expectation off a really good young man. I knew how badly it had hurt to come so close. To be disappointed in those three previous Grand Slam finals.”

As Wendi, Phillip and Bollettieri celebrated in the players’ box, Agassi hugged the trophy, $265,000 the richer, with tears running down his cheeks. Bollettieri and Agassi hugged immediately back inside the locker room. “‘Holy ****!’ Andre’s brown eyes looked at me,” remembers Bollettieri. Not wanting to jinx anything, Agassi waited until after the final to hire a tuxedo for the Champions’ Ball.

Agassi recalls his emotion. “It was a big deal. Nick had – and still does – contribute a lot to the sport of tennis. While I begrudged his environment for a lot of years, I appreciated it. He had never been in the box to watch one of his players win Wimbledon. Gil had always supported me right from the start. He has always occupied a special place in my heart. We cried, when I first saw him upon my return. It was special for my brother, [Phillip], too. Tennis had been our whole life. The way we were trained and were brought up. We realised it had all been worth it.

“If I did nothing else, I had done everything that I had dared to dream. But, of course, once I won I wanted to win again. I had more dreams. To win Roland Garros, the US Open, in my own country, and make up for the final defeats.”

With the All England Club phasing out the tradition of the men’s and women’s singles titlists dancing together at the Champions’ Ball a few years earlier, Agassi did not get a chance to waltz with the 1992 women’s champion Steffi Graf, his future wife. But, as promised Wynn and his family made the trip. Agassi secured some tickets for the final. So, “after the Champions’ Ball, I flew back to Las Vegas on Steve Wynn’s private jet.” It was time to celebrate, but, as Reyes says, “prepare for the future”.

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