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Andre Agassi: 20 years a champion

Andre Agassi
By James Buddell, ATPWorldTour.com
Thursday, September 4, 2014

The following is an excerpt from ATPWorldTour.com about the 20th anniversary of Andre Agassi's 1994 US Open victory over Germany's Michael Stich:

Fresh off a four-hour flight from Las Vegas to Santa Barbara, Andre Agassi is seated in the clinic of Dr. Richard Scheinberg contemplating the end of his career. Gil Reyes, his trainer, is pensive too.

“I still remember the day,” says Agassi. “Dec. 20, 1993.”

Seven years into his pro career, 23-year-old Agassi has played a tour event Down Under twice. The goal of competing at the Australian Open for the first time, the following month, is over for another season. This time, it’s tendinitis in his right wrist.

“I thought my injury could be career threatening,” says Agassi. Reyes keeps his thoughts to himself at the Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital. “Privately, I was worried. Would he resume his career? It was 50/50, yes or no.

“Everything was done to avoid it, but he realised he had to give in to it. After he had won Wimbledon [in 1992], Andre realised it was mentally time to step up. But physically the wear and tear of hitting thousands of tennis balls was damaging the wrist.”

Surgery is his only option. Dr. Scheinberg, an orthopedic surgeon, rebuilt 38-year-old Jimmy Connors’ left wrist three years earlier. Now it’s Agassi’s turn.

The 75-minute operation reveals greater problems. A mass of scar tissue is removed and “structural changes to the sheath that encases the tendons were made”, says Agassi. The injury has affected Agassi’s trademark shot — his forehand, which he executes by swinging his body to disguise the direction — over the past six months.

“Then, there were concerns of whether he would be able to return,” says Reyes. “Whether he would struggle and come through the physical therapy.”

Unable to hit balls, Agassi dedicates himself to get super fit. “Nothing really happens, then, once you are healthy you improve on a daily basis,” says Agassi.

The test came at Scottsdale, two months later. Agassi would confess in his 2009 autobiography, OPEN, that, at the time, “I have a recurring nightmare about being in the middle of a match and my hand falling off.”

Reyes remembers, “I was scared for him. We did everything to get him back. Although he won the title, it startled us into the realisation that he might never be the same.

“We became students of the game and tried to figure out remedies. He built up his strength and that year weighed in at 175 lbs. He taught me what he needed on court. It was not about jogging around a track, but that tennis was a sport of stops and starts. He taught me that the first three steps are the most important.

“Then, the switches started flipping on.”

Enter Brad Gilbert.

To read more of James Buddell's feature on the 20th anniversary of Andre Agassi's 1994 US Open victory, check out ATPWorldTour.com

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