Monday, September 04, 2006

ANDRE AGASSI SAYS GOODBYE - TENNIS - Garber: Agassi gave until his body gave out

Andre Agassi's career ended today in memorable fashion. How many storied professional athletes can say that?

Usually when an athlete's skills are on the decline, fans and spectators quietly or overtly hope they retire in order to not besmirch any old memories of their their glory.

In Agassi's case, the fans and spectators didn't want his career to end and were doing everything they could to will him to victory, one match at a time.

When the crowd refuses to say goodbye to a dimming star then that is the ultimate sign of respect.

Andre Agassi is only 36 years old, but these final days he has shuffled around like a senior citizen, limping into restaurants, hobbling through the hallways underneath Arthur Ashe Stadium. Four injections in five days did little to quiet the shrieking pain in his back.

He was unseeded here and his one-time No. 1 world ranking has slipped to No. 39. And yet, when he stepped onto center court for his first two matches, the eight-time Grand Slam champion came alive. Elevated by a full house of passionate believers, his aching body seemed to, fleetingly, live in the past.

On Sunday, Agassi -- his face frozen into a perpetual grimace -- walked into Arthur Ashe for a third time to play a 25-year-old qualifier named Benjamin Becker. His heart, his soul and the U.S. Open crowd were desperately willing, but this time he couldn't rise above his horrible physical reality.

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