Andre Agassi completed his career Grand Slam at 1999 Roland Garros, one of the most memorable tournaments of his career. However, the American nearly didn’t play the tournament.
The week before the event, Agassi retired from a match in Dusseldorf due to a shoulder injury. He was ready to withdraw from Roland Garros and Wimbledon, according to coach Brad Gilbert.
“He’s like, ‘Dude, pull me out. Pull me out of Wimbledon too, and we’ll start in Washington,’” Gilbert told ATPTour.com. “I was like, ‘No, we’ll go back, do a few days of rehab, and see what happens. He was like, ‘No.’ I talked him into not going back home to Vegas.
“Maybe the best coaching I ever did was just to get him to go [to Paris]. Then to complete that journey the way it ended, that was what the whole tournament was about: surviving.”
Following a Saturday arrival, Agassi only got one pre-tournament practice. He rallied from a set down in his opener against Franco Squillari, two sets to one down in the second round against Arnaud Clement, and 4-6, 1-4 down against Carlos Moya in the Round of 16.
1999 #FrenchOpen final day.. oh my!! pic.twitter.com/g7aG5RZF7v
— Andre Agassi (@AndreAgassi) June 1, 2017
But Agassi’s greatest magic trick came in the championship match against World No. 100 Andrei Medvedev. Eight years on from playing in the 1991 Roland Garros final, Agassi was the heavy favourite. But Medvedev had won four clay-court ATP Masters 1000 titles, and he stormed through the first set 6-1.
After Agassi held for 1-0 in the second set, the raindrops were heavy enough to force the players off the court.
“I was just like, ‘S*&!, I have to get down there and see if I could find out what was going on and see if I can tell him something to make a difference,’” Gilbert recalled. “My first inkling was it didn’t look like it was that ominous of weather, so that’s why I ran pretty good. I was like, ‘S*&!, maybe it won’t be that long of a delay.’ From the stands it was a pretty good run. I was like, ‘Okay, I’m going to get on my wheels and get down there.’”
Gilbert says the players were not even in the locker room for two minutes. When the coach arrived after his mad dash, he found Agassi slumped in his chair in the corner of the locker room. According to Inside Tennis, Agassi recalled the moment last May: “It was so quiet – I thought all was lost. I looked up and asked, ‘Really Brad, you’re going to wait for this moment to finally shut up?’ And everything I had to say could be heard in the locker room by the only guy I had to beat.
“Then Brad went to a locker and slammed it so hard that it broke. He said, ‘What the hell do you want me to say? You’re the one guy on court who can do something special. You just need to be better than one person. Are you actually asking me to tell you that you’re not better than this person?’”
Gilbert wanted Agassi to keep things simple and play to win. Although Medvedev had climbed as high as World No. 4, Gilbert knew Agassi would control the outcome if he found his rhythm.
“I don’t win or lose the match,” Gilbert said of the moment. “I’m trying to help him as much as I can.
“You’re not playing a Muster, you’re not playing a Kafelnikov. It was a great opportunity, but he was just getting outplayed.”
Medvedev won the second set, taking a 6-1, 6-2 lead. The crucial moment came at 4-4 in the third. Up 30/15 on his serve, Agassi hit two straight double faults. He then missed his first serve on break point.
“I’m thinking to myself, ‘Oh S*&!, don’t double.’ I’d never seen him double fault twice in a row,” Gilbert said. “He hit a second serve right on the line, came in on the second ball, and he had to hit an unbelievable shoestring volley. He held… and the match dramatically changed from that point.”
Agassi triumphed 1-6, 2-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4, turning to his camp with his arms in the air. The American’s emotions flowed.
“It was a magical moment, especially because of the uncertainty literally on Friday before the tournament,” Gilbert said. “It was just a great journey, and it’s a great memory thinking about it. The whole tournament was a battle.”
That night, Agassi, Gilbert, trainer Gil Reyes, John McEnroe, Ilie Nastase, Mansour Bahrami and Henri Leconte were among a small group that went to an Italian restaurant to celebrate. Agassi had the trophy with him at dinner.
McEnroe got a call from former World No. 1 Bjorn Borg, who wanted to congratulate Agassi.
“He had spoken to Borg, and I don’t know how much he had ever spoken to Borg before,” Gilbert said. “I was thinking instantly, ‘Dude, this guy did the [Roland Garros-Wimbledon] double three times. Wouldn’t it be sweet? He’s looking at me and he’s already like, ‘Coach, you’re already thinking putting it in my head?”
Agassi lost in the 1999 Wimbledon final against Pete Sampras, but he won the 1999 US Open, finished that season atop the year-end FedEx ATP Rankings, and then lifted the 2000 Australian Open trophy to complete one of the best stretches of his career.
Agassi’s run at Roland Garros, an event he didn’t want to play, started it all.