The list of players who have won all four championships in the Open Era is an exclusive one and does not even include all the players that people consider to be the best of all time. Andre Agassi, certainly one of the most exciting to have been on the tour, very nearly did not make the list. The French Open almost seemed destined to elude him, but on this day in 1999 he finally clinched it - although it took every inch of his fighting spirit.
Agassi rarely did things the simple way in tennis, with many of his best wins coming against the odds. Twice he had ended up on the losing side at Roland Garros, with Agassi the beaten finalist in both 1990 and 1991. A lot had happened in the years in between his previous French Open final and his last but the American had earned himself one final shot at the elusive trophy.
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In 1997, following two years in the tennis wilderness, Agassi hit the low point of a career full of ups and downs. Ranked 141st in the world at the end of the 1997 season, not many would have predicted that the already three-time Grand Slam champion would not only appear in another final, but claim five more titles during a late-career resurgence. They had all underestimated Agassi.
The two defeats at the French Open in the early '90s, which both came before his maiden Slam win at Wimbledon in 1992, had hurt the American. Throughout his career he did not need much encouragement to lose interest in the game, but after his two years out he came back an even better player and in 1999 he was thoroughly motivated to make amends for previous failures in Paris. In the final he was up against Andrei Medvedev, who himself had other ideas.
Just as he had to do a number of times through his career, however, Agassi would need to win the hard way as the Ukrainian was not going to give up easily. Medvedev was ranked 100, but was playing as though he was in the top 10 and blew the American away 6-1 in the opener. Far from the comeback victory so many had anticipated for Agassi, a different story of an underdog was unfolding at the other side of the net.
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Before Agassi knew it, 6-1 had become 6-1 6-2 and he now needed three straight sets if he was to avoid what would be a morale-crushing defeat to his unfancied opponent. Agassi said to the New York Times that at this point of the match he was "embarrassed" by his performance, but fortunately for him it was still in his own hands to turn it around. Certainly, he had managed a win from 2-0 down against Carlos Moya in the fourth round, so he could do so again.
A pivotal moment came when he was serving at 4-4 and 15-30 in the third set. A double fault gave Medvedev two break points which would have seen him serve for the championship, but Agassi pulled out a glorious drop volley to save it, before breaking in the next game to get himself on the board. From that point on the tide had turned and the American was full of confidence.
The next two sets (6-4 6-3) went by without too much of a hitch, and from staring another agonising final defeat in the face suddenly Agassi had completed his career Grand Slam at the age of 29. He was far from done, and added the US Open later in the year as well as three further Australian Opens to confirm himself as one of the all-time greats.
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