Concerning his relationship with the US Open and the multitude of fans who watched him competing for 21 consecutive years from 1986 to 2006, Andre Agassi was unambiguous. He cherished playing on the hard courts of New York, in front of spectators who were fascinated by his persona, at the major that meant more than any other to this complicated and confounding man. Agassi was an American original, inventing and reinventing himself countless times, looking for psychic more than financial rewards as his career progressed, trying to explore the human journey more comprehensively across the years.
This estimable entertainer was only 16 when he played his debut Open in 1986, and he bid farewell not only to the tournament but to competitive tennis as well when he took part in the 2006 US Open. But to his most ardent admirers, the 1994 U.S. Open stands out above all others. It was the first time he had won the tournament, and he did so as an unseeded player. Not since the affable Australian Fred Stolle had taken the 1966 U.S. Championships had an unseeded man claimed the singles crown. Agassi should never have been in that position, but wrist surgery at the end of 1993 had led to uneven results after his return in March of 1994.
That made the American all the more dangerous at Flushing Meadows. He liked nothing more than being somewhat under the radar; it often brought out a more prideful streak in a player who relished the chance to prove his critics wrong. Over the course of the New York fortnight, Agassi demonstrated that with his vaunted return of serve working spectacularly and his immaculate backcourt prowess on full display, he could meet any challenge and rise to it audaciously.
Agassi found a baseline groove early on in that tournament and never lost it. He knocked out no fewer than five seeded players in his seven match march through the draw, most prominently cutting down compatriot Michael Chang (the No. 6 seed) in a sparkling five-set, round-of-16 Labor Day appointment. He also accounted for No. 12 seed Wayne Ferreira, No. 13 Thomas Muster and No. 9 Todd Martin. In the final, Agassi stopped the No. 4 seed – 1991 Wimbledon champion Michael Stich – with an impeccable demonstration of power blended with supreme ball control. Agassi defeated Stich, 6-1, 7-6, 7-5.
At long last – on his ninth attempt – Agassi was the US Open champion. At 24, he set the highest of standards from the beginning to the end of the major he valued most deeply. His ball striking was exemplary throughout the proceedings, but at the 1994 US Open Agassi revealed a tactical acuity he had never exhibited before. He had hired Brad Gilbert as his coach that season, and the Californian made Agassi think about the intricacies of the game in an entirely different way, with a much wider view of how to plot points and devise strategy.
To be sure, Gilbert gave Agassi a new outlook and a fresh perspective, and the professional union of these two Americans was fully realized at the last major tennis tournament of 1994. Thereafter, through the rest of his career, across more than a decade longer, a more enlightened Andre Agassi was a transformed competitor who looked at his sport with sharper lenses.