The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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A contest too far for Schuettler

Just before Rainer Schuettler went out to face Andre Agassi at five minutes past two on Sunday afternoon, he said something to the umpire that prompted the official to reach for his telephone. No one asked the German afterwards what exactly he was asking for, but at a rough guess he was ordering a taxi for half past three.

He had probably seen enough of Agassi in the knock-up to know what was about to happen to him, and the match itself lasted barely as long as the preceding ceremony to unveil a bust inducting Pat Cash into the Australian tennis Hall of Fame.

If they had thought about it at the time, they should have arranged a match between Schuettler and a bust of Agassi, although even then it might not have lasted too much longer.

As it was, we were left with the same answer to 20 Things You Didn’t Know About Rainer Schuettler, as we knew beforehand. 1: He’s German. 2: Er . . . 3: That’s it.

The Australian Open final specialises in producing one-sided bores, or people you have never heard of, and this one had both. Agassi does not look particularly intimidating. He is pigeon-toed, has a mincing walk, and the fact that he wears his cap the right way round is a clear indication that he belongs to a fairly elderly generation. He does not even serve as fast as Venus Williams. However, he has a game that has clearly become more mature and well rounded as he has got older — a bit like the man himself.

There is no more gracious, humble, humorous, or indeed bald, player on the circuit, and yet in his early days Agassi was a surly, shaggy-haired young man with severe anti-social tendencies.

Agassi was defaulted twice for “profane language”, once declared himself (at the French Open) to be “as happy as a faggot in a submarine”, and even more scandalously (so much so that readers easily shocked should look away now) omitted to bow to the Duchess of Kent.

The bowing incident was after he won Wimbledon in 1992, after which he at least managed to clamber into a suit to dance with Steffi Graf at the champions’ ball. He flirted for a while with Barbara Streisand, married Brooke Shields, and now — by his own admission — finds himself worried that Steffi is about to welcome him home with a rolling pin or that he will find a note on the oven door saying she’s gone home to mother.

For all the animation she showed as she watched from the spectator seats on Sunday, Graf could have been under the drier at a hairdressing salon flicking through a copy of Vogue. It may have been because the game was dull or that she did not feel comfortable cheering on the opponent of a fellow countryman — but just conceivably that she could not bear the thought of Agassi winning.

Earlier in the tournament Agassi announced that he would invite his wife to partner him in the mixed doubles at the French Open if he won here, and Graf responded as though her husband had just entered her for the Miss Nude Las Vegas competition. Agassi said afterwards: “I don’t think you realise what a hard time I’m in for, but hopefully I’ve got another 50 years left to make it up to her.”

Another upshot of Agassi’s victory is that while Graf, who retired in 1999, is about to go into training, his Australian coach is about to go into hiding. Agassi promised to treat him to a hair appointment if he won — not at some high-class Melbourne salon, but in the American’s hotel bathroom, and with the clippers set to Agassi’s length. Graf’s at least got the tennis rather than the haircut.

Schuettler said beforehand that his one chance was if Agassi “ate something wrong” and while Graf possibly thought about putting something in the old man’s All Bran, it was clear from the opening two games, during which the German failed to win a point, that Agassi’s stomach was neither churning from nerves nor a sneaky dose of syrup of figs.

The crowd half wanted to see a match, but were so pro-Agassi they did not seem to care too much. You could never call Agassi a subtle player, pounding away remorselessly from the baseline, but perhaps this is why they like him over here.

Schuettler had a few chances to make life uncomfortable for his opponent, especially in the second set when he felt sufficiently animated to occasionally gabble away in German (some of which Andre, currently taking lessons from his wife, may have understood) and he once or twice hurled his racket on to the ground when a vital point got away from him.

However, the German ultimately folded so completely that it was less like seeing the Berlin Wall come down as the Walls of Jericho.

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