| Steffi Graf at the match. (AP)
New York, Sept. 3: Andre Agassi couldn’t hold back the tears.
Then he spoke, packed up his rackets and walked into the tunnel at Arthur Ashe Stadium and out of tennis.
A career for the ages came to a close today when Agassi lost to German qualifier Benjamin Becker at the US Open.
Worn down and wincing, Agassi could only stand and watch the final shot whiz by. He looked like what he’d become — a 36-year-old man trying to play tennis with a bad back that needed three injections.
Suffering from severe back pain and unable to draw strength from the wildly partisan crowd, Agassi sobbed uncontrollably after a prolonged standing ovation following his defeat. He is one of only five men to win all four grand slams.
Ranked 112, Becker served an ace to finish off a 7-5, 6-7, 6-4, 7-5 victory in the third round.
When Agassi finally composed himself, he told the crowd: “The scoreboard said I lost today but what it doesn’t say is what I found.”
He proceeded to thank the crowd for cheering him, willing him, carrying him on their shoulders for 21 years. “I have found you. I will take you and the memory of you for the rest of my life,” he told the crowd that showed up early at the stadium and tried to spur him all afternoon.
Becker, who had to win three qualifying matches merely to make it into the Open, applauded as Agassi spoke. Agassi’s wife, Steffi Graf, and their two children looked on.
“He was my idol growing up,” said Becker, who joined the crowd in a long, loud standing ovation for Agassi. “He’s one of a kind.”
Agassi needed cortisone and anti-inflammatory shots to keep playing this week. He pushed himself to the limit, but his body wasn’t willing to go where his mind wanted.
Hobbling and grimacing, he frequently stood and could only see whether Becker’s shots landed good. Reduced to hoping rather than hitting, Agassi showed just flashes of the brilliant returns and pinpoint backhands that made him an eight-time Grand Slam winner.
The crowd clearly felt his pain, booing when the 25-year-old Becker hit drop shots that made Agassi run.