| A file picture of Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi. (AFP)
Melbourne, Jan. 21: Paris is for lovers and Andre and Steffi appear very much in love.
Whether there’ll be a pairing in the sensuous summer month of May at Roland Garros now depends entirely on Mr Agassi. Ms Graf, it seems, is willing.
Andre Agassi said today his wife had agreed to play mixed doubles with him at the French Open if he wins his fourth Australian Open crown in Melbourne.
“For the record...if I win here, Stef has to play doubles with me in Paris. You can print that and I’ll hold you to it,” he said.
The American revealed their plans for a Paris love match after crushing Frenchman Sebastien Grosjean 6-3 6-2 6-2 to reach the Australian Open semi-finals.
Graf, who won 22 grand slam singles titles, retired from tennis in August 1999 and has not played since. She entered the mixed doubles with John McEnroe at Wimbledon in 1999, reaching the semi-finals.
If Graf, a year older than her husband at 33, and Agassi do play together in Paris, they would bring a combined 30 grand slam singles titles to the court.
However, the pairing could run into difficulties as Agassi admits he finds it hard to concentrate when he plays against his wife at home.
“She usually beats me. I have trouble keeping my eye on the ball,” he joked after his match with Grosjean.
The couple married in October 2001 and have a son, Jaden Gil.
Agassi and Graf still hit balls together. “I can smash it as hard as I want, and it always comes right back to me,” Agassi was quoted by Sports Illustrated as saying. The magazine called the couple a “team”: at night they lie in bed and talk strategy. Map out their plans. Stay back or charge in' Sometimes they’ll even talk tennis.
If form stays with him, Agassi should not find it too difficult to keep his side of the bargain. At the Australian Open today, where he is chasing a fourth men’s singles crown — a record for an overseas player, Agassi played every point to perfection, directing rallies throughout and confounding the 12th seeded Grosjean for two mesmerising hours.
“I just felt very solid on my groundstrokes, serving well, hitting forehands and backhands well... there was a lot out there I have got to be happy about,” said the second seeded Agassi.
With local favourite Lleyton Hewitt out and Agassi making public his plan for a Paris love match, the Australian Open crowd will only be too happy to root for the popular American.
Talking of Hewitt, the 2002 Wimbledon champion is involved in the highest-profile current tennis romance with Kim Clijsters, a top women’s player who’s into the semi-finals at the Australian Open.
He had to be satisfied today with a place only in the stands as long-time sweetheart Clijsters slugged it out. Graf, of course, is a permanent fixture — often with son Jaden Gil — among spectators when Agassi is playing.
Hewitt and Clijsters first met at the Australian Open two-and-a-half years ago, when Lleyton was 18 and Kim a mere 16, and since then, despite the demands of their different circuits, they have remained close. But when their events are side by side, so are Lleyton and Kim.
In the 2000 Wimbledon championships, they were side by side on court, too, going up to the finals in mixed doubles and then losing. That’s one love match for you. And it was not the only one.
The year 1974 was known as the Year of the Lovers when Jimmy Connors and Chris Evert celebrated their engagement by winning the singles titles on Centre Court.
Connors, aged 21, and Evert, 19, were both playing the championships for the third time. They entered mixed doubles, too, and were seeded second, but scratched in the third round rather than prejudice their singles ambitions.
It was a match that got scratched anyway — Connors and Evert broke up. The 1978 Wimbledon tournament saw another Evert romance, with Britain’s John Lloyd, bloom but that too ended unhappily.
Connors and Evert had split as “Jimbo” ran into the arms of a Playboy bunny. The Agassi-Graf story is in reverse — Agassi used to be married to actress Brooke Shields and is now with a fellow tennis star.
French Open 2003, however, holds out the possibility of a love match versus a love match. How about these pairings for the final: Agassi-Graf vs Hewitt-Clijsters'
With agency reports