Agassi: “I expect Novak only to get better”

Published by Matt Trollope

Andre Agassi will star at the World Tennis Challenge in Adelaide before heading to Melbourne Park to resume coaching duties with Novak Djokovic at Australian Open 2018; Getty Images
Set to star at Adelaide’s World Tennis Challenge before coaching Novak Djokovic at Australian Open 2018, Andre Agassi discussed what makes the game’s current stars so great.

Andre Agassi will return to Adelaide for the first time in 20 years when he takes part in the 2018 World Tennis Challenge at Memorial Drive in January 2018.

He’ll then head to Melbourne where he’ll resume his coaching partnership with Novak Djokovic, the six-time Australian Open champion making a comeback to the sport after six months on the sidelines. 

Agassi’s last appearance in Adelaide – at the Australian Men’s Hardcourt Championships – was notable for his semifinal loss to little-known Ausralian teenager Lleyton Hewitt, who as a 16-year-old wildcard stunned the American great en route to his first career ATP title.

Agassi reflected on that moment and battles with his other great rivals – as well as offering his observations on the game’s current stars and future generation – in a lengthy interview.

On Novak Djokovic …

“Novak, to me, is a guy that when he’s controlling a point, he did it pretty similar to me in the sense that he’s controlling a point and never taking a risk. That’s kind of how I lived on a tennis court, but his defensive skills are off the charts better than mine ever were. Same goes for the return. Well I had a good return and I counted on it, I didn’t have the option of playing defence on my return because I just didn’t have the lateral coverage or the movement. But you have a guy like Novak who can move the way that he does, if you took that away from him and he had to be aggressive, he probably even does that a lot better.

“It’s weird for me doing interviews as a coach of sorts, because I’m reluctant to put unnecessary pressure, expectations on him. But nothing short of winning is going to feel like success for him, I know that. So, do I think he can win (Australian Open 2018)? Yes. Every time he steps on the court I think he can win. I fully expect him to do that. I fully expect to be responsible for him not doing it if he doesn’t. I expect him only to get better.”

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On Roger Federer …

“You look at even Federer, the way he can play that ball multiple ways with that kind of margin, and you look at guys that can still have the ability to hit through a court but then the player round the court, it used to be coming to net. You just had to worry about covering the line. Now you cover the line but the balls above you and back in before it bounces, so the rules of engagement have changed I think, based on that reality. It’s why you see guys not coming forward as much. That’s one of the things you can’t take over a point and be so committed with your positioning because when guys are out of position they still have the ability to hurt you, so it’s harder to know when you’re really in control of a point.”

On the Big Four …

“When you look at the likes of Federer, Nadal, Murray, Djokovic, those four, it’s a different game, it’s just a different game. So, my game was designed on ball striking and controlling a point. Well, the problem is, is you’re never really controlling a point against those guys. So I would commit inside the court and they can hurt me multiple ways. It’s not fair discussion, so my best tennis would compete with a lot of guys, but not the best.”

On the rising stars …

“I mean, obviously Nick Kyrgios, I’ve always mentioned him as one heck of a talent. Sascha Zverev, I mean, he is a beauty to watch and he’s only going to get better. He has a lot of tools, a lot of strengths, a lot of upside. There’s a lot of ways to improve and I think it’s not really predicting anymore with the year he’s had, but these are, I think, two guys that really set the stage for the standard of the next generation.”

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On Pete Sampras …

“First time you get over a finish line in any event is hard to beat that moment, and beating Pete in the (Australian Open) finals in ’95, being number one, beating Pete was special on any day, because it was so hard to do. But beating him in the finals of a tournament was even more special. And then beating him in the finals of a tournament that I had never played, let alone won, that also too. So it’s hard to get better than that.”

On Pat Rafter …

“Pat and I had so many great matches. He was truly, I think, the most enjoyable player for me to compete against because he was such a sportsman. He is such a good guy, he was a class act in victory and defeat. His game was opposite of mine, but yet unlike Sampras, he allowed me to get into a rhythm out there and I always knew I was going to play well against him. We would raise each other’s game along the way.

“And then playing him (at the Australian Open in 2001) in his home country, I’ll never forget the roof being closed, I’ll never forget the humidity and the heat that was there off the court building up over the day, I’ll never forget the amount of sweat, we both were heavy sweaters, I’ll never forget the noise when I went down two sets to one and I had to leave the court to go change my shoes that were sopping wet. You felt like you were sitting in front of a giant speaker at a 100,000-seat concert. And my head was ringing, the octave in there was so loud, and I remember Pat starting to struggle with the depletion that was happening, the physical depletion. I started to feel the rewards of all the work I had put in to get ready for a tournament that was so important to me. So getting across that finish line, and watching the crowd go from rooting for him, to kind of rooting for competition. Just the sheer sport of it. I felt that shift, and that’s something I’ll never forget.”

On Lleyton Hewitt …

“I remember playing Lleyton in front of his home crowd when he was like 15 years old in the (Adelaide 1998) semifinals on my way back from 140 in the world trying to get back to number one, and I remember seeing him holding up his pants in the locker room with a safety pin because he was so little. I was like, ‘It’s impossible I’m going to lose to this guy.’ And sure enough he ended up beating me in a tough match, and I was like, ‘Either I’m really not as good as I thought, or this guy has got to probably one of the best players in the world.'”

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