Ten years ago (already), Andre Agassi was biding farewell to tennis on the Arthur-Ashe Central court, with a declaration of love to the audience which remains as the emotional peak of the 2006 edition. The Kid of Las Vegas is far from being the only one to have chosen New-York to bow out. As the last Grand Slam tournament on the calendar, the US Open has seen numerous Hollywood-like happy ends…but not only.
The most indecisive : Pete Sampras (2002)
A last winning volley to dominate his nemesis Andre Agassi : Pete Sampras has won an incredible 14th Grand Slam title, and with it, his goodbyes through the front door, which he had been secretly dreaming of for a few months, as he’s been suffering against the new generation of Safin, Hewitt, Roddick or Federer…but then, sinful pride catches up with the champion : if he managed to win a 14th Grand Slam title, why not a 15th ? As a result, he restrains himself from announcing his retirement, right after his victory, afraid of speaking too quickly and regretting afterwards. He hesitates. Evokes a break to come back at the Masters at the end of the year. Then tells his fans that he’ll be in Australia for the start of the 2003 season. Postpones again. Dreams about one last shot at Roland-Garros, or, most probably, one last assault at Wimbledon. But no trace of Pete Sampras. The world of tennis finally understood. When he came back on the Arthur-Ashe Central court at the start of the US Open 2003, he was wearing a suit and had his family alongside him as well as an impressive army of champions who came to pay him a last hommage. This time, « Pistol Pete », definitely put away the ace rifle. One year has passed between his last ball played and his official goodbyes.
The most moving : Andre Agassi (2006)
« Thank you. The scoreboard says I lost but today, what it doesn’t say, is what I’ve found during the last 21 years. I’ve found loyalty. You’ve supported me on the court and in life. I’ve found inspiration . You’ve always wished me to succeed, even in the toughest moments. And I’ve found generosity. You’ve helped me make my dreams come true, dreams which I could never have realized without you. These last 21 years, I’ve found you and I will remember you for the rest of my life. Thank you. » Andre Agassi, in tears on this September, 3rd, 2006, as he adresses the crowd of the Arthur-Ashe Stadium, as his journey as a professional tennis player has just stopped at the third round of the US Open against the German Benjamin Becker, two days after a homeric night-session battle against Marcos Baghdatis. Of course, if he could have defeated the invincible Roger Federer in the final a year earlier, he would have gone with a spectacular ending, like Pete Sampras had after defeating him a few years earlier. But these goodbyes, so human, so touching, reflected even better than any trophy the value of the man.
The most unexpected : Andy Roddick (2012)
No one had seen that one coming. Of course, the Andy Roddick of 2012 was only a mere shadow of the big server-puncher who had reached the number 1 spot at the ATP race nine years earlier. But still, he had only turned 30, et was capable - at last - of defeating Roger Federer or lift trophies on his favorite surface, hard (Atlanta) or grass (Eastbourne). However, during the Media Day of the US Open, « A-Rod » took everyone by surprise by announcing that this tournament would be his last. Astonishment amongst his colleagues, as he’s been stealing the show. Federer is « shocked », Sharapova « surprised », Serena Williams « sad »…In truth, only one player had predicted the announcement : James Blake, who had been suspecting his friend’s weariness. On the court, Roddick’s last run ended with a few hard-fought battes, one won against Fabio Fognini, the other, lost, in the fourth round, against Juan Martin Del Potro…The man who, three years earlier, in Bercy, had already put an end to the career of another member of the Federer generation : Marat Safin.
The most rock star-like : Stefan Edberg (1996)
Yes, rock star, even if the term isn’t the first one to spontaneously come to mind when speaking about the not-so demonstrative Stefan Edberg. But by announcing in January that the season to come will be his last, the Swede who won six Grand Slam titles transformed his 1996 season in a true farewell tour, being celebrated all over the world as he gave his fans a few nice nods (winning against Michael Chang at Roland-Garros, exactly where the American had deprived him from winning the title in 1989, a final at the Queen’s against his eternal rival Boris Becker…). At the US Open, for his last Grand Slam, he also did his part in putting on a show by defeating the recent winner of Wimbledon, Richard Krajiceck, in the first round, before giving his heir in the cast of attacking players, Tim Henman, a lesson. Only Goran Ivanisevic’s powerful shots was enough to stop him in the quarter finals, as his exit of the court was followed by a standing ovation.
The biggest flop : Michael Chang (2003)
Probably inspired by Edberg’s journey in 1996, Michael Chang tried, seven years later, to copy the Swede’s farewell season. But unlike the latter, the winner of Roland-Garros had no energy left, and kept on being knocked out in the first rounds for what was meant to be a triumphant tour. After his last defeat in the first round of the US Open against Fernando Gonzalez, his track record shows only 3 won matches in 12 tournaments played, a 223rd spot at the ATP race and defeats against the unknown Rik De Voest, Eric Taino, Sergio Roitman or Tripp Phillips. More than this sour ending, we’ll remember the nice nod offered by the Roland-Garros draw, where Chang faced the Frenchman Fabrice Santoro in the first round, who was born in the same year as him (1972) and who had also won Roland-Garros in 1989…in the juniors category.
The most cruel : James Blake (2013)
In 2013, James Blake bore the consequences of the Grand Slam tournaments’ new organization regarding the central courts’ scheduling in the first week of the tournament : stars, stars and only stars, and never mind if the matches are easily won. The big games are taking place on other courts. This is how Blake, ex-world number 4 who had, to be honest, never shone in a Grand Slam tournament, started his last journey on the Louis-Armstrong court, instead of the Central court, which he had set on fire during one night of 2005, during a fierce battle in the quarter finals against Andre Agassi. Against Ivo Karlovic, the atmosphere was still ardent, and the enthusiasm high…but once again, the ending was cruel for Blake, who was defeated in the tie-break of the fifth set, after having led by two sets to none. Just like against Agassi eight years earlier, during a match which Blake describes as his « biggest and worst memory at the same time. »