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Saying Goodbye to an Old Friend

September 3, 2006

Once again fighting a chronically bad back and a game young opponent, 36-year-old tennis legend Andre Agassi finally yielded to both at his 21st and last U.S. Open on Sunday afternoon. Agassi, in visible pain, battled German qualifier Benjamin Becker for three long hours and four tough sets before falling 7-5, 6-7 (4), 6-4, 7-5.

Agassi, one of the most beloved figures in sports history, received an eight-minute standing ovation from the crowd of 20,000-plus at Arthur Ashe Stadium. Voice shaking with emotion, Agassi concluded the moving sendoff with a brief, Lou Gehrig-like speech:

The scoreboard said I lost today, but what the scoreboard doesn’t say is what it is I have found. And over the last 21 years, I have found loyalty. You have pulled for me on the court and also in life. I’ve found inspiration. You have willed me to succeed, sometimes even in my lowest moments. And I’ve found generosity. You have given me your shoulders to stand on to reach for my dreams, dreams I could have never reached without you.

Over the last 21 years, I have found you and I will take you and the memory of you with me for the rest of my life. Thank you.

Andre could have retired after his classic marathon match against the talented Marcos Baghdatis, which ended in the wee hours of Friday morning. Many athletes would’ve chosen to go out with a victory. In fact, some were suggesting it. Instead, Agassi endured three more anti-inflammatory shots just to give his fans one more moment to remember. And remember it they will.

For Mr. Crumpet and Orange Bear, tennis just won’t be the same without him.

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