A very interesting read...
A very interesting read...
(How Boris Becker’s slip of the tongue, gave Andre Agassi the upper hand in their rivalry...)
Sometimes victory comes down to the tiniest & strangest of details.
For three years, Andre Agassi agonised over what he needed to do to his game, what approach needed changing up in his quest to beat Boris Becker. Between 1988 & 1989, the pair met on three occasions, the German claiming a hat-trick of wins. While not the longest stint for any player to have gone without beating their biggest rival, competition between the pair continued to grow, the spotlight on the pair intensified & so too did Agassi’s obsession with breaking the hoodoo.
And then a breakthrough!
On the hard courts of Indian Wells in 1990, Agassi put a new theory to the test. A small, but ever so important observation he had made, after endless hours of watching replays of Becker in action. He watched for the German’s tongue. That’s right, his tongue!!
“Becker beat me the first three times we played, because he had a serve, the type of which the game had never seen before,” Agassi told a sports channel.
“I watched tape after tape of him & stood on the other side of that net three different times & I started to realise he had this weird tick thing with his tongue. “I’m not joking", Agassi explained, that just before Becker tossed the ball on his serve, he would stick his tongue out. If it went to the left of his mouth, he was serving wide towards the tramlines if it remained in the middle, the ball was staying central. Agassi’s fortunes against Becker improved markedly, after he clocked his ‘tell’.
The discovery transformed Agassi’s record against Becker. In the 11 meetings which followed, the German managed just one victory (Wimbledon semi-final 1995), before ending his career in 1999, with a 4-10 record against the American.
During that time, Agassi says the biggest problem was discretion. He had to allow Becker to win certain points with his thunderous serve, in a bid to ensure “his tongue still poked out”.
“The hardest part wasn’t returning his serve,” Agassi said. “The hardest part was not letting him know that I knew this. So I had to resist the temptation of reading his serve for the majority of the match & choose the moment when I was going to use that information. I didn’t have a problem breaking his serve, I had a problem hiding the fact I could break it at will, I just didn’t want him keeping that tongue in his mouth.”
Had their careers been aligned for longer, there is little doubt the pair would be regarded as a tennis rivalry to challenge that of Ivan Lendl & John McEnroe, Steffi Graff & Monica Seles, Federer & Nadal or Agassi’s with Pete Sampras.
Becker retired seven years before Agassi & it was only once the German was firmly out of the game, that the secret was revealed.
“I told Boris after he retired. I told him at Oktoberfest, we had a pint & I couldn’t help but say, “Do you know you used to do this?"
He fell off the chair.
“He said ‘I used to go home & tell my wife — it’s like he reads my mind’. Little did I know you were just reading my tongue’.”
Interesting reading, right?