Good things supposedly come to those who wait. But for Andre Agassi and Maria Sharapova, who completed the career Grand Slam in Paris, their triumphs followed periods when many wondered if they would ever win the elusive final title – and those made the moments of truth so much sweeter.
Andre Agassi arrived in the 1990 final aged only 20 yet favourite to win his first major title. The long-haired Las Vegan, with his ‘hot lava look’, viewed himself as faster and fitter than the ageing Andres Gomez. But ultimately the American upstart was upstaged by the understated Ecuadorian, the latter drawing on far greater experience to claim his only major crown in four sets.
Back in the final the following year, Agassi came up against a very hungry young rival, Jim Courier, who left him doubting he really had what it took as he lost again, this time from two-sets-to-one up.Ironically, in 1992 at the All England Club, the last major anyone thought Agassi would win became his first. Two years later he won another in New York and in 1995 he triumphed in Melbourne. But as the decade rolled on, his hopes of winning that elusive French title faded, problems off court in his personal life contributing to a nosedive in the rankings.
Agassi emerged from the depths of his 1997 nadir a far fitter, wiser player and person. Reaching another Paris final in 1999, redemption beckoned. But facing the very talented, mercurial Ukrainian Andrei Medvedev, Agassi went a set down in just 19 minutes and lost the second set almost as quickly.
Rain then forced them off court and what followed was one of sport’s great comebacks. Beseeched by his coach Brad Gilbert to ‘go down with both guns blazing’, Agassi stormed back to win 6-4 in the fifth. Overcome with emotion, his huge sense of relief and delight was palpable, leaving unforgettable memories for all who witnessed his defining moment.
Only the fifth man – and first since Rod Laver – to win all four major titles, Agassi went on from Paris to a golden spell in his career and his life, not only doubling his tally of majors but finding a new wife – the women’s champion that same year, Steffi Graf.
For Maria Sharapova there was no love lost between her and clay early in her career. A major winner on grass at 17, world number one a year later and crowned hard-court queen of Flushing Meadows plus Melbourne Park before she turned 21, Sharapova appeared to have everything sussed apart from how to win titles on the dirt. As she put it so succinctly herself, she felt like ‘a cow on ice’ trying to move on the slippery surface.
But the steely Maria is fiercely determined. In overcoming a series of serious shoulder injuries she not only adapted her game, but also learnt to play smarter tactically as well as how to slide. Although her first clay court title came in 2008 at Amelia Island, it was not until she won in Rome three years later and again in 2012 that the idea of her completing the career Grand Slam really took hold. Dropping just one set en route in Paris that year, Sharapova overwhelmed Italy’s Sara Errani in the final with a potent mix of power and precision. In so doing she became the 10th woman to win all four majors. Despite all her early struggles, the Russian has now won more matches and titles at the Paris Slam than at any other.