If someone had surveyed Montréal tennis fans to find out who they’d have wanted to go head-to-head in a dream final at the 2005 Canada Masters, it’s pretty safe to say that Rafael Nadal and Andre Agassi would have been at the top of the list—aside from a Canadian ace, that is.
Fire, court coverage and grit on one side; experience, searing returns and brisk execution on the other. Charisma on both. As it turns out, the fans would have gotten their wish. On Sunday, August 14, 2005, Spain’s Raging Bull and the (not so young anymore) Kid from Las Vegas were set to battle it out in an exceedingly symbolic match.
Nearly 15 years later, the privileged witnesses to the tennis history that was in the making still vividly recall the match.
At 19 years old, Nadal was a force to be reckoned with. Seeded first because Federer called in sick, he had already secured eight titles during the season. In his run to the final, which was more of a leisurely stroll, he dropped only one set to Carlos Moya in his opening round as he was getting his engine running.
His final hurdle was 35-year-old Andre Agassi, raising questions and stirring our wildest dreams. The American’s road to the championship (a single set lost to Björkman) gave fans every reason to be optimistic. Better still, he already had three Canadian crowns in his trophy case and knew how to win here. He also happened to be a master on DecoTurf, while his opponent had yet to triumph on a hard court. Still, age was the major factor and seemed to tip the scales in favour of Rafa and his next-level endurance and defensive speed. The match basically hinged on how long Agassi could keep up.
The early rallies set the tone for the clash of generations. Standing firm at the baseline, Agassi focused on dispatching half volleys. His objective was twofold: take time away from Nadal and avoid having to deal with some of the bounce. But the high-stakes risk taking didn’t seem to inconvenience Rafa, who kept the momentum going until Agassi was at the brink. The scenario everyone had feared materialized as the Spaniard gained an irreversible lead and the first set 6-3.
The contrasts between the two players were striking. Nadal bounded from one end to the other without showing any signs of fatigue, while Agassi struggled to reach the dropshots. Andre played points at supersonic speed, while Rafa dictated his own rhythm and performed each and every one of his pre-serve rituals. The second set was peak Agassi. Determined to stick to his offensive game plan, he held his own. Fans were served the competition they had come to see and threw all their weight behind the American. Boosted by a healthy shot of adrenaline, Agassi broke Nadal to level the playing field at 4-6 and had fans leaping out of their seats. Andre looked positively ecstatic as his impassible opponent weathered the storm.
The second set did nothing to curb Nadal’s momentum or morale. Out for blood, he renewed his assault with a series of whipped forehand winners. Worn out and driven by impatience to make error after error, Agassi was forced to fold. The win (6-2) made the transfer of power complete, and Agassi appointed his successor with admiration and resignation.
During the trophy presentation ceremony, the eight-time Grand Slam champion was acclaimed with thunderous applause by spectators, who realized the match may have been his last in Montréal. The man himself quickly dismissed the assumption with a promise to return in two years. Stylistic device or wishful thinking? Either way, Agassi had long since earned the right to script his own epilogue.
The teenager spoke next. Already the consummate professional, he expressed the conventional thanks to this team and congratulations to his opponent in broken English. Still, he seemed to be looking beyond, to the next realms he would conquer.
Feature Photo : Paul Chiasson