Back in 1989, world No. 5 Andre Agassi reached the biggest final of his career at the Italian Open. The 19-year-old, who didn't drop a set on his way to the championship match, fell in five sets to Alberto Mancini of Argentina.
After that loss, Agassi's results in Rome were somewhat spotty over the next decade, as well as his participation in the tournament. From 1991 to 2001, the American only played at the fabled clay-court tournament five times, with losses to the likes of Eric Jelen, Stefano Pescosolido and Alex Catravela over that time. Even in 1999, the year he would go on to win the French Open, Agassi fell to the serve-and-volleyer Patrick Rafter in straight sets.
In 2002, injury forced Agassi to miss the Australian Open, causing him to take a slight dip in the rankings as he was the defending champion. Upon his return, though, he didn't miss a beat as he reached the final in three of his first four tournaments, winning two of them, including the Masters title in Miami.
May 12, 2002: Fifteen-years after his first visit to the Italian Open, Andre Agassi wins the title for the first time defeating Tommy Haas of Germany 6-3, 6-3, 6-0 in the singles final. pic.twitter.com/d20qgI9uc5— This Day In Tennis (@ThisDayInTennis) May 12, 2018
The exceptionally deep draw in Rome that year featured every member of the world’s Top 10, led by Lleyton Hewitt and Gustavo Kuerten, at No. 1 and No. 2.
Agassi was playing some of his best clay-court tennis since the 1999 French Open. He didn’t drop a set on the way to the final, his fourth of the year. In the championship match, he faced the only Top-eight player to make it out of the second round, Tommy Haas. In a cross-generation battle between former Nick Bollettieri pupils, it was the older one who prevailed as Agassi won 6-3, 6-3, 6-0.
On May 12, 2002, Andre Agassi won the Italian Open in Rome defeating Tommy Haas in the final 6-3, 6-3, 6-0. pic.twitter.com/nYKnqWbORq— Invesco Series QQQ Tennis (@InvescoSeries) May 12, 2016
Thirteen years after losing a match point in the final, Agassi finally held the title at one of the game’s most prestigious tournaments and afterward, acknowledged the player who beat him back in 1989.
“Hopefully, wherever Alberto Mancini is, he has a smile on his face for me,” he said.
Agassi's Rome title is the last Masters event won by an American male on red clay. If anything, though, the current crop of players should take inspiration from the Hall of Famer and know good things can come to those who wait.
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