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AO Flashback: Remembering Andre Agassi's 2003 title, 20 years on

  • Alex Sharp

As you may have heard, American tennis is flying at the moment.

The USA flag is prominently on show at Australian Open 2023, so it's the perfect time for a bit of nostalgia to recall the last time an American man lifted the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup.

It was 20 years ago that the iconic Andre Agassi ruled Melbourne Park. 

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The Australian Open of 2003 was supposed to be the time of the 'Next Gen'. Lleyton Hewitt was the US Open champion and world No.1, Marat Safin and Andy Roddick were in the mix, as was a familiar name, Roger Federer.

The year before, Agassi had to pull out of his Australian Open title defence with a wrist injury, which also threatened to end his career.

"I was very much scared, but it is those times that I'm arguably at my best," declared the 1995, 2000 and 2001 champion. "It's when I dig in."

After his injury-enforced absence, Agassi picked up where he left off in Melbourne (Getty Images)

The 32-year-old had not annexed a major since his third Australian Open triumph in 2001, but was spurred on to fight inside the upper echelons of the sport by a semifinal victory over Hewitt at the 2002 US Open. 

"It was a big deal beating him. I've seen many players come and go. I've seen many come and stay," said Agassi prior to his Australian Open 2003 title tilt. "Lleyton is one of those guys who you know is going to stay and is looking to push the standards of tennis."

With a spring in his step, back on a previously happy hunting ground, Agassi did more than "dig in". He simply dominated.

In the first round, Agassi swept aside compatriot Brian Vahaly 7-5 6-3 6-3 before a highly-anticipated clash with South Korean Hyung-Taik Lee, who had just clinched his maiden ATP title in Sydney. 

"He's been playing some great tennis, and is a great ambassador for tennis in that part of the world. I look forward to the challenge," stated Agassi.

"Every match needs to get better, so let's get started now."

Mission accomplished; the Las Vegas showman ruthlessly fired a warning shot to the rest of the draw with a 6-1 6-0 6-0 scoreline.

A tricky four-set tussle with Nicolas Escude was then followed by 6-1 3-1 (retired) result over Guillermo Coria.

Once Agassi got going on his Melbourne return in 2003, it was no contest (Getty Images)

Into the second week, and the world No.2 continued to rise through the gears.

Just seven games were lost to Sebastien Grosjean, seven more to Wayne Ferreira. Agassi blazed into the final, where he'd meet 31st seed Rainer Schüttler.

Agassi's Australian coach Darren Cahill, his wife Steffi Graf and long-standing personal trainer Gil Reyes took their seat in the player's box. 

There was a comical moment when a spectator shouted out, "Practise up, Steffi," in reference to the American's bet with his wife that she'd have to partner him in the Roland-Garros mixed doubles if he won the title. 

"She's not too pleased about it. She tells me what to do. She's the boss. I'm the one who said it, so it's going to be my responsibility," quipped Agassi prior to the final. "Hopefully I'll have 50 years with Stef for her to be more mad at me about other things."

Just so you know, they didn't enter the mixed doubles in Paris.

Back to Melbourne, and Agassi was in cruise control once again, with 6-1 6-2 6-1 the emphatic scoreline to breeze to a fourth Australian Open crown. It was his 21st consecutive match win at Melbourne Park, which had served up his eighth and last Grand Slam trophy. 

"I'm really overwhelmed by this, because as you get older you realise so quickly how these moments pass," he said.

"You want to make the most of them, and to win one down here again was just more than I could dream of.

"I'll never forget being here, I'll never forget playing for you and I'll never forget the support and the love I've always felt coming down here.

"I feel like I'm half Australian."

Australia 2003 was Agassi's eighth and final major title (Getty Images)

Agassi reached the semifinals in Melbourne in 2004, and his last Australian Open match was bowing out in the quarterfinals to Federer. 

Now aged 52, Agassi has returned to Melbourne Park since, but this year he's enjoyed the action from afar in his role mentoring Sebastian Korda.

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The towering American dazzled under the Rod Laver Arena lights on Friday to command proceedings in three sets against 2022 finalist Daniil Medvedev. 

Agassi tuned in from Stateside; that's true dedication from the middle of the night in Las Vegas. 

"He texted me. He's going to bed now," said Korda. "That's the last thing he sent me.

"He's one of the most special people in my life. We started talking during Covid in 2020. He's been one of the biggest parts in my rise. Just overall just as a tennis player, as a human being. We spend a lot of time together. Yeah, he's very special to me."