The rivalry of Andre Agassi and Boris Becker is never spoken about in the same breath as McEnroe-Connors, McEnroe-Lendl, Sampras -Agassi or any of the Big Three rivalries.
One of the biggest reasons for that being the relatively less amount of time the duo spent at the top together, with Becker heavily dominating the early 90’s and Agassi stream rolling the mid and late 90’s.And then there was the small matter of Pete Sampras, who completely dominated the duo and was more often than not the numero uno of the era.
Now that we are reaching the fag end of arguably the greatest generation and rivalries of tennis in Nadal, Federer, and Djokovic, perhaps it would be prudent to look back at the not so spoken about rivalry of Agassi and Becker and how the mercurial American turned the tide in his favor against an opponent he didn’t have the best of relations with.
“A slip of the tongue”the surprising chink in Becker’s armor.
In a 2017 interview with The Players Tribune’s Unscriptd, Agassi said that he used to struggle mightily to return Becker’s serve. Then, after some film study, he realized Becker would indicate how he was going to serve by moving his tongue.
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“I started to realize he had this weird tick with his tongue,” Agassi said. “I’m not kidding. He would go into his rocking motion, his same routine, and just as he was about to toss the ball, he would stick his tongue out. And it would either be right in the middle of his lip, or it’d be to the left corner of his lip.
“If he’s serving in the deuce court and he put his tongue in the middle of his lip, he was either serving up the middle or to the body. But if he put it to the side, he was going to serve out wide.“
Learning the tick helped Agassi return Becker’s serves, but he had another challenge: not letting Becker know that he could guess his serves.
“The hardest part wasn’t returning his serve – it was not letting him know that I knew this,” Agassi said. “I had to resist the temptation of reading his serve for the majority of the match and choose the moment when I was gonna use that information on a given point to execute a shot that would allow me to break the match open.“
The entire episode highlights not just the tactical acumen of Andre Agassi, but also the fact that how thin the margins are at the absolute top and how even the smallest of chinks in your armor can act as the difference between a win and a loss.