i got hooked on tennis back in late 1996.
i was a UP diliman-orgless freshie, so i naturally hang out in one of the best cribs in the campus - UP main library. not because i am (or was) a studious one, but i was in the lib most of the time because most of my blockmates were almost always there! hehehehe! (go block N1!) seriously, i always go there to read newspapers. i got this thing with dailies from my father, who'd always have inquirer or any tabloid every morning. and in UP main lib's periodicals section, you practically have all available broadsheets plus a host of veritable tabloids, not to mention, local magazines and some other foreign publications in the general reference section.
one of those main lib trips introduced me to tennis, when i saw the news of andre agassi losing to michael chang in the 1996 US open semis and steffi graf dispatching a young martina hingis in the semis. chang went on to lose to pete sampras in the finals, while graf defeated no. 2 monica seles in the women's singles finals. after that, i was instantly captivated by the distinctiveness of the game - one player against another, all by themselves; no on-court coaching; traditions brought on from another century; interesting scoring; different surfaces; meltdowns and high resolve; moonballers and power hitters; slice, lob, volley; baseliners and serve & volleyers; umpires and linespersons; compelling rivalries and on/offcourt dramas and of course, colorful personalities and great champions. at that point, agassi was more of a colorful personality due to his marriage to brooke shields, although he already won 3 grand slam titles. graf was another thing - she dominated the women's game for the greater part of the 90s, winning 13 grand slam titles and silencing even her biggest rival, seles.
religiously, i followed the scores. i began to buy tennis magazines from that magazine store (between a barber shop and t-shirt store) in the shopping center, as well as revisit microfilmed articles back when graf was just starting to dominate the tennis scene. internet was at its measly provision at that time, so this wasn't included in my routine. 1997 was a bad year for both agassi and graf - agassi falling to 141 in the rankings and graf failing to win a grand slam title for the first time in 10 years. in late 1998, we got our cable TV connection (wahahahaha!), which brought me closer to grand slam matches. i saw steffi graf battle her way to the french open title, while also seeing her lose that year's wimbledon final to lindsay davenport. almost all those times, the remote control was on me! sadly, steffi waved goodbye to the tennis world in august 1999. but agassi went on to play, winning 4 more grand slam titles till 2003. i still remember the 1999 wimbledon final, which agassi lost to sampras in straight sets, but he rebounded to win the US open against todd martin.
my love affair with tennis began with agassi and graf. who would have thought that in 1999, they would both win roland garros, lose wimbledon final and started dating! they got married in 2001 and welcomed 2 kids in the following 2 years. in 2004, graf was inducted to the international tennis hall of fame. an exceptional champion, graf won every major tourney at least 4 times and achieved the golden slam in 1988, when she won all 4 grand slam titles and the gold medal at the seoul olympics. and today, agassi was finally inducted in the hall of fame. he won 8 grand slam titles and is one of only 7 (the other 6: perry, budge, emerson, laver, federer, nadal) players to have won a career slam (all 4 majors at least once in their career).
i haven't touched a racket since my UP days and i always believe that tennis is best played, not watched. but with the new breed of exceptional champions such as nadal and federer, as well as the re-emergence of clijsters and sharapova, tennis will always be my beautiful sport... thanks to graf and agassi! as billie jean king said, "tennis is a perfect combination of violent action taking place in an atmosphere of total tranquility."