Monday, September 04, 2006

Agassi's Career Ended By Ted Danson Character

Andre Agassi's glorious tennis career came to an end on Sunday in a third round defeat at the U.S. Open. Hampered by chronic back pain, the 1994 & 1999 U.S. Open champion was not expected to contend this year. However, his elimination was surprising in one notable respect. It came at the hands of Becker, Ted Danson's character from the sitcom of that name.

All week, Agassi was showered with adulation in tribute to his two decades on the court. His stirring five-set victory over eighth-seeded Marcos Baghdatis in the second round provided one last hurrah for the eight-time Grand Slam tournament winner. On Sunday, emotions ran high as Andre walked off the court for the final time, joining wife Steffi Graf in retirement. Many tears flowed in Arthur Ashe Stadium - nearly as many as NBC executives shed when Danson announced he would quit Cheers.

Becker's inclusion in the U.S. Open field apparently resulted from an oversight. A tournament official decided to invite numerous recent CBS sitcom characters to Flushing Meadows, believing that a tribute to The King of Queens was planned. He apparently misunderstood the announcement that Billie Jean King would be honored in Queens. Sportswriter Ray Barone was on hand for the festivities, as covering the ceremony allowed him an escape from his family.

Danson had not appeared as Becker since the series went off the air in 2004. However, he jumped at the opportunity to see what the character could do against the best tennis players in the world. Dr. Becker lives in New York, and since he had been out of action for over two years, he was well-rested. The character's cantankerous nature also fits in at a tournament that has previously embraced John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors.

Becker will face Andy Roddick in Monday's fourth round, but he will already be remembered by tennis fans for being Agassi's last opponent. The defeat was not Andre's first to a sitcom doctor, as he was eliminated from his initial U.S. Open in 1986 by Cliff Huxtable. During both of those matches, Agassi did seem to lose focus as a director regularly disrupted play by yelling, "Cut!" On the bright side, having a doctor on the court allowed Andre to get immediate treatment on his back after Sunday's match.

The sports world may continue to keep Danson busy after Becker's U.S. Open runs. The injury-plagued Boston Red Sox have inquired about the availability of pitcher Sam Malone. Wife Mary Steenburgen has forbidden Danson to become Sam until he is far away from Flushing Meadows. She knows that the ladies man would immediately put the moves on Maria Sharapova. One Cheers character did appear at the U.S. Open. Unfortunately, Cliff Clavin was escorted from the premises, as his constant commentary was too disruptive to nearby CBS announcers.

On Sunday, "Cheers" was the appropriate word for Agassi as the crowd expressed its appreciation to him. To Andre, Arthur Ashe Stadium was a place where everybody knows your name.