I don't know how many of you are following the US Open in tennis this week. Probably not many. But most of you do read science fiction, and that's actually what I'm thinking about while I'm on the topic of Andre Agassi.
The US Open is Agassi's swan song. He's supposed to be retiring gracefully this year, having made the cut and now taking, as it were, a last jog around the track.
Somebody forgot to mention that to him.
Last week, despite a back injury--an aggravated siatic nerve--and against literally all odds, he managed a 3-2 defeat over a kid player, Marcos Baghdatis, in a set that, dramatically, he won two, lost two, and rallied for the fifth and final set to a crowd of some twenty-three thousand who weren't going home despite the fact that the game went on until after midnight. Agassi's had six or eight cortisone shots to keep him on his feet for the last few years; due to competition, I presume, it wasn't possible to have another one this last week, so he had a shot of something called Toradol, an anti-inflammatory, to keep him functional over the next few days. The man is out there pushing himself beyond the limits of human endurance, out of sheer and untouchable passion.
This is the thing that science fiction writers--and others, but I'm thinking of "Gattaca", or the Man-Kzin Wars, or dozens of others here--use when they tell stories about humans winning out because they are too damned dumb, or too damned stubborn (the line is a fine one) to stop when they obviously should.
Agassi himself knows he's an old man. He knows he's pushing himself beyond the limits. He knows he's not likely to win the US Open. But if he loses, it will not by God be because he wasn't trying. It will be because he's an old man in a sport of youngsters--youngsters who are breathless at competing with him, youngsters who are showing up at the Open in outfits that are deliberate homages to this man, youngsters who admit to being moved to tears watching him play--and it will be because somebody is better, and somebody is lucky. I don't think Agassi will regret it, if he loses, because he--and everyone else--will know that he gave everything he had to give.
There's some SF novel--maybe a David Brin story, but probably not, because usually he's a real believer in humanity uplifting itself--in which an alien says to a human, "Your stories all tell of how when you go out into the universe, you meet terrible things and you triumph over them. This is the real world, and it doesn't work that way."
I think--I hope--humans will never believe that. And right now, reading about Agassi and his swan song, I can't help thinking it's just not in us to believe it. I think we all pretty much know the odds are insurmountable, day in and day out. That doesn't really matter, does it. What matters is finding the line and deciding if you're willing to cross it. The thing that makes the stories is when you are.
Win or lose, Agassi's made the story. And oddly enough, in thinking about this, for the first time in two or more years, I've rekindled some hope for the future of the United States.