Sunday, June 6, 2010

June 6, 1999: Clay-covered gold

PARIS - Andre Agassi always seemed to be in Pete Sampras' shadow. They both entered the ranks of professional tennis at about the same time, and both started winning events as teenagers. Though they developed a rivalry during their career that was considered the best in the men's game, Sampras was considered the superior player by everybody.

However, on June 6, 1999, on the clay courts of Roland Garros, Agassi finally had his moment in the sun. After coming from two sets down to beat unseeded Andrei Medvedev in the final of the French Open, Agassi had accomplished something that only five other men had done and, perhaps more important, something Sampras hadn't. He had won the career Grand Slam.

The Grand Slam in tennis is an especially unique accomplishment because of the different styles of tennis needed to win. While hard court tournaments are considered the most fair, grass court tournaments like Wimbledon favor powerful servers, while clay court tournaments like the French Open favor precision players. The powerful serve and volley style of Sampras worked wonders on hard courts and grass courts, but it wasn't made for the slower clay courts, which is why he always struggled there. For Agassi to win on all three types shows his versitality.

But, the win at the French did more than give Agassi the career Grand Slam - if you add to it his gold medal from the Olympics, he became the only man in history to have won a career Golden Slam. Only one woman has matched that feat - Steffi Graf, who Agassi later married.

Sampras and Agassi will always be linked in tennis history because of their (mostly) friendly rivarly. The record shows that Sampras won more head-to-head matches (20-14) and won more Grand Slam titles (14-8). But he never won the French Open, and because of that, never won the career Grand Slam, giving Agassi one thing his rival never got.

June 6, 1920: ST. LOUIS - With a 5-2 victory over the Chicago Cubs, the Cardinals closed down Robison Field, the stadium that had been their home since 1893. After embarking on a 21-game road trip, the Cardinals returned home to rent out Sportsmans Park from American League Browns, remaining there until 1966, long after the Browns had left town. So why is a team switching stadiums a big deal? Because the Cardinals used the money they made from selling Robison Field to establish a minor league system, designed to train young players and funnel them to the Major League team. The Cardinals' system was the first of its kind; before, minor league teams were all independent, and Major League teams had to negotiate to buy players. The Cardinals set it up so they could have more good, young players under their control. It had immediate results, with the Cardinals winning nine NL pennants in the next 26 years. The Cardinals' minor-league system was eventually copied around baseball, leading to the elaborate minor leagues that exist today.

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