Andre Agassi and Boris Becker were two of the top tennis players of their generation. Agassi dominated their head-to-head matchups, winning 10 of 14 matches between them. But it didn’t start out so well for him.
Becker defeated Agassi the first three times the players met. However, Agassi won 10 of their next 11 matches.
Agassi did a video feature with Unscriptd and shared what changed. The 51-year-old says that after a long time of studying and facing Becker, he figured out that the German star’s tongue would tip the direction of his serve.
Winning by Reading your Opponent's M̵i̵n̵d̵ Tongue:)
"Delightful interview where @AndreAgassi shares how he started beating @TheBorisBecker regularly after the initial losses. The trick would crack you up!" via @rajeshkalra #tennis pic.twitter.com/orOakg7eyj
— Amit Ranjan (@amitranjan) September 23, 2020
“Boris Becker who beat [me] the first three times we played because his serve was something the game had never seen before,” Agassi said. “Well I watched tape after tape of him and stood across the net from him three different times and I started to realize he has this weird tick with his tongue.
“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.”
Agassi said the difficulty wasn’t in breaking Becker’s serve, but in deciding in which moments to take advantage of the tell to avoid giving it away.
“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.”
Agassi said that after they were retired, he shared with Becker over a beer at Oktoberfest that he knew the tongue tell. Becker couldn’t believe it.
“We went out and had a pint of beer together, and I couldn’t help but say, ‘By the way, did you know you used to do this and give away your serve?’ He about fell off the chair. He said, ‘I used to go home all the time and just tell my wife, it’s like he reads my mind.’
“He said, ‘Little did I know, you were just reading my tongue.’”
What an incredible story. And what research by Agassi to figure that out. The man was one of the best service returners in history, and this gives us one clue as to what made him so successful.
The only other match Becker won between them after winning the first three came at Wimbledon in 1995. Becker tried messing with Agassi’s mind in that match to success, and tried to repeat the process at the US Open later that year.