Even without Pete Sampras (leg injury), the Olympic tennis tournament at the Stone Mountain Tennis Center in Atlanta 1996 was very successful, with the Americans securing three out of four gold medals. World no. 6 Andre Agassi was among them, taking full advantage of the favorable draw to go all the way and become the first American with men's singles gold medal since Vincent Richards in Paris 1924!
On August 3, Andre toppled Sergi Bruguera in the title match 6-2, 6-3, 6-1 in swift 77 minutes in front of the partisan crowd of 10,000 to conquer one of his most beloved titles in a long and decorated career. It couldn't come in the better moment for Andre who won just three matches between Miami and Atlanta (he would win Cincinnati two weeks later as well) and dropped out from the top-5 for the first time since October 1994.
Andre had to work hard already from the first obstacle, beating Jonas Bjorkman 7-6, 7-6 for the place in the second round where he took down Karol Kucera 6-4, 6-4. Andrea Gaudenzi stood between Agassi and the spot in the quarter-final, pushing the American to the limits for the set and a half before Andre delivered a 2-6, 6-4, 6-2 victory to stay on the title course.
World no. 11 Wayne Ferreira was the last opponent before the battle for one of the medals and it turned out to be another tough day at the office for Agassi, with the South African serving for the match in the final set before Andre got through 7-5, 4-6, 7-5.
In the semis, the crowd favorite took down the doubles specialist with a wild card Leander Paes 7-6, 6-3. Interestingly, this was the clash of the players from the Olympic families, with Vece Paes competing at 1972 Munich Olympics (won the bronze medal in field hockey) while Emmanuel "Mike" Aghassian represented Iran in boxing in 1948 and 1952!
The first set was very close and the American clinched it in the tie break after fending off two set points, having the edge in the second to advance into the final and secure a medal. The Spaniard Sergi Bruguera had a great run in Atlanta that year too, especially after competing in Stuttgart on clay in the previous week, surviving Andrei Pavel in the first round to deliver five wins and find himself in the gold medal chase.
Andre wasn't at his best in the first five encounters but there was nothing wrong with his tennis when it mattered the most, dominating from start to finish and halting Bruguera on just six games to embrace the Olympic glory.
Agassi was the dominant figure on both his serve and from the baseline, hitting the ball early and taking power off the rival's shots. Agassi lost just six points behind his first serve and fended off five out of six break points (Bruguera needed five break chances to break the American for the first and only time in the second set) to keep his serve safe and mount the pressure on the rival.
On the other hand, he was all over Sergi on return, creating nine break chances and converting seven to seal the deal in no time at all and start a huge celebration. The American won almost twice as many points overall, forcing Bruguera to make 40 forced errors and prevailing in the other segments as well to topple the rival and march towards the gold.
With the advantage in the shortest and mid-range exchanges, Andre could have played his tennis and move the Spaniard from one side to another, earning those seven breaks to dominate fro start to finish. Agassi broke in the third game of the match, holding at love with an ace to cement the advantage and delivering another break at love that pushed him 4-1 in front after a double fault from Bruguera.
Serving for the set, the American landed an ace at 5-2 to secure the opener in no time at all, dropping two points on serve and hoping for more of the same in the rest of the clash. The fourth game of the second set lasted for ten minutes and Bruguera converted the fifth break opportunity he break back and level the score at 2-2 before spraying a backhand error to give serve away and push Andre 3-2 in front.
Returning at 5-3, Agassi broke at 15 with a forehand winner to take two sets to love lead and move closer to the gold medal in no time at all. Sergi was giving his best to stay in contention but that wasn't possible against such a strong rival who broke him with a beautiful forehand crosscourt winner in the fourth game of the third set, getting broken again at 1-4 following a deep return from Agassi who was now serving for the title.
In his last push to prolong the encounter, Bruguera created a break point that Andre erased with a service winner, sealing the deal with a forehand winner two points later to become an Olympic champion and claim the 33rd ATP title, the first since Miami in March.