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Former ASU Player Sargis Sargsian Announces Retirement at US Open
Tuesday, 09/06/2005
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Sargis Sargsian, the highest-ranked player to ever emerge from Armenia, has announced his retirement. Sargsian, 33, reached a career-high ranking of No. 38 in January 2004. His lone title came in Newport in 1997; he also reached finals in Moscow and St. Petersburg. He finished his career with a 155-207 match record.

Sargsian defeated Top 10 player Nikolay Davydenko to reach the second round of Gstaad in early July, but played just one tournament after that – a first-round loss at the Bronx Challenger in mid August.

Sargsian, a close friend of Andre Agassi, is in New York watching the US Open, where last year he reached the fourth round.

Below is an excerpt of a Sargsian story that ran in the 2004 issue of DEUCE Magazine. Learn more about DEUCE

Drawing inspiration from his good friend Andre Agassi, Armenia’s Sargis Sargsian is playing his finest tennis in his 30s. Sargsian ended the 2003 season No. 39 in the INDESIT ATP Entry Ranking, his first year-end Top 50 finish and his first finish inside the Top 70 in four years.

“Guys peak at different stages in their career,” Sargsian says. “For someone like me, who didn’t start playing on the tour until I was 22, it’s maybe not surprising that I’m playing my best at 30. It takes a while to learn this game but now I feel like I belong here. You don’t make the Top 50 by accident.”

After turning 30 in June 2003, Sargsian ended the season in a hurry, reaching finals in Moscow and St. Petersburg as his hard work with coach Gunther Bresnik reaped its just reward. Although he failed to add to his lone ATP title, won in Newport in 1997, ‘Sarge’ finished with a positive win-loss record for the first time in his career [28-26], almost doubling his match wins on the previous two seasons.

Sargsian was born in Yerevan, Armenia in 1973, and lived under the socialist system of the USSR for most of his childhood and teens [Armenia declared its independence in 1991]. “I wouldn’t say we were poor, we had enough money to eat and to study. The tough part as finding money to travel for my tennis.

“I was 17 or 18 and trying to play Satellites, but the value of the dollar was crazy. My father had a good job as an engineer and he was making the equivalent of $2 to $3 a month. It was a good pay in Armenia, but for me to ask someone for $500 or $1000 to play a Satellite, it was funny to a lot of people.”

Faced with such adversity, Sargsian took the only route available to him: a full tennis scholarship to Arizona State University. “Everything was provided for me and I knew my game wasn’t ready [for the ATP circuit], so it was the perfect option for me. So for those two years I worked like crazy.” Sargsian earned all-America honors twice and became ASU’s first NCAA singles champion in 1995.

Sargsian’s journey to Arizona State is part of tennis folklore.

It was 1993 and a six-member Armenian national team – including one player with frostbitten fingers - journeyed to the US to play matches against Ivy League schools in the Northeast. An accommodation co-coordinator trawled the phone book looking for names ending in ‘i-a-n,’ hoping to find an Armenian family to take in Sargsian for a few weeks.

“On the third or fourth call she gets the Mansourian family in Connecticut, who took me in for the next two years,” says Sargsian, who like his teammates, made a last-minute decision to remain in the US instead of return home. “It was February, so it was getting late to apply for scholarships. But Arizona State had a full scholarship open up after the guy who was supposed to get it didn’t pass his S.A.T.’s. When I wasn’t at University I would go back to Connecticut. The Mansourians were like my family.” Sargsian once said: “They are my career. If I hadn’t met them, I’d be back home and you guys would never know me.”

“When I came to the States as a 20-year-old I only spoke a little English. Enough to communicate, but not really enough to study in that first semester at college. Somehow I managed to get by and I really loved my time at Arizona State. It was great competition and the girls were beautiful; it was known as a party school.” So how much time did he find for study? “Let’s just say I was very focused on my tennis. The coach would often kick me off the courts for practicing too much and I’d have to go somewhere else quietly to practice.”

Just as Sargsian thrived during his college years on the love and support provided by the Mansourians, his formative years on the ATP circuit were shaped in part by a fortuitous friendship with Andre Agassi. It’s a friendship for which Sargsian is profoundly grateful.

The relationship was initially engineered through Agassi’s former coach Brad Gilbert, whose brother was friends with Sargsian. “Early in my career Brad set up a week of practice in San Francisco before the San Jose tournament. I was very nervous meeting Andre for the first time. I flew with him from New York on his private jet; it was like a dream.

“We’ve been good friends ever since and it’s scary how helpful he’s been to me. He’s like the big brother I never had. Obviously he knows about tennis, but he knows a lot about life, too.

“I remember being at a tournament very early in my career and I was set to play a Top 50 player in the first round, for the chance to play Michael Chang in the second round. Andre picks up the draw, sees who I had to play, and starts telling me ‘Oh, I have the perfect game plan for you to play against Chang.’ Before that I was doubting if I could win the first match. But Andre gave me so much confidence I went out and killed the guy in the first round.”

Unfortunately that confidence hasn’t been enough to give Sargsian a ‘W’ in any of his six career meetings with Agassi. “For me, I’d rather play any other guy, including Sampras on his best day. It’s the running Andre makes you do and the way he controls the points.”

As he contemplates the latter stages of his career, Sargsian is again likely to draw inspiration from Agassi, who at 33 became the oldest No. 1 in ATP history.

“I don’t have time to burn, but I think I can still get better,” he says. “The only thing I’m worried about is injury. If I have one big injury, I could be done. But I have good genetics and because I didn’t start on the tour until I was 22, I feel I have some more miles in my legs. Hopefully my speed will hold me up for another two or three years.”

Courtesy of ATPTour.com


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