I am in New York this week to see you compete at the US Open. I have been a fan of yours for many years. I first saw you play as an 18-year-old when I was playing in the Japan Open junior tournament in 1985. You made it to the quarterfinals of the professional event and lost to Andres Gomez. You were just 16 but from the moment I saw you strike the ball for the first time I knew you were special. I had never
seen anybody take the ball that early and hit it that hard and crisply. Your flamboyant personality and the long blond dyed hair also set you apart.
We followed your career, filled with highs and lows, and learnt a lot from you. Your groundstrokes and return of serve are models I use when I coach my students. The way you have dealt with adversities and carried yourself on and off the court have been great lessons for me. I am proud of the way you have matured as a tennis player and as a person. You have been a great ambassador for the game of tennis and a tremendous role model for young kids all over the world.
Your on court performance speaks for itself and you have had many memorable matches and rivalries. My favourite moment was when you beat Goran Ivanisevic in the Wimbledon final for your first grand slam title. The two-set deficit you overcame versus Andrei Medvedev at the French Open final was a close second. Earlier on in your career you were criticised for not having heart. That was all history after the triumph at Roland Garros.
Your rivalry with Pete Sampras was spellbinding, and I will never forget watching the 2002 quarter final match you played against Pete at the US Open. Those four sets were arguably the best tennis ever played. For me, the match had added importance because my father, tennis coach Hem Lama, had come all the way from Kathmandu to watch his first grand slam event. What a treat it was for him.
Early in your career your lack of physical and mental preparation that allowed you to be the best you could, was infuriating. Fast forward to 2006 and there is no player on the tour today who is better prepared than you. At age 35 you are one of the fittest players around. That is a testimony to your hard work and dedication. I was worried when you limped out of the French Open this year. But the recent win in Los Angeles and a runner up finish in Montreal gives me hope that you might be around for a few more years. Although Federer and Roddick might be the favourites at the US Open, you are the dark horse. I know you have at least one more slam in you.
Andre, you are more than just a great tennis player. You are unique among your peers because you are genuine and constantly give back to tennis. There is no athlete in the world more articulate than you and none comes close to you in using their celebrity to make a difference. Not many people know that you have donated over $20 million to help young people. Your foundation has raised over $50 million to build a school for low-income kids in Las Vegas.
Thank you Andre for providing us with many memories and inspiring us to strive to be the very best. Thank you also for reminding us that there is more to life than tennis and that we have a responsibility to make a difference in this world.
Sujay Lama (Your #1 fan)