It had been a year since Andre Agassi had won a tournament of any kind. Now he has a seventh Grand Slam title under his belt and is hungry for more.
"I think if I really play my cards right, this can be the start of an incredible year," Agassi said after winning the Australian Open for the second year in a row, beating France's Arnaud Clement 6-4, 6-2, 6-2.
"It's been a year since I've won. I'll do my best not to make it another year before I win again," he said.
Agassi was riddled with injuries last year, starting in February when he took a month off after pulling out of a tournament with a lower back strain. In July his car was shunted from behind, giving him another back injury.
He took two months off after the U.S. Open, after his mother and sister were diagnosed with breast cancer.
"It wasn't an easy year. The year before was so incredible," he said, referring to 1999 when he won the French and U.S. Opens and was runner-up at Wimbledon.
"It's almost impossible not to have a let down. My body broke down a little bit and so did some personal things. They took a toll on me," he said.
But now he's back.
Full of Confidence
Agassi was brimming with confidence when he came to Melbourne Park two weeks ago, having won a warm-up exhibition at Kooyong and feeling more rested than last year.
Unlike many of his big name rivals who were rusty at the start of the new season, he knew he was in good shape.
"I was thinking coming into this event that it's one of the first times being a defending champion feels less about pressure and more about knowing that you can play well here," he said.
"I came into this tournament feeling like my game was very solid. I was in a good position physically, then it did get better each day."
Agassi looked like he could do no wrong. His game was in a groove, and his wins seemed almost effortless.
On his way to the quarter-finals he did not drop a set, and had a break in the fourth round when his opponent, German David Prinosil, quit in the second set with heat exhaustion.
With 15 years of ups and downs behind him, he no longer had to worry that he might trip himself up in a big match.
"Well I can say that I don't self-inflict and throw curves [curve balls] at myself as much anymore," Agassi said.
"I'm certainly experienced at what keeps me at my best and what puts me in a position to be at my best for the biggest matches, and that's clearer now than it's ever been," he said.
In December after losing to world number one Gustavo Kuerten in the final of the Masters Cup in Lisbon, Agassi was already thinking about what he had to do to make it back to the top of the heap in Melbourne.
Years Off Paid Off
Agassi got distracted four years ago, crashing out of the top 10 to as low as 141 in the rankings. The tumble forced him to claw his way back up the rankings through second-tier events, when winning another grand slam was not even a consideration.
Those down times have actually paid off, helping to prolong Agassi's career at a time when his contemporaries, including Australia's Pat Rafter, are contemplating retirement.
"I think you can always second guess what you're doing and why you're doing it. But I've definitely come to not regret those times."
"I think they've played a big part in my ability just to now be healthy and to be determined, and I feel that sense of hunger," Agassi said. "I think that has saved me for the long term."
And now that he has won again he still expects to raise his game another notch.
"I can always move better. I can always be more aggressive, more consistent," Agassi said.
"You're always striving for that perfect game."