Last Sunday, one of the greatest tennis players of our era ended his career after an improbable run in the U.S. Open. As Andre Agassi thanked the adoring New York fans and made his farewell speech, tears swelled in his eyes. With his back hurting more and more with each passing tournament, Andre knew the time was right for his departure from the game.
Agassi had announced that the 2006 U.S. Open would be his last tournament and it seemed that he was following through on this promise; a comeback appears highly unlikely. But let us not dwell on the injury-plagued and winless Andre Agassi of 2006. Rather, we should remember the Andre who won 8 grand slam tournaments, who made every U.S. Open worth watching and who made us all love him in the process.
Turning pro when he was only 15, Agassi was already a media sensation by the time he was 18. He made the American Davis Cup team in 1988, and made it to the finals of the French and U.S. Open in 1990. In the U.S. Open Final, he lost to fellow American Pete Sampras, the first of many matches in their unforgettable rivalry. While Agassi was a great player at this point of his career, he was better known for his eccentric personal style. Long hair, bright colored clothing and a boyish, nonchalant attitude made Agassi the bad-boy of tennis.
Many people liked Andre and the new, young face he had put on the sport; others disliked him intensely, pointing out his lack of respect for the game and for his predecessors. Indeed, Agassi had a reputation of showing-up his opponents during matches. During the mid-1990’s, America was split between two very different players: there were the wild, untamed Andre Agassi fans and the classy, refined Pete Sampras fans. They were a polarizing force and it was hard to root for both of them. Regardless, the two men were on top of their game and dominated the realm of American tennis.
But then, everything went wrong for Agassi. His marriage to sex symbol Brooke Shields fell apart and by 1997, he was out of the top 100 players in the world. Andre Agassi, who some considered to be the heir to John McEnroe, had fallen off the face of the earth. Yet something even more incredible happened next. He reappeared in 1999 with his head shaved bald, his juvenile attitude contained and new wife, Steffi Graf (a former championship tennis player herself), in tow. Agassi proceeded to win two of the four grand slam tournaments that year, including the U.S. Open, and regained the World #1 ranking. He would win three Australian Open Titles in the next four years and played in one of the most exciting finals ever against Sampras in the 2002 U.S. Open.
It was a new era for Andre Agassi. His rebirth (combined with Sampras’ retirement) made him the poster-boy for U.S. tennis. He had come a long way from the image-obsessed, wild boy of the mid ’90s and he was respected for that.
For his career, Agassi ended up with a staggering 868-273 record including 60 tournament wins. He made a remarkable run at the 2005 U.S. Open, making it all the way to the finals against Roger Federer, but was unable to win another grand slam after the 2003 Australian Open. Agassi’s reign is now over and, whichever Andre you choose to remember, there is no doubt he will be missed.