Complete player -- on and off the court

With Andre Agassi's retirement, ESPN.com asked several of his contemporaries to give their thoughts on what he's meant to the game.

Updated: August 25, 2006, 10:31 AM ET
By Bonnie DeSimone and Matt Wilansky | ESPN.com

American James Blake was 6 years old when Andre Agassi turned pro in 1986. Twenty years later, Blake is now the highest-ranked American on the ATP Tour (No. 5) and Agassi is currently 37th heading into the final tournament of his career, the U.S. Open. Earlier this year during a visit to ESPN, Blake was asked to give his thoughts on the 36-year-old Agassi, who at the time had yet to announce 2006 was going to be his final year on the tour.

Blake and several other prominent names in the game have shared their thoughts on the American tennis icon. Here is some of what they had to say about Agassi and what he has meant to tennis -- both on and off the court.


James Blake

James Blake
Blake
"On the court, he's one of the greatest ever, that's not going to be argued. He's one of the few players who has won the career Grand Slam, which shows how versatile he is. But off the court he's meant even more in terms of giving back to his community in Las Vegas and to the kids who have benefited from his school (the Andre Agassi Preparatory Academy). He's helped me out in my career, he's helped a lot of the younger players and I know he has done a lot of work with Andy Roddick. He's really a champion, on and off the court, in terms of his ability to put other people first -- which is something not a lot people can do."


Jim Courier

Jim Courier
Courier
"My favorite moment was seeing him win the [1999] French Open. It was a bit of closure for him, a monumental achievement. He knew he probably wasn't going to get a lot more chances. He had come so close, and probably should have beaten me that year [1991]. It filled out the last thing in his portfolio.

"He's been the standard-bearer for tennis for the last 20 years, the global icon of tennis. The game has changed almost as much in that time as he has. He started out as a mercurial talent, with his ability on the court and his flash off it, and has come full circle to being the elder statesman, the go-to guy for perspective.

"And he's the sports world's most significant philanthropist. He created his foundation out of thin air and he's raised $50 million. There's not one thing missing from his mantelpiece. It's a sad day for me to see him retire. It's like seeing your last friend graduate from college. It really means you're a grown-up now, and it's fully in the next generation's hands. I've lived a little bit vicariously through him, loudly when I'm not broadcasting and very quietly when I am. He's a celebrity with substance."


Billie Jean King

Billie Jean King
King
"I saw him for the first time at Caesars Palace when he was 6 years old. Vic Braden was with him. I'll never forget seeing him and thinking, 'Uh-oh, what's his name?' He struck the ball so well. … He was unbelievable right there, and he already had a stage presence at age 6. Believe me, he loved it. Growing up in Vegas, understanding how to entertain, connect with the people, this kid always had the 'it' factor.

"What's been so wonderful as he matured as a human being is the fact of how he's reached out and given back. He's given more than he's received. … So he is just beginning a new phase. I call it transition. I don't even think of it as retiring. What he has given us through his tennis and the enjoyment has been unbelievable. One of the greatest returns of serve. But more importantly, just to watch him grow as a human being and get married and have two kids. Of course, marrying Steffi Graf wasn't too shabby either.

"I just think the next part of his life, I can't wait to see how much greatness is going to be there as well. In fact, he might end up being better known for education or something else than he was even in tennis, who knows. He's been a great ambassador for it."


Todd Martin

Todd Martin
Martin
"We sometimes know in our heart better than what other people think. He's still very competitive, not competitive in that he can lose close matches, competitive in that he can win against everybody. He could have retired 10 years ago and had a great career. In fact, I would have liked him to. [Laughs]

"He's important because at this point in time, until Roger and Rafael and these guys grow old, he's the most identifiable person in our game. He still has a younger fan base because of the way he plays, but he has an older fan base because we're familiar with him and because he's as mature as he is.

"More and more there are guys who can do what he does. It's not going to be what I miss about him right now, it's going to be what I miss about him and the effect he had on the game and the way it's played. He had a powerful control over the ball that nobody else did until recently. Frankly, I think the only reason he's truly matched now is because of the technology of the strings. He controlled the ball with 20-year-old strings the way a lot of these guys control the ball with the modern strings. I think it would be great if he had some Sampras-like finish to his career. … In many ways, it could signify the change in his character over the 20 years that he's been playing. It was so much flash and fanfare and now he's a workman. He's not a fancy player. He just goes out there and looks like the guy who carries the brown bag to work for his lunch. He's there to do his job."


Martina Navratilova

Martina Navratilova
Navratilova
"He's a showman. You know, a personality. You can't ever have too much of that. I appreciate the way he hits the ball. He is one-dimensional in that he just stays on that baseline, but he does it so well that it's a joy to watch. I sometimes imagine myself trying to hit the ball more like he does, with the shorter swing and the acceleration that he has and the short takeaway … he takes the ball on the rise. Nobody sees the ball, I don't think, as well as he does. He's just fun to watch for a tennis purist."

From player comments during Wimbledon, please read an Appreciation of Agassi.