An appreciation of Andre Agassi
His career is not over yet, but the end is near for Andre Agassi. The fortnight at Wimbledon, where he won his first Grand Slam title, was the perfect setting for every analyst and player to reflect on what Agassi has meant to the game.
The career of Andre Agassi is one of the most colorful, in any sport, in recent memory. From his first match win over John Austin in 1986 to his first title in Brazil, to his triumphant Grand Slam title at Wimbledon in 1992, Agassi has created so many memories.
Andy Roddick was asked recently about the Agassi moment he cherishes most.
"It's tough to pinpoint one, because there's personal moments and then there's the moments where I remember the spandex and the mullet," Roddick said. "And then the [1992 Wimbledon final] with [Goran] Ivanisevic. I think that was the first time I actually sat down and watched a full five-set match."
When his career began, image was everything, as his camera advertisement suggested. While he was one of the most talented players in the world, Agassi was a disappointment to many. He made three Grand Slam final appearances, losing them all -- including two at the French Open. At that point it would be hard to imagine the effect he would have on so many.
There's no one in the sport who's ever had such a dynamic career, starting 13 years after he played his first professional match. Agassi was 29 years old in 1999 when he won the French and U.S. Opens. That was the only year he finished ranked No. 1 in the world.
"He's had an amazing career I mean, he's an inspiration to so many people", said Maria Sharapova, clearly one of those people.
Today his game -- while not what it was last year or even the year before that -- is still good enough to compete at the highest level.
"He is still dangerous," acknowledged David Nalbandian. "He's one of the biggest guys in the history of tennis, so it's incredible seeing him playing so far, I mean, with that age. It's not normal."
As much as Agassi will be remembered for his greatness on the court, his downfall in the late 1990s was well documented. In 1997, he fell to No. 141 in the world and had to compete in Challenger events just to get into the main draws. However, the next season he made the biggest one-year jump into the ATP Top 10 since its inception in 1973.
But his commitment to his game and to his fitness transformed his career. Said Agassi, "It's a sport that has started to figure out that the stronger and more physical you are, the more capable you are as an athlete."
For all Agassi has been through, he clearly is not walking away from this game hanging his head. After his second-round win at Wimbledon over Andreas Seppi, Agassi said, "I haven't found my best, that's for sure."
As much as the fans at Wimbeldon wanted to see him beat Rafael Nadal in the third round, it is just as important for him to give them what they want.
"I want to get out there and do something special for them," Agassi said. "I want to play well. I want to be my best."
While this represents his last Wimbledon, it is not the end. Not yet. He is scheduled to play four hard-court tournaments in the United States and will conclude his career at the U.S. Open.
While it is too early to write his obituary, here is a thoughtful appreciation culled from the world of tennis at Wimbledon, including the champion himself:
Roger Federer: "He's aggressive, non-stop. That's his game. That you have to admire."
Agassi: "The physicality of the game has changed dramatically. Compare Nadal [who] just turned 20 to me when I just turned 20. It's a sport that has started to figure out that the stronger and more physical you are, the more capable you are as an athlete. So I sort of was on to that probably earlier than most in reference to building my strength and the base that sort of was the foundation of my game.
"I think as a result of that, I served bigger than I ever used to, I'm able to handle pace better so as the game got faster, I could just shorten my swing a touch. I got smarter with my shots. I've had to get more aggressive. It used to be where I could just sort of run people around until they fell into the ground, until they physically, but guys are just too strong now. They can keep you from doing that because they're going to take their chance."
Federer: "He was one of the best returners in the game, obviously one of the most colorful personalities, going where he came from then coming all the way back, still playing today, 36 years old.
"It's an incredible effort."
Mary Carillo: "Age doesn't ennoble everyone. The guy's been all over the map with his career. Winning his first major on his least-favorite surface changed his mind about who he could be and who he wanted to be. He's come and gone -- now he's back again. They just cherish every moment they have with Andre."
Agassi: "I missed three years early on, and when I came back I was very sort of overwhelmed with the way they received me after me not playing for three years. Then to miss it for the last two and to come back, they haven't changed."
Todd Martin: "Andre is a great player and a huge part of tennis history. He is the second-best player I played, behind [Pete] Sampras. In some ways, he was better than Sampras."
Agassi: "I never would have believed I would be in the game as long as I've been and to do it as well as I have.
"But growing up with those guys, we've known each other since we were 8 years old, playing in Southern California, against Michael [Chang], Pete [Sampras], Jim [Courier] in Florida. We knew each other so well. We were playing not just to see who is better than the other one, but we were playing for titles, we were playing for championships, we were playing for No. 1 in the world. In some cases you liked one of them more because they were going to beat the guy you didn't want to play on that particular surface.
"It was like we all helped each other, we all interfered with each other along the way. It was rivalries that existed that brought out the most in each of us and gave us something that you could never ever be guaranteed."
Lleyton Hewitt: "Obviously, yeah, his rivalry with Sampras was a huge thing for our sport as well. He's done wonders for our sport right around the world. Out of anyone, Andre Agassi, everyone knows him around the world even if you're not a huge tennis fan.
"I was fortunate enough to beat him when I was 16 in my first tournament. I was pretty nervous going out to play him, though. He was a guy that I looked up to."
Andy Roddick: "Selfishly, I'm going to miss a guy who has been a mentor to me as far as trying to carry yourself with a little bit of professionalism.
"I've gotten to see the real good side of him up close and personal. We'll miss tennis players, but I think we'll miss him as a person more."
Carillo: He's really become a grown-up. A lot of superstars never bother becoming grown-ups, never even consider it. Why become accountable and responsible when you can become a superstar and live that life."
Roddick: "You know what? I learned a lot by watching. I was able to be close to him when I was 17, 18 years old, walking through the hallways. He knows every doorman's name. Please and the thank-yous at the transportation area. Those things don't get reported on, but they probably make the man more so than anybody.
"You'd be surprised how many guys will take off a grip on the racket, leave it in the locker room for the attendant to pick up. I bet my life that wouldn't happen with him. I think I learned a lot just by watching him go about his daily business."
Nalbandian: "Well, of course he's one of the biggest guys in the history of tennis, so it's incredible seeing him playing so far, I mean, with that age. It's not normal."
Roddick: "I was overwhelmed with how much he was willing to help, and especially when we're the two top Americans for a little while there.
"A lot of time you feel competitive rivalry. I never once felt like he was in any way trying to keep me from doing my best. It's hard to explain. I think he always had my best interest at heart, which selfishly is tough sometimes. I think he showed us a way, especially the younger generation of players, on how to help each other. I think now we have a pretty good base of guys who are there for each other."
Hewitt: Tennis owes him a lot, purely because he's such a marketable guy worldwide. He's had a great personality for our sport, though, as well. Especially coming as a young kid into the tennis world, I guess wearing funky clothes, the earrings, long hair. You know, different image than tennis players normally have. I think that really helped the sport."
Roddick: "The on-court stuff you can line up numbers and you can look at it, you can see how impressive it is. I think the most impressive thing is the versatility of it all, the every surface along with the Olympic gold medal, all the Masters Series on different surfaces. He kind of transformed the game as well. He was the first one to take full swings at returns. He kind of was revolutionary in the way he played.
"You can talk about all the tournaments he won, everybody knows about that, but I think to do him justice you'd probably have to look beyond that."
Agassi: "I think Federer, Nadal have captured the imagination of the sporting public with their rivalry. I mean, to have a dominant No. 1 player in the world sort of be dominated by the No. 2 player is a bit of a story in itself.
"Just watching the game evolve is going to be a joy for me. I always felt like going from generation to generation that I had to remain objective about how the game was changing, how the game was sort of improving, getting better. I had to make those adjustments. My mindset is one that's going to be willing to accept the game getting better. As I sit back and look at the youngsters coming up, I'll be able to appreciate what it is they're doing fully."
Federer: "Obviously, it is an incredible achievement to win all four Grand Slams. It worked out for him because he won the French and Wimbledon once. The way he did it was basically unexpected both times.
"To win Wimbledon, he beat Goran [Ivanisevic]. Nobody really expected him to win here. To win at the French against [Andrei] Medvedev, that came as a surprise, too."
Nalbandian: "And is [among] the few guys that win the Grand Slam, and it's incredible. I think for most of the player at the moment, he looks like a legend."
Roddick: "He's made it known that if I ever need anything, need to talk to him about anything, that he's a phone call away. I think, again, I learned more just by watching. If I think dropping to No. 5 is bad, I think about him dropping to 141 and making it back to No. 1 in the world. That puts a little bit of perspective on things.
"I think he was the ultimate guy as far as proving people wrong over and over again when they kind of stuck a fork in him."
Agassi: "I don't know if I can speak to what I've learned in reference to the change of life that's going to happen. I'll have to go through it to some degree to understand it better.
"I wait with great anticipation to embrace that part of my life. I don't feel like there's any real heavy drama to this process outside just the emotion of feeling very connected to a lot of people that maybe life won't offer me the opportunity to be around as much."
Martin: "It is an important time in tennis now that Andre is retiring. My thoughts are that he has made an incredible impact on the sport and his maturation and growth as a person deserves as much attention as his ability to hit tennis balls at 17 or 36.
"I am thrilled to see him move on to bigger and better things. He will continue to make an impact in the game. Not sure if he'll play with us 'old guys,' but he'll find a way to continue his legacy."
Agassi: "But it's good. That's why it's good I live in Vegas. It gives people a reason to come. [They say] 'I'll come to Vegas, hey, Andre is there.' They'll say hello.
"It's just nice to come back here on my terms, to say, This is where I want to be. I'm regretful of missing the last couple of years. I think to wait a year to come back here would have been too long. I needed to make it right to get here now, and I'm glad I did that.
"It's been a privilege to be out there again for one last time. I'll look back at this as one of my most memorable experiences. To say good-bye, for me, this means as much as winning, saying good-bye."
ESPN.com senior writer Greg Garber contributed to this story.
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