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Blog Tribute To Andre Agassi

A fan kisses an Agassi poster at the US OpenGetty ImagesA fan kisses an Agassi poster at the US Open

As a special farewell tribute to Andre Agassi - who is playing his last pro tournament at the US Open - atpworldtour.com has asked some of the sport's leading tennis writers to share their favorite Andre memory.

Sunday, September 3, 2006   
By Georges Homsi

The hype around Andre Agassi throughout his 20-year career has always been wild. He irritated some, but most loved his antics, and his strive to be different. One thing is sure, no-one was ever indifferent.

From the media standpoint, having a chance to interview Agassi was anything but easy ever since his first years on the tour. For a simple reason: the demand was much greater than the reasonable time he could possibly give. For that reason, I was fortunate to have many chances to sit down with him and discuss different topics throughout the years. Being a traveling tennis journalist has its advantages. For a couple of years, I also helped organize Andre’s interviews, while I worked for the ATP communications department.

I enjoyed listening to his pertinent and articulate thoughts since the first time I interviewed him, in Charleston in 1988, just a few days after he turned 18. But at first I wasn’t what you would call a fan of the Agassi character. Maybe because I couldn’t easily relate to his desire to be different, his will to be noticed. With age, I have completely changed my perspective of Andre, mainly because he matured immensely, and I discovered so many sides of him that I couldn’t see. The philanthropist side of him burst to the open in a spectacular way, but it didn’t come from nowhere. It was already there, just overshadowed by his desire to offer his fans the “Agassi Show."

One day I was due to interview him in Stuttgart, Germany. Once I was told Andre was ready, I was comfortable I was. The recorder was in my pocket, and the questions written down. But once we sat down, I realized the recorder had been inadvertently been left on, and the battery was dead flat. I was extremely embarrassed and he saw it. “Don’t worry, go find batteries, I’ll wait for you,” he said with a kind smile.

Luckily, I found a colleague who was able to help me out, and when I came back 5 minutes later, he didn’t show the least sign of irritation and we were able to carry the interview. Agassi has been an immense tennis champion. But I admire tons more the human side of him, and his determination to do anything within his power to help and make a difference. He said once that the one principle he was keenest to teach his kids was: “Don’t do to others what you wouldn’t want them to do to you.” That speaks tons for the kind of person he is.

- Georges Homsi is a freelance French tennis journalist of Lebanese origins


Saturday, September 2, 2006  
By Richard Evans

It was one afternoon in Pancho Gonzalez’s Pro Shop at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. We were in the middle of the Alan King Classic, the first big tennis tournament to mix the sport with showbiz and lavish prize money and for an ambitious father with a talented kid it was too big an opportunity to miss.

“Jimmy, this guy’s got a four year old he wants you to hit with,” growled the great Gonzalez. “No, I’m serious, go see if he can play.”

Jimmy Connors was still young enough in those days to do Gonzalez’s bidding – in fact there were very few pros on the tour who would have wanted to cross the man they called Gorgo and so off he went to hit balls with this tiny little chap who clutched the racket in both hands and whacked it was amazing power.

Andre Agassi really was four years old and it really was where it all started for this amazing personality who has grown, from uncertain beginnings, into an icon of world sport. To be honest, it took me a while to become a believer. During his first years on the tour, Andre was too brash, too Day-Glow; too Las Vegas and too suspicious of those around him for me to see anything in him other than a superbly gifted striker of a tennis ball.

But, as the years passed and the way he handled himself in front of the media began to evolve, I started to see behind the mask. There was an honesty and a vulnerability there which became appealing. It soon became apparent that, even after winning his first Wimbledon in 1992, Agassi was one of the least self-confident champions I had ever known.

I think the first time I really flat-out admired him as a person came with the great fall of 1997 when he plunged to 141 in the world, having been No 1 less than two years before. Some players would have given up; very few would have chosen the humiliation of playing a Challenger in their own back yard as the place to begin the mountainous climb back to the top. But Agassi played that tournament in Las Vegas and lost to a German whose name escapes me in the final. I think many players would have chosen Bolivia or Timbucktoo to go through that ordeal but Andre fronted up and, in 1999, finished the year back at No 1. Of all his fantastic achievements, I think that ranks amongst the greatest.

More recently, I have got to know him a person and the admiration has only increased. It is now clear that he has grown into a world citizen with a very sincere understanding of his position and the responsibility he feels it brings. When asked why he spent so much time and energy in raising millions of dollars for his charter school in Las Vegas, his reply is simple. “If you are in my position, how could you not want to try and help improve children’s lives?”

It is a question that does require an answer. When I visited Agassi Prep in one of the poorest sections of his glittering city last year, I was stunned by what the Agassi Foundation has a achieved. The school stands as a monument to one man’s determination to make a difference in people’s lives as well as to many people’s hard work in ensuring that the dreams are realized. Amongst numerous giant photos of Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa and Muhammad Ali that adorn the school walls, there is just one of Agassi himself. It sits below a quote from Winston Churchill which says, “Never give up. Never, never, never, never…….”

- Richard Evans, one of the world's leading tennis authorities, is the author of 15 books on tennis, rugby and cricket.


Friday, September 1, 2006  
By Paul Malone

Andre Agassi says New York is his kind of town, but Australian tennis fans have long felt a kinship with Agassi because Melbourne is the place where he won half of his eight Grand Slam titles.

It was not always that way. Agassi was the last great player in tennis to be convinced that it was worth his while to play the Australian Open, clearly the runt of the Grand Slam litter until its 1983 rejuvenation and its 1988 rebirth with the construction of Melbourne's National Tennis Centre.

He was not the fan favorite when he won his first Australian Open, in 1995, at his first attempt, three years after he had won Wimbledon in his Grand Slam breakthrough.

Women loved his pirate look of the time and young Australians rallied to his charisma and flamboyant game. But it was the year that runner-up Pete Sampras won his quarter-final against Jim Courier by serving aces through his tears after a spectator urged Sampras to win it for his coach Tim Gullikson, who had been diagnosed with brain cancer, and there was room for only sentimental favorite.

Over the years, Agassi told we Australians what we wanted to hear, that the country was one of his favourite places to play tennis. Just another case of Agassi spreading sweetness and light as he travelled around the world in his later years as an unofficial international tennis emmisary.

One year in Melbourne, he remarked that what with his son Jaden's passion for "the Wiggles" and the calm coaching of Darren Cahill, part of Team Agassi for its last four years, it felt like he was surrounded by Australians. Agassi said on his last few visits that he wished he had played earlier at the Australian Open, which he would win in 1995, 2000, 2001 and 2003 -- more than any man in the Open era.

The slow, reliable, higher bounce of Rebound Ace and the hot temperatures gave the tennis magician a sense of certainty in his hitting zone and also gave him full value for his annual herculean December training sessions in Las Vegas with conditioner Gil Reyes.

By winning in three consecutive Melbourne appearances in 2000-03 – he could not play in 2002 because of a hand injury -- Agassi always arrived in Melbourne fitter than the rest from driving his legs up and down a hill near his home in Las Vegas. Other players less committed to a flying start to the new tennis year floundered in his wake.

When he beat a cramping Pat Rafter, later to be voted Australian of the Year for his sportsmanship and destined never to win his national championship, in a 2001 Melbourne Park semi-final, it was not held against him. The previous year Agassi had beaten Sampras in a semi-final in one of the Australian Open's greatest matches, one of those precious contests which has made a night in front of television to watch a showcase night match a common theme of an Australian's sports-mad summer.

Agassi has seemingly played in more of those memorable Melbourne Park matches than anyone else, which partly explains his enduring popularity in our country. Agassi's last match in Australia was in a 2005 quarter-final won in straight sets by Roger Federer and he went down, typically, with nothing less in his arsenal despite a straight-sets margin, saying his goodbyes, as became his custom, just in case he wasn't able to come back.

Cahill savored in New York the memory of the 2003 Australian Open win as being the best tennis he played during their association. "He may have played better over the time he was with Brad Gilbert, but Andre was on autopilot that year," Cahill, a 1988 US Open semi-finalist, said. "We'd always play four games on every off-day to finish off 30 or 40 minutes of practice. There were eight off-days counting the one before the start of the tournament. I'm normally good to win a serve-volley game every day, lose 3-1 maybe, but during that Australian Open I was down 32-0. "It was that he knew the conditions, knew the balls, knew the opponents and knew he was going to be ready for anything."

- Paul Malone is tennis writer for Brisbane's Courier-Mail newspaper and covered his first Australian Open in 1987.


Thursday, August 31, 2006  
By Tom Tebbutt

My first memory of Andre Agassi would be watching him on television playing John McEnroe in the Stratton Mountain quarterfinals in 1986. The next was at the 1988 French Open when he made it to the semifinals wearing his denim shorts. I recall that it was a rainy day and he showed his flair as a showman by grabbing an umbrella and, holding it, pretended to return serve against Mats Wilander.

Maybe my most vivid French Open memory was sitting down by the court during his 1990 final against Andres Gomez. I recall him turning around and saying to his then coach Nick Bollettieri, who was seated behind the court, something like, “this guy (Gomez) is playing out of his mind.” Andre was favored and probably should have won that match but he was a little over-confident and Gomez did play ‘out of his mind.’

The following year, I remember feeling sorry for him because he was again arguably the better player but lost the final to Jim Courier after leading by a set and 3-1 before rain interrupted the match. Things were not the same when played resumed and Courier won in five sets.

It has always seemed ironic to me that he probably should have won Roland Garros in both 1990 and 1991 but did not win it until 1999 when he probably shouldn’t have won – Moya had him a set and 4-1, Clement had him two points from defeat and Hrbaty was beginning to get to him in damp conditions in the semifinal when the match was put over until the Saturday.

My favorite personal memory occurred that same year when I got him to autograph a small French Open poster during the Canadian Open in Montreal. I waited outside where he would take tournament transport one night. When he came out with Brad Gilbert, I asked him to sign the poster, indicating that I would get Steffi Graf (the women’s champion) to sign opposite him.

I’ll never forget how he was somehow exaggerated in saying, “It would be an honor for me to sign beside Steffi.” About a month later, after he won the US Open and their romance became public, I laughed to myself about how he had kind of put one over on me in Montreal.

A final thought, somewhere in the 2000s, his press conferences became almost like college tutorials. He was able to explain, in a way no other player did, the intricacies of match strategy and emotion that determine the outcome of matches. I’m convinced that ability, and his natural enthusiasm for the game, will make him an excellent television commentator in the not too distant future.

- Tom Tebbutt is the leading tennis writer in Canada. He writes for the Toronto Globe and Mail and has been covering the sport for more than 30 years.


Wednesday, August 30, 2006  
By Steve Flink

Across the last 21 years of a scintillating career, the inimitable Andre Agassi has left us with a treasure chest of memories. We have witnessed the American icon displaying his signature brand of backcourt tennis from his late teens, through his twenties and deep into his thirties, and over that remarkable span he has often confounded us and seldom bored us. To be sure, he has been one of the game’s most compelling players, a champion who reinvented himself over and over again, a personality who transcended tennis in many ways.

Having watched Agassi play the game hundreds of times since he established himself among the top three in the world 18 years ago, it is no simple task to select one memory that stands out above all of the rest. But, in the end, I always think of his astonishing title run at Wimbledon in 1992, when he captured his first Grand Slam tournament as the No. 12 seed on the lawns of the All England Club. I had seen Agassi get crushed in straight sets by then world No. 1 Jim Courier only weeks before at the French Open in the semifinals, and figured after that penetrating defeat he would come into Wimbledon devoid of confidence and full of uncertainty.

How wrong that assumption was. Agassi - who had skipped Wimbledon from 1988-90 during his defiant years as he thumbed his nose at the shrine of the sport - had returned in 1991 to reach the quarterfinals. Now, a year later, he found his range ably on the grass. In the quarterfinals, he upended three-time champion Boris Becker in a stirring five set collision. One round later, he upended another three time victor named John McEnroe in a straight set demolition. And then, in an absorbing final, he overcame the ever dangerous Goran Ivanisevic in five tumultuous sets.

He would never win Wimbledon again, but at 22 he came through very much against the odds, demonstrating in the process that he was a player for all surfaces, delighting the Wimbledon crowds not only with his talent but his temerity.

- Steve Flink is a senior correspondent for Tennis Week and has been reporting on the game for over 30 years.

 
Tuesday, August 29, 2006  
By Neil Harman

Andre Agassi and I have something distinctive in common, we can both say that it all started for us at the 1986 US Open, his first and mine (we both had a lot more hair then). About only few tennis players since have I written more words, indulged in more vivid emotions and watched with such wholesome fascination and all those have been British.

Agassi was never, in truth, the prettiest player - there was nothing docile or genteel about his approach to striking a tennis ball - but when he was on the court, something was happening, electricity was being generated, there was a buzz, a real sense of an event. As ugly as this phrase is, Agassi made tennis happen.

Through his many metamorphoses, the fashion and fad changes, the hair, the shorts, the diets, the girlfriends, the gurus, the coaches, the bumps, the grinds, the excellent press conferences and the disappearing acts, Agassi the kind of personality who demanded front page reviews.

If there is a sadness at his departure, it is the more raw because, through these two decades, I never thought I really knew him. I watched in awe, I listened intently, I admired but was slightly disconcerted at the way when you asked him a question his eyes never left you until it was answered to his satisfaction, but he was forever thought provoking, articulate, reasoned, riled once in a while, though more often than not, in measured self control.

Ostensibly he was a touch aloof - and I am sure he wanted it that way, that the media could get close, but not close enough to disturb the rhythms and rhymes of his life. And yet he never hid, either on court or off it. He tried to live his life as normally as he was allowed given the fact that whatever he did was bound to generate a reaction.

The Agassi of 1986 was impetuous, strong-willed, a sassy kid with such flair and inhibition it took the breath away. Burn out was a real possibility. The Agassi of 2006 is cherished for having held it all together and remaining so incredibly sane. There are those who believe he could run for Governor of Nevada. If he did, the result would mirror the first 36 years of his life. He would win.

- Neil Harman, like Andre Agassi made his US Open debut in 1986. Harman is the chief tennis writer for the Times of London.


Monday, August 28, 2006  
By Joel Drucker

When it comes to memories of Andre Agassi, there’s tons to be said about his visible highlights, particularly all those Grand Slam campaigns. So let’s go elsewhere.

Let’s go to San Jose, to the SAP Open, an event Agassi has played virtually every year since 1990. Held indoors at the H-P Pavilion, this tournament is played on one court. Obviously, practice time is at a premium.

One of my favorite Agassi memories has been watching him arrive to the court to practice prior to his evening match. He’d pull up in his limo, tumble out with Gil Reyes and walk the halls with an eager bounce. On evenings when he was less rushed or waiting for the day session to end, he’d take a few minutes to shoot the breeze with some of us tennis folk – reporters, tournament staff -- he’d known for a while.

Over the years I’ve become increasingly fond of talking with Agassi about the nitty-gritty details of how the game is played. Since recreational players usually play points that last no longer than two or three shots, the tactical approach is pretty much like checkers: hit to the guy’s weak side. But with the pros it’s more like chess. To hear Agassi discuss how he’d build a point with seven to ten shots proved to me once and for all that this was a man who’d matured into consummate student of the game.

Then he’d get on the practice court, waiting patiently while another peer, such as his rival Michael Chang, finished up his session. I’ve always enjoyed watching the way players interact with one another on practice courts. It reminds me of an office, with executives shuffling in and out of conference rooms, waiting in line at the employee cafeteria no matter what the rank in the organization. Agassi here was no superstar but just another ballplayer.

The arena would be virtually empty, and I’d often take a seat courtside. Music would blast its way through the arena. And there would be the best forehand-backhand combo in tennis history, pounding away one drive after another, his eyes in rapt attention, his racket and body in perfect harmony. The tempo of Agassi’s balls would accelerate rapidly. This wasn’t a match cluttered with notions of outcome. It was merely the essence of tennis: one man, hitting one ball, for one moment. How lucky we are that Agassi’s moment has lasted so long.

- Joel Drucker is one of the U.S.A's most respected tennis writers and commentators. Last year he interviewed Andre for an exclusive story in DEUCE Magazine. He is also the author of the book Jimmy Connors Saved My Life.

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