Most eras in tennis are defined by the dominance of one or a handful of players.The 1990’s was the era of Agassi and Sampras, two great rivals of contrasting styles of play and temperament.Agassi was the mercurial bundle of energy to Sampras’ serious symbol of establishment values, a contrast which aptly fed the public’s desire for gladiatorial clashes.While Sampras came out on top by 20-14 in their 34 head-to-head career encounters, their battles were always intense and competitive.
Andre Agassi first turned pro in 1986 at 16 after a period of intense training, initially under the tutelage of his ambitious father and then at the Nick Bolloteri Academy.This ‘hothouse’ atmosphere trained Agassi for the eventual competitive crucible of the Tour, but as revealed in later years in his autobiography, it was not without costs at a personal level.
Looking at this career record, Agassi has to be considered among the very best players of all time.He is one of only four male players in the modern era to have won a Career Grand Slam (the other three being Laver, Federer and Nadal) and only one of two along with Nadal to have won a Career Golden Slam (which includes an Olympic gold medal).In the all-time list of Grand Slam event winners, with eight wins, he is in tied 8th position along with Perry, Rosewall, Connors and Lendl.
These significant achievements are even more impressive when one considers, for example, that the doyens of the 1970s/1980s, Borg and McEnroe respectively only managed to win Grand Slams in two of the four venues.The zeal to succeed was hard-wired into Agassi, a zeal he brought to all of the top events.
By no means a physical presence on court , his main strength was from the baseline, particularly on his return of serve.While his serve was of average quality, his groundstrokes on both sides were a constant threat to opponents.In a baseline tussle with any opponent, you were unlikely to bet against Agassi.
Known for his generous involvement in many charities, Agassi has put back a lot into the game.One half of a ‘celebrity couple’, his marriage to Steffi Graf has been a firm ballast in his life.
His career was sadly dogged by a series of injuries and deep lows, out of which he had to drag himself on a number of occasions. This reputation as the ‘comeback kid’ was a feature of Agassi that enamoured him to fans, particularly in the United States.Also to his credit, is his commitment to and success with the US Davis Cup team, leading the US to winning the Cup on two occasions in 1990 and 1992.In an event that has not always received the commitment from many of the Tour players it deserves, Agassi’s willingness to turn out for his country is admirable.
Fans on this side of the Atlantic will recall Agassi’s mixed relationship with the Wimbledon Championships.Refusing to play in the event between 1988 and 1990 at a time when one would have expected that a budding star would wish to establish a presence there, his absence was surprising. This stance was based apparently on an antipathy to establishment values including the wearing of white and to a discomfort on grass.Thus, his first and only Wimbledon title took until 1992 in which he beat Goran Ivanisevic in a five set final. His only other Wimbledon final was in 1999 when he lost out to his great nemesis, Pete Sampras.Finally coming to a realisation that you could not be ‘the best’ without participating and winning at Wimbledon spurred him on.Grass, however, did not entirely suit the Agassi game which was more about guile, touch and persistence than power and strength.
While a great hero of US fans, it was the Australian Open where Agassi really left his mark.He won the Australian title on four occasions, while winning the French and Wimbledon only once each and the US Open on two occasions.The surface at Melbourne played to his strengths and his appeal to the antipodean crowd, ever-enamoured by an anti-hero and a comeback kid, helped consolidate his relationship with the event.
Agassi was part of the Tour for twenty years (1986-2006), finally retiring after the 2006 US Open at which he made a touching and gracious valedictory speech.Although in many ways an individual and iconoclast, he was not in the category of a McEnroe or a Connors, generally behaving himself on court. His autobiography revealed many interesting facts about his inner struggles and his views on the game – some would say a necessary catharsis for a player so wound up to compete from an early age.He has done occasional commentary work and his charity activities remain a big part of his life.Retired seven years, he is now taking on the role of one of the game’s respected ‘elder statesmen’.In his era, he was part of a dominant duo along with Sampras and his career record puts him firmly among the top ten best players in the open era.