Tennis greats are never born, only made. While modern greats Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic have set new records in terms of Grand Slam victories, other legends came before them. We have already featured Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors in this series, three men who redefined the sporting focus tennis enjoyed.
Between those greats retiring and the current ‘Holy Trinity’ taking over the mantle as greats who would sweep all before them, however, there was a fantastic yet often overlooked period of tennis, dominated by three Americans – Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and Jim Courier. Between then, the trio won an incredible 18 Grand Slam titles. We’ve already written on the power and majesty of ‘Pistol’ Pete Sampras. We continue our look at these understated trendsetters with an indulgence in Andre Agassi bizarre, often frustrating, but ultimately fairytale career.
Of the three American sharpshooters we’re featuring in this series of articles, Andre Agassi’s career is one that almost defies narrative, so broken was the path of his career.
The young Andre Agassi was a fantastic tennis player as a child, winning from the age of 12 pretty consistently. When he was 13, Agassi was sent to Nick Bolleteri’s Florida-based tennis academy, refused to take money for him, he was that good, stating, “Take your check back. He’s here for free.”
A tennis pro from the age of 16, Agassi set teenage records on fire, and reached both the semi-final s of the French Open and U.S. Open in 1988. Losing the 1990 U.S. Open final to Sampras and 1991 French Open final had some pundits praising Agassi’s flexibility between clay and the hard court but questioning his ability to be the best on any surface. But it would be on the grass of Wimbledon that Agassi would prove the doubters wrong, winning in a thrilling five-set final against Goran Ivanisevic in the summer of 1992.
Winning with long hair, Agassi would be bald by 1995, but in that period, he had become world number one. A failed drugs test in 1997 looked to have cut short a career that would be one for the ages. However, 1998 saw Agassi return to the court and went from number 110 to the sixth best player in the world and in 1999 won the French Open after being two sets down to conquer the task of becoming the first man ever to win all four Grand Slam events on three different surfaces.
Agassi had mastered tennis and by his retirement in 2006 at the U.S. Open, had won eight Grand Slam titles, four Australian Open titles as well as two U.S. Opens and one slam each at Wimbledon and Roland Garros. With thrilling rivalries across his career with both of his fellow Americans, Pete Sampras and Jim Courier’s Agassi’s love for tennis even extended to his love life, as he married Steffi Graf and the couple have both a son and daughter.
Asked about whether he thought his baby might beat Pete Sampras’s child, Agassi said, “I got a hundred bucks says my baby beats Pete’s baby. I just think genetics are in my favour.”
The sometimes brash, always romantic Andre Agassi went down in tennis legend whe he told fans, “I’m going to go down swinging.”
That Agassi rose again to conquer one of the most unforgiving sports in the world says a lot for the champions he truly was.