Earlier this year Andre Agassi announced that the U.S. Open 
              would be his tennis career's swan song. (Clive Brunskill/Getty Images) Earlier this year Andre Agassi announced that the U.S. Open would be his tennis career's swan song. (Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)


Andre Agassi

Tennis's love affair with Agassi comes to an end

The Andre Agassi Era is over. Agassi, one of tennis's revered legends, walked off the tennis court a final time Sunday.

His eyes filled with tears, his body racked by back pain, Agassi kissed goodbye to the tens of thousands of fans who'd crammed into the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York – and the countless fans world wide – to witness his swan song.

"The scoreboard shows that I lost today. But what the scoreboard doesn't show is what I feel," said an emotional Agassi moments after being defeated by a 22-year-old qualifier, Benjamin Becker.

"Over the last 21 years, I have found you and I will take you and the memory of you with me for the rest of my life. Thank you."

Andre Agassi says good-bye

"The scoreboard said I lost today, but what the scoreboard doesn't say is what it is I have found. And over the last 21 years, I have found loyalty.

"You have pulled for me on the court and also in life. I've found inspiration. You have willed me to succeed, sometimes even in my lowest moments. And I've found generosity. You have given me your shoulders to stand on to reach for my dreams, dreams I could have never reached without you.

"Over the last 21 years, I have found you and I will take you and the memory of you with me for the rest of my life. Thank you."

The 36-year-old Las Vegas native announced earlier this year that the 2006 U.S. Open would be his last professional tournament.

That the curtain came down on his career in New York only seems appropriate. One of the greatest American players ever to pick up a racket, Agassi won the the U.S. Open twice and finished with an impressive 79-19 career record in his 21 years at the tournament. Only fellow American Jimmy Connors (98-17) has won more matches at the tournament in the Open Era.

Agassi's sparkling resume – eight Grand Slams, an Olympic gold medal, world No. 1 on six separate occasions, 60 career singles titles – combined with his charisma both on and off the court have made him the public face of tennis for close to two decades.

"He transcended the sport," tennis commentator Peter Burwash told CBC Sports Online. "He's one of the few people who non-tennis fans know and instantly recognize."

Once considered the young rebel of the men's circuit, Agassi is now one of the sport's goodwill ambassadors. It's a role that few tennis experts saw Agassi assuming when he turned pro in 1986.

Bucked tennis tradition

During the early part of his career, Agassi flouted tennis convention. The brash, image-conscience Agassi embraced a rebel lifestyle by growing his hair long, wearing an earring and sporting colourful shirts on the court.

From 1988 to 1990, he refused to play at Wimbledon, stating he didn't want to conform to the predominantly white dress code and because he was turned off by the tournament's unflinching traditionalism.

And, of course, there was his truculent relationship with the media.

Landis celebrates his Tour victory Rebel with a racket: Andre Agassi took pleasure in making life difficult for reporters during his early days on the tennis tour. (John Russell/Getty Images)

Agassi did not suffer fools gladly, and made it a habit of publicly belittling reporters with little knowledge of tennis whom he felt asked dumb questions at press conferences. Even seasoned tennis commentators bore Agassi's wrath.

"There was a period of time I really dreaded going down and talking to him because you never knew what was going to happen," recalled Burwash, a former Davis Cup player for Canada and currently an on-air tennis analyst for CBC Sports.

Agassi's career breakthrough came in 1992 when he beat Goran Ivanisevic in a tight five-set final at Wimbledon. More Grand Slam titles would follow (the U.S. Open in 1994 and the Australian Open in 1995) before he finally became the world's No. 1 player on April 10, 1995.

Two years later Agassi sank to No.141 in the rankings as he struggled on the court. Critics said he was losing interest in tennis as he became wrapped up in his Hollywood lifestyle and more focused on his marriage to actress Brooke Shields.

Leaps in rankings

Agassi quickly rebounded and won five titles, leaping from No. 141 in the rankings at the start of 1998 to No. 6 by the end of the year.

Agassi's new-found maturity paid dividends on the court. He racked up more Grand Slam titles, including the 1999 French Open, as he made the transformation from tennis's bad boy to the sport's elder statesman.

Following his 1999 divorce, Agassi married former world No. 1 women's player Steffi Graf in 2001. The couple had two children together as Agassi entered a new phase of his life, that of a family man.

"Before with Agassi, it was, 'How did I look?' or 'What was my image like?' And then he started to become a very good ambassador for the sport," said Burwash. "He took on the ownership of the game, which helped him play better matches."

Last year, Agassi defied age – and pundits who said his best tennis was behind him – when he went on a Cinderella-like run in the U.S. Open before losing to world No. 1 Roger Federer in the final.

His quarter-final match against fellow American James Blake is considered one of the best matches in tournament history. After dropping the first two sets, Agassi fought back and won a fifth-set tiebreaker in a marathon match that ended at 1:15 a.m.

Despite an early exit in New York this year, there's no denying where Agassi ranks amongst tennis's greatest players of all-time.

"He's in the Top 10. He did win [all of] the Grand Slams. He won the French Open, which is what Roger Federer hasn't done and Pete Sampras never did," said Burwash.

"Overall, he certainly was the charisma of the game for the last decade because it was a pretty darn boring group of players for the most part," added Burwash.

Never boring. Always entertaining.

That's Agassi's true legacy.

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Quick Facts

Born: April 29, 1970, in Las Vegas, Nevada

Athletic family: Agassi's father, Emmanuel, was a boxer for Iran at the 1948 and 1952 Olympics. Agassi is married to women's tennis legend Steffi Graf. The couple has two children.

Playing style: Agassi was tennis's ultimate baseline bomber. He used powerful ground strokes and precise angles to dominate bigger, faster players. He's considered the best serve returner ever,

Pro career: Agassi turned professional in 1986 and won his first top-level singles title in 1987. He went on to claim 59 more singles titles and completed the career grand slam in 1999 when he won his only French Open. He won Wimbledon in 1992, the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1999 and the Australian Open in 1995, 2000, 2001 and 2003.

Golden: Agassi won the men's singles gold medal at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, beating Sergi Bruguera of Spain in the final.


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