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By Richard Pagliaro | Thursday, April 29, 2020

 
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Photo credit: Andre Agassi Instagram

Labels never limited Andre Agassi from playing for the lines and testing boundaries

One of the Open Era’s most transformative—and charismatic—champions, Agassi inspired a legion of loyalists.

More: Tsitsipas Pranks Kyrgios

It’s been a fascinating evolution from the teenager sporting a multi-colored mullet and ballistic forehand to the shaved-headed clinician wearing all-white and playing points like physical chess.

An insightful and thoughtful analyst of the sport, Agassi celebrates his 50th birthday today, April 29th.

Over the course of his glorious 21-year career, Agassi amassed 60 titles, including eight Grand Slam championships, and turned on a generation of fans and fellow players.

As a teenager, Agassi’s audacious apparel—acid-washed denim shorts covering hot-lava spandex, pink-striped polo shirts and a hairpiece that paid homage to Michael Bolton—outrageous shot-making skills and a sniper return game made him resemble a glam rocker, propelled the sport into pop culture and prompted a string of tags.

Pete Sampras called Agassi “my greatest rival”; Ivan Lendl branded him “a haircut and a forehand”; Barbra Streisand dubbed him “Zen Master”; Andy Roddick praised him as a “generous mentor”; and both Novak Djokovic and Grigor Dimitrov have called him coach.

Tennis Express

Agassi is an all-surface champion joining wife Steffi Graf, Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams as the only players in history to complete the career Golden Slam winning all four Grand Slam crowns and Olympic singles gold medal.

Throughout his life, Agassi has experienced extremes that shaped the player and man he became.

A high school drop-out, he’s made education a primary pursuit of his post-playing career building and funding the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy. A man who flirted with crystal meth fixation before becoming fitness junkie, Agassi wandered in the desert dropping outside of the Top 140 in the world and scaled Magic Mountain, the steep hill near his Vegas home he used as a training ground.

In celebration of the Hall of Famer’s 50th birthday, here our 10 of our favorite moments from Andre Agassi’s career.

1995 Australian Open Final: Andre Agassi d. Pete Sampras, 4-6, 6-1, 7-6(6), 6-4





Las Vegas roots infused Agassi with an inherent understanding of the grand entrance.

In his Australian Open debut, Agassi upstaged archrival Sampras dethroning the defending champion with crackling drives and sharp angles.

Sporting a burgundy bandana over closed-cropped hair and multiple earrings, Agassi looked like a pirate and prowled the baseline like a shark.

Skimming the baseline and spitting back biting returns, Agassi swept straight-sets wins over Greg Rusedski, Patrick Rafter, Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Aaron Krickstein to charge into the final vs. archrival Sampras. The top-seeded Sampras broke down in tears in his quarterfinal win over Jim Courier anguished by his friend and coach Tim Gullikson’s battle with a brain tumor.

After dropping the opening set, Agassi dialed it in drilling shots with authority and pulled off a role-reversal in this rivalry surprising Sampras with a drop volley to take the tie break.

It was Agassi’s first of four Australian Open crowns as he rebranded his style from flashy shotmaker to punishing grinder.

1999 Roland Garros Final: Andre Agassi d. Andrei Medvedev, 1-6, 2-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4


The man British tabloids once mocked as “Gagassi” after he dropped his first three major finals, faced monumental pressure playing to complete the career Grand Slam in the 1999 Roland Garros final.

An overwhelming favorite against first-time finalist Andrei Medvedev, Agassi tightened up and fell into a two-set hole.

“The pressure of winning this tournament was much greater for me in ’99,” Agassi said. “Because I had already won the other ones and it was the last one for me. And I kind of knew I would never have a chance to do it again.”

Following fortuitous rain interruption and raging motivational locker room speech from coach Brad Gilbert, Agassi stormed back for a monumental major moment.

1992 Wimbledon Final: Andre Agassi d. Goran Ivanisevic, 6-7, 6-4, 6-4, 1-6, 6-4



Facing one of the sport’s most ferocious servers, Agassi let it fly and soared to his first career major crown in stirring style.

“I lost three Grand Slam finals because I was scared to lose—I played it safe,” Agassi said. “And I knew I couldn’t get away with that against Goran in the finals of Wimbledon. So that clarity really allowed me to relax. I felt like I was rolling the dice and I said I can’t wait to see if I can roll a number seven.”

Agassi toppled future Hall of Famers Boris Becker and John McEnroe in succession before staring down Ivanisevic’s lethal lefty serve. The Croatian cranked 36 aces in the final.

Breaking the left-handed Croatian in the final game of the match, Agassi crashed to the court shedding tears of joy while soaking in the moment.

“The feeling was disbelief,” Agassi said. “Then you go through a bit of relief where you finally did it. You can’t believe you proved it to yourself—and everybody else—that you can find a way to win. Then you go through a series of emotions…just being overjoyed. It was like all of that happening at one time. There was no making sense of that moment.

1999 US Open Final: Andre Agassi d. Todd Martin, 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-7(2), 6-3, 6-2




Empowered by his success in Paris, Agassi lit up New York in a riveting all-American final.

The game’s most dangerous returner did not drop serve in winning his fifth major title, including his second of the season.

It came two years after Agassi plunged to No. 141 in the world rankings later revealing he battled substance issues and an internal hate for the sport before recommitting to tennis and finding his passion to play.

Sprinting to his court-side seat throughout the fifth set, Agassi showed staying power and an appreciation for lessons learned.

“Part of me is convinced that if it wasn't for those valleys, the these peaks wouldn't be this high,” Agassi said. “It's kind of how my spirit has always worked.”

Agassi’s comeback from two-sets-to-one down came 50 years after his brother-in-law, Pancho Gonzales, made history as the first man to fight back from a two-set deficit in the U.S. Nationals, now US Open, championship match.

2005 US Open Quarterfinals: Andre Agassi d. James Blake, 3-6, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3, 7-6 (5)



Summoning the warrior within, a 35-year-old Agassi battled back from a two-set deficit for the sixth time, out-dueling buddy James Blake in an electrifying night match that ended after 1 a.m. and remains a New York City sports classic.

Yonkers, N.Y. native Blake served for the match at 5-4 in the fifth set and took a 5-4 lead in the tiebreaker, but Agassi smacked a screaming a forehand return winner to level it, and hit the same shot to seal an electrifying win that ended with fans chanting “Andre! Andre!”

“[When people ask:] ‘What does the Open mean to you?’ That's what it means, what you just saw out there,” Agassi said in a 1:30 a.m. post-match press conference. “There's no place like it. It's 1:15 in the morning, 20,000 people out there, and tennis won tonight. That happens here in New York.”

1996 Olympic Gold Medal Final: Andre Agassi d. Sergi Bruguera, 6-2, 6-3, 6-1



Forty-four years after his father, Mike Agassi, made his Olympic debut as a boxer for Iran, Andre Agassi struck gold in Atlanta.

Agassi conquered a variety of opponents including Jonas Bjorkman, ATP CEO Andrea Gaudenzi, Wayne Ferreira and Leander Paes en route to the gold.

Agassi, wife Steffi Graf, Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams are the only four players to complete the career Golden Slam winning all four major titles and the Olympic singles gold.

1994 US Open Final: Andre Agassi d. Michael Stich 6-1, 7-6 (3), 7-5



Deconstructing Stich’s dynamic attacking game with laser returns, the 20th-ranked Agassi charged to the title before an enthusiastic crowd, including girlfriend Brooke Shields.

In this pre 32-seed era, Agassi made history joining Aussies Mal Anderson and Fred Stolle as just the third unseeded man to take the U.S. title.

2003 Tennis Masters Cup Houston: Roger Federer d. Andre Agassi 6-7 (3), 6-3, 7-6 (7)



Iconic champions collaborated on a three-set classic back when the ATP Finals were staged outdoors at Houston’s Westside Tennis Club.

Two of the greatest of all time taking the ball on the rise produce rallies here that pop off the screen as if enhanced by CGI.

The clash of swoosh superstars climaxed with Federer firing a forehand down the line to fight off match point then flicking a slick-angled forehand pass ending a match that signaled the Swiss’ rise. Days later, Federer defeated Agassi 6-3, 6-0, 6-4 to take the title.

Agassi’s post-match presser solidified his status as one of the most insightful interviews in the sport as he compared the 22-year-old Federer to his old rival, Pete Sampras.

“I think Pete's serve was better than Roger's, but Roger moves better than Pete,” Agassi said. “Roger is much better off the ground and also better off the return but doesn't quite volley as well. “So how do you rate how all that's gonna play out? So it's not easy, but you got to definitely look at him and say, "Okay, you do these things exceptional and you do these things really good." That's a tough package…[He’s] as good as it gets out there.”

Andre on Steffi's Inspiration

Agassi brought waterworks to Newport's historic grass moving many to tears with his heart-felt Hall of Fame induction speech honoring wife Steffi Graf.




Playing pro tennis with a 22-time Grand Slam champion looking over your shoulder may sound daunting.

For Agassi it was calming.

"Steffi was a reminder of what I needed to do when I was out there. When I looked up, she always had a focus about her, an intensity," Agassi says of his wife. "A deep care and commitment to the task at hand. It was just hard for me to lose focus when she was there. It was a lot easier for me to concentrate on the task at hand."

 

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