The year was 1988. Ivan Lendl, then the no. 1 ranked tennis player in the world, was attempting to reach his seventh consecutive U.S Open final (He would tie the record of eight in a row the next year). Yet all the media attention was focused on his semi-final opponent; a longhaired, blonde, brash young eighteen year old from Las Vegas.
Now fast forward to the year 2003. It’s the final of the Australian Open and all the media attention is focused on a bald, soft-spoken thirty two year old playing probably the best tennis of his life.
Yes, it’s been quite the ride, and quite the transformation for Andre Agassi: from the flashy Las Vegas showman to the games elder statesman.
The flashy Agassi boycotted Wimbledon because of its all white attire policy. Then he made Wimbledon his first grand slam triumph in ’92. Now he wears predominately white no matter what the tournament.
He became the first unseeded player to win the U.S. Open in ’94, rose to the top of the tennis world briefly in ’95 and then disappeared into tennis wilderness.
The 90’s were supposed to be about Agassi. Instead they turned out to be about Sampras. It began to look like Agassi would never do justice to his talent.
Then just as it seemed Agassi had bottomed out, he turned it around once more. He dedicated his life to tennis again and the results were plain for all to see. Four consecutive grand slam finals and three grand slam titles between ’99 and ’00 rocketed him back to the top of his sport.
Agassi is now the sole survivor of a bygone era, stubbornly putting his body on the line week in and week out. Sampras can no longer push himself week after week. Courier is done. So is Chang. Edberg and Becker too. Agassi is challenging the kids to come get him and so far they haven’t been able to do the job.
What’s more the latest incarnation of Agassi appears to be here to stay. He understands his talent and its fleeting nature.
“I am really overwhelmed by it,” Agassi said after winning his 4th Australian Open. “I’ve said so many times as you get older you realize how quickly these moments pass and you want to make the most of them.”
Agassi is certainly making the most of “these moments”. He has eight grand slam titles now. It isn’t inconceivable that he could win another two or three before the end of his career. If that happens, and Agassi gets up there with Borg and Laver, then I believe he has a genuine case for being considered the best tennis player of all time.