Born in Las Vegas on April 29, 1970, the American of Iranian descent, Andre Kirk Agassi, will go down as one of the greatest players ever to have graced the sport of tennis. After turning pro in 1986, Agassi enjoyed a hugely illustrious playing career, culminating in over 60 career titles, including eight Grand Slam singles titles, 17 ATP Masters Series titles and an Olympic gold medal.
He is one of only five male players to have won all four Grand Slam singles tournaments during his career. He earned the nickname “The Punisher” on tour, thanks to his skilful ability to manipulate his opponent, making them run relentlessly around the tennis court.
Agassi amounted over $30 million in prize money, third only to fellow American, Pete Sampras, and current world number one, Roger Federer. Additionally, Agassi earned over $25 million a year through endorsement. At the time, this was the most money earned by any tennis player and the fourth highest amount earned by any sportsman.
Since retiring, Agassi has taken part in a series of charity tournaments, and was a surprise commentator at the 2007 US Open quarter-final. During this appearance, he raised questions as to whether or not his next career move would see him become a regular pundit on our television screens.
Destined for Greatness
There can be no doubt that Andre’s father, former Iranian Olympic boxer Emmanuel ‘Mike’ Aghassian, had a huge influence upon his son’s sporting development. Despite appearing to be extremely domineering, Aghassian was confident that one day his son would win all four tennis Grand Slam tournaments.
He maintained a very organised and methodical approach to his coaching techniques. Such a will to succeed was exemplified when he famously called Agassi’s two older siblings “guinea pigs” in the development of his coaching techniques.
When Agassi was still in his cot, his father would hang tennis balls above him to perfect his eye-coordination. This obsessive behaviour continued when Agassi was in a high chair, as his father would arm him with paddles and balloons.
Agassi then went on to amass a collection of over 18,000 tennis balls (made up of rubbish bins filled with 300 tennis balls each). Agassi would hit 3,000 to 5,000 of these balls every day. By the time he had reached the age of five, he was already practising with the likes of Jimmy Connors and Roscoe Tanner. It became apparent that Agassi was destined for bigger and better things in the world of tennis.
Agassi the rebel
When Agassi was thirteen, he was sent to Nick Bollettieri’s Tennis Academy in Florida. However, the teenager soon rebelled, as he became increasingly unhappy at the academy. He drank beer, smashed racquets and grew a Mohawk haircut.
This rebellion was largely due to the fact that he had lived through such a controlled and disciplined upbringing. His father was also very homophobic, something which Andre famously rebelled against during a televised tournament. He shocked the public by sporting ripped denim jeans, and wore pink lipstick and pink nail varnish.
Agassi became simply too hot to handle for Bollettieri and was subsequently asked to leave the academy. At that stage in his development, Agassi had only one thing on his mind: turning professional. This aim was achieved, and by the time he was 16, he was ranked 91st in the world.
A baseline player
It was evident throughout his career that Agassi used a style of play suited to the baseline of the court. However, what made Agassi so different and effective was the fact that he made contact with the ball inside the baseline whenever he could- a very difficult skill, even by professional standards.
This ability was due to his astonishing hand-eye-coordination, as well as his skill in employing a short back swing when striking the ball. This technique led to many tennis greats describing him as the best service returner ever to play the sport.
Earlier in his career, Andre would try to win points quickly, by hitting sharply angled winners from the baseline. Later on in his career, though, Agassi focused more on his fitness, and became one of the fittest players on tour. He often appeared to place more emphasis on wearing down his opponent than actually winning the point.
Playing career- 1986-2006 -A success story
It was obvious that Andre Agassi was destined for greatness after he turned pro in 1986. Just two years after this turning point, he had already earned over $2 million in prize money- no one in the history of the sport had surpassed that amount so quickly.
At this point in his career, he still had a ‘rebellious’ image. He grew his hair, wore an earring, and dressed in colourful shirts. He really pushed the boundaries of the sport and neglected many of the traditions. This was exemplified when he chose not to enter the Australian Open for the first eight years of his career, and also decided not to play at Wimbledon for two years because of the event’s traditionalism (it had a “predominantly white” dress code).
However, sceptics thought that Agassi’s decision not to play at Wimbledon was due to the fact that he was a baseline player and the grass courts were more suited to serve and volley type players, such as Pete Sampras.
Ironically, Wimbledon brought Agassi’s first success at a Grand Slam. In 1992, he defeated Goran Ivanisevic in a five set final. He also defeated two former Wimbledon champions, Boris Becker and John McEnroe, on the way to the final. This was a surprising victory, as it would be another ten years before another baseliner would triumph at Wimbledon.
1995 was a big year for Agassi. He played in his first Australian Open, and was victorious. He beat his archrival Pete Sampras in a four set final. Agassi would go on to face Sampras in four other finals that year, winning two of them.
He also managed a career best 26 match-winning streak before losing out to Sampras in the final of the U.S. Open. Agassi was World Number One for thirty weeks in what was the best year of his career. He won 72 matches, losing just 10.
However, two years later, Agassi reached a low point in his career, failing to reach any Grand Slam finals. He also suffered a bad wrist injury, which meant he could only compete in 24 matches. His ranking fell to World Number 141. Misery was also seen in his personal life as his marriage to actress Brooke Shields came under severe scrutiny from the press.
A changed man
Agassi rededicated himself to tennis in 1998. He worked on his fitness and competed in Challenger Series tournaments to improve his rankings. By this stage, he had completely lost his rebel image, and was now a good role model for younger players. He went on to win five titles that year and climbed an astonishing 135 places, ending the year as World Number 6.
In 1999, he won both the French Open and the U.S Open, following victories over Andrei Medvedev and Todd Martin in respective finals. This made Agassi the only male player in the history of tennis to have won all four Grand Slam titles on three different surfaces- clay, grass and hard courts.
Agassi went on to claim three more Grand Slam titles (all at the Australian Open), before he retired from the game in 2006, after the U.S. Open.
Personal life- A charitable family man
In October 2001, Agassi married fellow tennis player, Steffi Graf. Their relationship blossomed after they were both crowned champions at the 1999 French Open. They shared a dance at the winner’s ball and then started dating. The couple live in Agassi’s hometown of Las Vegas, with their son, Jaden Gil, and a daughter, Jaz Elle.
Agassi is also a very charitable man. In 2001 he opened the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy in Las Vegas, a tuition-free charter school for at-risk children living in the area. Prior to this, he had been awarded the ATP Arthur Ashe Humanitarian award in 1995 for his efforts to help disadvantaged children.
Where now for The Punisher?
After such a successful playing career, it remains to be seen where Andre Agassi’s next adventure lies. He has commentated on television and remains passionate about tennis.
|Australian Open||1995, 2000, 2001, 2003|
|U.S. Open||1994, 1999|