NEWPORT, R.I. – From punk to paragon…
I wrote those words about him some time ago, and Andre Agassi didn’t like it.
“I’ve never been a punk or a paragon,” he countered.
OK, maybe not a punk in his childish days – but certainly he’s plenty admirable now, and has been, in his inspirational role as educator and numerous other charitable projects.
Oh, yes, he was one of the all-time greats at sweeping aside the opposition with a tennis racket. It was hitting tennis balls past foes that checked him into the International Tennis Hall of Fame this weekend at Newport’s Casino.
Andre has an appreciation for the celebration of past champions, the connection between the past, present and future that the Tennis Hall of Fame represents. The fact that memories of past champions are kept alive. He realizes it is a unique Hall of Fame in that it is really International as is the game of tennis. It belongs to the world.
This had nothing to do with Andre’s influence in getting kids to hit the books. And to move on educationally, even to college, all expenses paid for. But his dedication to building schools in troubled areas of hometown Las Vegas shows you the kind of guy who would stand tall in any Hall. Building my Academy and schools throughout the US “keeps my adrenaline level at an all time high. I hope my future will have a much more profound impact on the world than my past.” he says.
Andre has money. Lots of it, but he knows how to spend it in the right directions. His 21 year career as a professional, emblazoned with eight major singles titles and helping hands as the US won three Davis Cups, featured more turnarounds than a figure skater. He was on top of the world (16 times in the Top Ten), and scraping the bottom when injuries and ruptured motivation floored him.
Yet he was a highly competitive teen prodigy, driven by his father, unhappily at times. Andre says; “My story reveals a dramatic fall in tennis and in life. The question is what do you do when you lose hope? Hopefully …. folks will realize that regardless of how far they have fallen, there is hope. Life is full of second, third and fourth chances.” Where do you reach for inspiration to rebuild a shattered life? In his worst tumble, he ranked No. 141, and he had to slum it in the boonies to restore himself – the little glittering baldy who, age 35, kept Roger Federer nervous in their 4-set final of the 2005 US Open.
Crushed in the first round of Wimbledon, 1987, he detested grass and said he’d never return. But he did after ducking for three years and astounded everyone by making the 1992 Big W his first major prize, beating Goran Ivanisevic in 5. Goran had 36 aces, but Andre just kept his roaring groundies burning up the turf, incinerating the tall Croat.
By 1999 in Paris Andre was falling in love, and rising from 2 sets down, he beat Andre Medvedev for the French title. That propelled him into the tennis stratosphere alongside the guys who have won all four majors: Don Budge, Fred Perry, Rod Laver, Roy Emerson, and after Andre, Roger Federer Rafa Nadal.
But Andre, he of the early bizarre ensembles, kept the buzzing forehand and backhand in gear. He took the rival’s shots so early you thought he was playing ping pong.
Andre’s mantra now is: “Did I leave the world a better place? Did I create more than I consumed? Was I grateful for every day I as given? Did I do enough for the next generation?
However, the best of everything, he will tell you, is the lady who outgunned him, 22-8 in major singles titles. That would be the former “Fraulein Forehand,” Stephanie Graf, aka Mrs Agassi. She’s also ahead of him in making the Hall in 2007. He is honored that he will now be alongside her there as well.
That’s fine with Andre. At least he tied her in Olympic gold.