It’s hard to believe that the rebel with a mullet, who once wore denim-lycra shorts and played tennis with great flair, has today turned 50 years.
When the sport was looking for a new star, Agassi, with his two-toned shoulder length hair, thunderous forehands, but no volley, came onto the scene. His rise from a Nick Bollettieri protégé to the Top 10 of the FedEx ATP Rankings was meteoric — No. 310 on his Stratton Mountain debut in August 1986 to a year-end No. 3 in 1988.
As a marketing dream, his every move quickly fell under the spotlight. Tipped for early success, he finally made a breakthrough in 1992, in the unlikely setting of Wimbledon, away from early successes on hard or clay courts, for the first of his eight major championships.
Agassi played first-strike tennis, looking to end points as quickly as possible. But under the guidance of Brad Gilbert, for eight years from 1994, the American’s game matured and he learned to dictate play from the baseline, with accurate groundstrokes — almost identical in strength. He wore down his opponents with his superior conditioning and depth of shot, particularly off return of serve.
The change brought him to No. 1 for the first time on 10 April 1995, a year he compiled a 73-9 match record and shaved his head. While a gold medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics was a further high point, a right wrist injury resurfaced and, combined with off-court personal issues, he memorably dropped to No. 141 on 10 November 1997.
Many doubted he’d get back to his peak performance days, but Agassi returned. In better physical shape, he became the fifth of eight men in the sport’s history to complete a career Grand Slam at 1999 Roland Garros, a result that soon took him to No. 1 again and also the beginning of a relationship with former WTA World No. 1 Steffi Graf, his wife of 18 years. A second US Open trophy helped him finish the year in top spot for the first time.
With greater stability, he won three further Australian Open crowns (2000-01, 2003), rose to No. 1 on two occasions in 2003 at the age of 33 (a then record) and was idolised by a new generation, who universally respected him through to his playing retirement. Following his emotional and heartfelt speech at the 2006 US Open, when one way of life came to an end, Agassi slipped seamlessly into another.
As an eighth-grade dropout, his lack of quality education had long bothered the Las Vegan. So, at the age of 23 in 1994, he was savvy enough to prepare for the next two-thirds of his life, with the establishment of the Andre Agassi Foundation for Education.
While Agassi always enjoyed tennis work, he was indifferent to the scoreboard — winning and losing matches. But by using education to create choices for current and future generations, he found a way to keep going in a 21-season playing career, by also becoming a venerable educator. Agassi Prep, now an education model in Las Vegas, opened in 2001, and, to-date, the American has deployed more than $650 million nationally for 79 new schools.
While he has returned as a coach to Novak Djokovic and, most recently, Grigor Dimitrov, it is as a father to two teenage children, Jaden Gil and Jaz Elle, and as an inspirational educator, that he is most proud.