Come on, Andre - image is everything!
“Image is everything” is indeed a tag which stayed with Andre Kirk Agassi throughout his playing days. It was a tagline for Canon, for whom Agassi was doing an ad shot in 1989, but it accompanied him probably more than the brand itself.
Agassi was the definition of going against the grain, both in tennis and in life. As he says in his book ‘Open’, “ [I went] out of my way to pierce my ears. It’s an easy show of rebellion, which, as I see it, is my last resort.”
A rebel to the core
The ear-piercing happened when a thirteen year old Agassi was protesting his father’s decision to send him to Nick Bollettieri’s Tennis Academy in Florida. He added that during his days at the camp, rebellion was one thing that he got to choose.
In fact, he did not consider it a camp in the first place. About the camp he had said, “People like to call the Bollettieri Academy a boot camp, but it’s really a glorified prison camp.” Agassi left no stone unturned in displaying his rebellion. As he himself said, “What rebellion is left? What new sin can I commit to show the world I’m un- happy and want to go home?”
Surprising as it may seem, Agassi never liked tennis or for that matter any sport in his childhood. If at all, he had to play a sport then it had to be a team game like soccer. He had once begged to his father that he found tennis to be lonely. He had said, “There’s nowhere to hide when things go wrong. No dugout, no sideline, no neutral corner. It’s just you out there, naked.”
“You’re a tennis player! You’re going to be number one in the world!”
The entire fraternity should be thankful to Agassi’s father Emmanuel Mike Agassi, himself a former Olympic boxer from Iran, for ensuring that this maverick kid of his pursued tennis. To end any further discussion on the future of Andre, his father had said, “You’re a tennis player! You’re going to be number one in the world! You’re going to make lots of money. That’s the plan, and that’s the end of it.”
He indeed became number one (in April 1995) and went on to become one of the great players to have ever played the game of tennis. Agassi turned pro in 1986 and was one of the most talked about player both on and off the tennis court for the next twenty years.
The rebel fought and turned pro
But it was not that easy. Agassi had to fight at each step to reach to the top. After turning pro, it took him six years to win a grand slam title. In his first tournament as a pro in Schenectady, New York; he reached the finals and lost to Ramesh Krishnan, 6-2, 6-3.
Although he lost, he was not disappointed. Talking about that final, he said, “Krishnan is great, better than his ranking of forty-something, and I’m an unknown teenager, playing in the final of a fairly important tournament. It’s that ultimate rarity—a painless loss. I feel nothing but pride. In fact, I feel a trace of hope, because I know I could have played better, and I know Krishnan knows.
Career Golden Slam and a host of other records
Interestingly, the man who went on to win eight grand slam titles and an Olympics gold medal was not pleased when he had first turned pro.
Now it may not have sounded right then, but I am sure today he will not be complaining much. In the list of all time grand slam winners, he is at 9th place along with greats like Fred Perry, Ken Rosewall, Jimmy Connors and Ivan Lendl.
Agassi is also one of the only five single males player to achieve the Career Grand Slam in the Open Era and the first of two to achieve the Career Golden Slam (Career Grand Slam and Olympics Gold Medal).
Write him off at your own peril
Throughout his career, Agassi rose back from the ashes when everyone had written him off. After suffering an injury and a failed ATP drug test in 1997, he came back stronger the next year. In 1998, his ranking plummeted from world no. 110 to world no. 6, the highest jump into the top 10 made by any player during a calendar year.
“I’ve had a crush on Steffi since I first saw her doing an interview on French TV”
Like his tennis career, his personal life also had its share of ups and downs. Today, he is married to the tennis great Steffi Graf. His fascination for Graf is probably as old as his professional tennis career. Speaking about Graf he had said, “I’ve had a crush on Steffi since I first saw her doing an interview on French TV. I was thunderstruck, dazzled by her understated grace, her effortless beauty.”
Since retirement, he participates in charity tournaments and apart from his business ventures, continues his work with his own charity.
An inspiration to all
The legend, the rebel from Las Vegas turns 47 today and we wish him all the very best for this year and forever. His career is an inspiration to say the least. It is an inspiration for every common man who hates his job to go on and never quit till the objective is achieved.
As he had said, “I play tennis for a living, even though I hate tennis, hate it with a dark and secret passion, and always have”.Published 29 Apr 2017, 10:23 IST