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Andre Agassi -- 10 Greatest Achievements
Posted on June 24, 2006
Andre Agassi has achieved more in his playing days than almost any other player in history. Greg Sharko looks at the 10 accomplishments that have defined his career. First published in DEUCE Magazine.
Agassi came into Wimbledon ranked No. 14 and it was only his third career tournament on grass, having lost in the first round to Henri Leconte at the All England Club in 1987 and in the quarterfinals to fellow Nick Bollettieri Academy pupil David Wheaton in five sets in 1991. Agassi's early round matches included wins over Andrei Chesnokov, Eduardo Masso, Derrick Rostagno and Christian Saceanu before he faced his first test in the quarterfinals against three-time champion Boris Becker. Agassi defeated the German in five sets, then ousted another former three-time winner, John McEnroe, in an impressive straight-sets semifinals victory in the left-hander's last singles match at Wimbledon.
That set up an intriguing championship match with hard-serving Goran Ivanisevic, who was appearing in his first Grand Slam final. Agassi entered his fourth Grand Slam title match as the underdog to the eighth-ranked Croat, who was coming off consecutive victories over Ivan Lendl, Stefan Edberg and Pete Sampras. After losing the opening set in a tie-break in his three previous matches, Ivanisevic turned the tables and won the first set in a tie-break against Agassi. But in the second game of the second set, Agassi broke Ivanisevic for the first time and went on to win the set 6-4. Agassi won the third set by the same score before Ivanisevic stormed back to win the fourth set 6-1 to even the match. One of the key moments in the decisive set came with Agassi serving at 3-4, 30-40. Agassi ended up holding his serve and minutes later he broke Ivanisevic at 5-4, dropping to the ground and laying there face down before rising with tears in his eyes.
Agassi had survived 37 of Ivanisevic's aces to become the lowest seed (12) ever to become champion. Agassi joined countrymen Stan Smith (1972), Arthur Ashe (1975), Jimmy Connors (1974, '82) and John McEnroe (1981, '83-84) to win the prestigious Wimbledon title in the Open Era (since 1968).
Andre on Andre: "I had a good record against Boris. While he had played pretty well at Wimbledon, I felt pretty relaxed out there. I remember playing a pretty good match and playing a great fifth set against him. McEnroe was sort of a wild card, because I hadn't played him, and obviously being on grass I knew it was a great surface for him. I was hitting the ball so clean, I just felt in control of everything. Then Goran, I mean, we didn't break each other the first set. He beat me 7-6. I broke first game of the second, first game of the third, then I didn't lose my serve those two sets for four and four. He put together a great fourth, beating me 6-1. In the fifth, I was just holding on for dear life. I happened to get a couple double-faults at 4-5 and a couple good returns, and there you have it."
Agassi is one of the top players in U.S. Davis Cup history, having compiled a 30-6 career record and helping the U.S. win their last three titles (1990, 1992 and 1995). He also was a member of the runner-up squad in 1991. Agassi's 30 singles wins is second all-time in U.S. history behind John McEnroe's 41 and his 35 singles matches played is the third-most in U.S. history, trailing only McEnroe (49) and Vic Seixas (36). Agassi made his Davis Cup debut in 1988 at the age of 17 years, 10 months, 9 days (fifth-youngest American) in Peru, defeating Jaime Yzaga in four sets. He participated in 21 ties over 10 years and from 1991-98, he tied a U.S. Davis Cup record by winning 16 consecutive singles matches, a feat first accomplished by the great Bill Tilden from 1920-26. In 1990, he rallied from a 1-2 sets deficit against Richard Fromberg in the opening rubber of the final in St. Petersburg, Fla. to win 6-4 in the fifth set and lead the U.S. to a 3-2 victory. It was the first U.S. Davis Cup title since 1982.
In 1992, Agassi played in all four home ties, compiling a 7-0 singles record, highlighted by a straight-sets victory over Switzerland's Jakob Hlasek in the opening match of the final in Ft. Worth, Texas. The U.S. went on to win 3-1. Three years later, Agassi won a quarterfinal match against Italy and another in the semifinals against Sweden to help the U.S. to the final in Russia where long-time rival Pete Sampras led the Americans to a 3-2 victory.
Andre on Andre: "In '92 is when we had the "dream team" put together -- me, Pete (Sampras), Jim (Courier) and (John) McEnroe. You know, it just felt like we knew we could win the whole thing, and we took care of business from start to finish. It was a great group of guys. We just really all got along really well, and we all felt like we were part of a real team."
Olympic Gold, Atlanta, 1996
Agassi became the first American man to capture an Olympic gold medal in singles since Vincent Richards in 1924. Three years later, he would win the Roland Garros title in Paris and by doing so, become the first man to win all four Grand Slam singles titles and an Olympic gold medal in the history of the sport.
Coming into the Olympics, the top-seeded Agassi had struggled in his last four tournaments (winning three matches) after a 17-4 start in the first three months. He lost in the second round at Roland Garros and in the first round at Wimbledon.
Agassi's road to gold was not an easy one. In his first round match against Jonas Bjorkman, the Swede had two set points in the first set tie-break and served for the second set at 5-4 but Agassi prevailed in two tie-breaks. In the third round against Andrea Gaudenzi, the Italian led 6-2, 3-1, 40-15 but Agassi rallied to win 2-6, 6-4, 6-2. In the quarterfinals against Wayne Ferreira, the South African served for the match at 5-4 in the third set but Agassi won the final three games to reach the medal round.
In the semifinals against Leander Paes, Agassi again got out of trouble as the Indian wild card led 6-5 and had 15-40 on Agassi's serve in the first set. Agassi won 7-6, 6-3. The close matches gave Agassi confidence going into the gold medal match against Sergi Bruguera. He needed only 77 minutes to defeat the Spaniard 6-2, 6-3, 6-1. After his gold medal performance Agassi said, ?To win a Grand Slam in the sport of tennis is the biggest thing you can accomplish inside your sport, but the Olympics is the biggest thing you can do in all sports. It's a small part of an amazing moment, a small part of an event that is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. To win a gold medal is what it?s all about."
Andre on Andre: "It wasn't necessarily a great year for me, meaning I wasn't playing great tennis. But I went there with a real specific plan to get a medal and ideally the gold. You get one shot at it, really. As an athlete in tennis you don't know if four years later you'll still be playing, let alone have another shot at it. There was a lot on the line. I just remember working so hard leading up to that event. I'll just never forget how it felt to put the gold medal around my neck. I was down a set and I think even a break to (Andrea) Gaudenzi. I found a way to get through it. Six and six first round over (Jonas) Bjorkman. Wayne Ferreira served for the match against me in the third set. So it was like where dreams happen. I had no idea how I won that that year."
17 ATP Masters Series Titles
Of Agassi's 60 career titles, which ranks him No. 7 on the Open Era list (since 1968), a record 17 have come in ATP Masters Series tournaments. Over a 10-year span (from 1994-2003), Agassi won at least one ATP Masters Series title in eight different years (except 1997 and 2000). Agassi is the only player to win seven different ATP Masters Series tournaments, having won six times in Miami (Key Biscayne), three in Canada (Toronto/Montreal) and Cincinnati, twice in Paris and once in Indian Wells, Rome and Madrid. The only events he has not won in four attempts (each) are in Monte Carlo and Hamburg.
Long-time rival Pete Sampras is next on the ATP Masters Series titles list with 11 followed by Roger Federer with 10, Thomas Muster with eight and Michael Chang with seven. When Agassi tied wife Steffi Graf's mark of five Miami titles in 2002, he said afterwards, "You know, the way things are going, I have a shot at passing her because I know she's not gonna win another one. I'm moving up in the household."
He won his first Masters Series title in Miami in 1990, defeating Stefan Edberg. He then won back-to-back titles in 1995-96 before capturing three straight crowns from 2001-03. His tournament record 20-match winning streak came to an end in 2004 when he lost to Agustin Calleri in the fourth round.
Andre on Andre: "Eighteen years? you have more chances to win. So I've just had more chances at the basket, I think, than most guys. But I love playing in Key Biscayne. It's a great environment for me: great court, great conditions, it's hot, it's breezy; it gives me a chance to do some of my best work."
The Grand Slam, Roland Garros 1999
The Grand Slam title that eluded Agassi in 10 previous visits to Roland Garros was the one many expected the American to have captured earlier in his career. Agassi reached his first Grand Slam final at age 20 in Paris in 1990 and one year later repeated his performance. Both times Agassi was ranked higher than his final opponent, and both times he fell short, losing to veteran Andres Gomez in four sets in '90 and to countryman Jim Courier in five sets in '91.
It would be eight years later before Agassi would return to the championship match at Stade Roland Garros. Even before Agassi stepped foot on the red clay in Paris, there were doubts whether he would play the tournament after retiring with a right shoulder injury the previous week in a World Team Cup match. He also withdrew from three other tournaments that spring. Getting to that final in 1999 was an obstacle course from the first round on.
In his opening round against clay courter Franco Squillari, Agassi lost the first set but rallied to win in four sets. In the second round against Frenchman Arnaud Clement, Agassi was two points away from losing in the fourth set but managed to win 7-5 and then closed the fifth set 6-0. In the fourth round against defending champion Carlos Moya, Agassi lost the opening set and was down two breaks in the second (1-4) before pulling out a four-set victory. Agassi won his quarterfinal match in straight sets over Marcelo Filippini and then defeated Dominik Hrbaty in four tight sets in the semifinals before taking on Andrei Medvedev in the final.
Again Agassi came into his third Roland Garros final as the favorite, ranked No. 14 against the No. 100 ranked Medvedev. The 24-year-old Ukraine native won the opening two sets 6-1, 6-2 in 53 minutes and appeared headed to his first Grand Slam title. Although he lost the second set, Agassi said the rain delay early in that set allowed him to refocus after talking to coach Brad Gilbert in the locker room. Agassi cut down on his mistakes. He made 26 unforced errors in the first two sets but only 25 more in the next three. He would take the next three sets 6-4, 6-3, 6-4, and become the fifth man in the history of the sport to join the Grand Slam club (winning all four major titles) of Fred Perry, Don Budge, Rod Laver and Roy Emerson. Afterwards, Agassi said, "It's been a big obstacle for me psychologically and emotionally, this being the last of the Slams left to win."
Andre on Andre: "Well, some of the greatest memories happen when you just feel like you're surviving out there. That was a tournament where I wasn't even supposed to play because of my shoulder. I managed just to find a way to get out there on the court and to work hard. I just felt like I was doing good to be competitive in those early rounds. I just wanted to get out there and put on a good show for the people, work hard, and hope a few things went my way. Clement had me 5-4 in the fourth, two sets to one, love-30, me serving. He just missed a forehand. He started cramping in the fifth. So it was just a little bit of luck and a lot of perseverance. Well, it's sort of a story inside a story. To come back from two sets to love was sort of so symbolic of where I'd been in my life leading up to the tournament, the struggle of my career. And it sort of is symbolic because it's like a microcosm of the bigger career; it's being down and not giving up. For that sort of sub-story to happen inside the story itself was sort of a fairy tale for me."
"It's hard to even understand [winning all four Grand Slam titles], because it's sort of overwhelming. It feels like somebody sort of edited my name in there somehow. Somehow it doesn't belong. It feels amazing. As a competitor, you try to win every place you play. That, to me, is my greatest achievement...just being able to say that I know what it feels like to win at all those places."
In 1997, Agassi struggled throughout the year, hampered by tendinitis in his right wrist for part of the season. He failed to win an ATP title for the first time in 11 years and he compiled a 12-12 match record as his ranking had dropped to No. 141 on Nov. 10. He went back to basics and his final two tournaments that season were Challengers, a level he last played in 1986 as a rookie pro. He took a wild card into his hometown tournament in Las Vegas and proceeded to reach the final, losing to German Christian Vinck. Two weeks later he took another wild card into Burbank (California) and he finished the year by winning the title over top seed and friend Sargis Sargsian.
He finished at No. 122, his lowest ranking as a pro but slowly he would climb his way back into the Top 10. In 1998, he made the biggest one-year jump into the Top 10 in the history of the ATP Rankings (since 1973), climbing from 122 to No. 6. He led the ATP circuit with 10 finals, winning five titles and he only lost one opening round match in 22 tournaments. That year he was voted the ATP Most Improved Player of the Year and coach Brad Gilbert was predicting bigger things in the year ahead. "With a little luck, he can come back and be No. 1 next year," said Gilbert in November while he was playing doubles with Agassi at the Las Vegas Challenger. "He certainly has more tennis in him."
Gilbert was right on as 1999 was Agassi's year, winning Grand Slam titles at Roland Garros and the US Open and reaching the final at Wimbledon. He captured five titles and was runner-up in three others en route to finishing as the year-end No. 1 for the first time at age 29. Agassi continued his strong play as he turned 30, finishing no lower than No. 6 in the next four years. In fact, his 13 titles over the age of 30 is the fifth-most in the Open Era. In May 2003, after he won his semifinal match at the U.S. Clay Courts in Houston, Agassi climbed to No. 1, becoming the oldest player at 33 years, 13 days to hold the world's top spot.
Andre on Andre: "I was 141 in the world. It's like, you don't get there by accident. Yeah, it just was one step at a time for me. I knew it wasn't time to quit, so I had to go about "what do I do differently?" I never thought I would ever get back to the top again; I just wanted to get back, just get back a little bit of it. I just kept building momentum for myself and kept getting better. I was pretty excited about that and kept working harder. It all sort of happened from there. Gil (Reyes), my trainer, he's everything to my career. He's meant my ability to still be doing this, and certainly to get in the shape required to get back."
(On becoming the oldest No. 1 at 33 in 2003): "I mean, I think one of the things I'm most proud of is that I'm still out here doing this at the level that I've been doing it at. It means a lot to me because it's a testament to the hard work I've put in. It's a payoff of all of the hard work I've put in. To do it at 33 is not easy, so it felt pretty good."
Four Consecutive Grand Slam Finals (1999-2000)
After winning three Grand Slam titles in his first 35 starts in the majors, Agassi put together an incredible stretch, beginning with Roland Garros in 1999. He won his first title in Paris and went on to reach the next three Grand Slam finals, reaching the title match at Wimbledon and winning titles at the US Open and the Australian Open in 2000. During that stretch, Agassi won 27 of 28 matches with his only loss coming to long-time rival Pete Sampras at the All England Club.
It was fitting that "Rocket" Rod Laver presented Agassi the Musketeers Cup trophy in Paris since the Aussie was the last man to reach four consecutive Grand Slam finals. In 1969, Laver won the Grand Slam, a feat he accomplished for the first time in 1962. During Agassi's run of Grand Slam finals, he defeated at least one former Grand Slam champion in each tournament.
Andre on Andre: "Paris came out of nowhere. It was a miracle. I had so much confidence going into Wimbledon. It just felt so good to not be playing on the clay. I was letting a lot of shots fly, and put together a great couple of weeks of tennis. The US Open was back on my surface, and I just went to work hard. I felt like I earned that tournament from the start to the finish. And then with my off-season, getting ready for Australia, I believed I could go down there ready and felt like I did the same. I went down there and just was at my best. So it was a great stretch. But every tournament's new to me, regardless of how I've done there the year before or the week before or the Grand Slam before."
Four Australian Open Titles
Prior to 1995, Agassi played in 21 Grand Slam tournaments during his career, reaching five finals, highlighted by titles at Wimbledon in 1992 and the US Open in 1994. But the one Grand Slam tournament he shunned during the first eight years of his career was the Australian Open. That changed in 1995 as the No. 2 ranked American played flawless tennis throughout the fortnight, losing only one set in seven matches, against top-ranked Sampras in the final. Agassi became the first player to win the Australian Open title in his first appearance since Johan Kriek in 1981.
Agassi did not reach another final Down Under again until 2000 when he would begin his stretch of three consecutive titles. That year he defeated Sampras in the semifinals in five sets and Yevgeny Kafelnikov in four sets in the final. In 2001, he outlasted local favorite Patrick Rafter in another five-set semifinal before taking out Frenchman Arnaud Clement in the final. He did not play in 2002 due to a wrist injury but he returned the following year as strong as ever. Agassi dropped only one set during the tournament, in the third round to Nicolas Escude, and he crushed Rainer Schuettler 6-2, 6-2, 6-1 in the final. Agassi joined Aussie Hall of Famers Roy Emerson (six), Jack Crawford (four) and Ken Rosewall (four) as the only players who have won at least four Australian singles championships in tournament history.
In 2004, Agassi was on course to reach another final, going through his first five opponents without dropping a set until running into Marat Safin in the semifinals. The Russian fired a career-high 31 aces en route to his five-set victory and putting an end to Agassi's 26-match winning streak in Melbourne.
Andre on Andre: "I suppose that statistic [his 44-4 match record] suggested that's the case, so I'm regretful I didn't play it more often, definitely regretful. Well, I love it down there. Some of the nicest people in the world. Off the court is so relaxing, and on the court they're such great sports fans in Melbourne. I've always enjoyed playing down there. I have an Aussie coach (Darren Cahill) and it just feels good.
Longevity: ATP Top 10 for 16 years
Agassi has been a fixture in the year-end Top 10 since finishing at No. 3 at the age of 18 in 1988. In the next 17 years, Agassi would rank among the Top 10 in 15 year-end listings (except for 1993 and '97), finishing between No. 1 and 10 at least once (except No. 5). Of the 94 players who have finished in the Top 10 since the inception of the ATP Rankings in 1973, Agassi is the only player to rank in the Top 10 in three different decades. Jimmy Connors is the only other player to finish in the Top 10 for 16 consecutive years from 1973-88.
Along with his Top 10 consistency, Agassi is among an elite group of players who have ranked at least 100 weeks at No. 1 during their career: Pete Sampras (286), Ivan Lendl (270), Connors (268), John McEnroe (170), Roger Federer (126) Bjorn Borg (109), and Agassi (101). Agassi's 60 career titles have come over 20 years (from 1987-2005, except 1996).
Andre on Andre: "Well, it's part of the longevity issue. I mean, I've trained hard for it. I've built up a good base for myself. I've been fortunate enough to stay healthy."
US Open, 1994
In 1994, Agassi entered the US Open unseeded for the first time since he was 17. The Las Vegas native came into Flushing Meadows ranked No. 20 after compiling an 8-3 record during the North American summer hard court circuit. After going through a string of nine tournaments without a title, he gained extra confidence by capturing the ATP Masters Series title in Toronto one month before the US Open.
Agassi rolled past qualifier Robert Eriksson in straight sets in the opening round, then defeated former Top 10 Guy Forget in four sets in the second round. Agassi's first of five consecutive seeded opponents was No. 12 seed Wayne Ferreira in the third round and he won 7-5, 6-1, 7-5. In the fourth round, Agassi's toughest test would come against No. 6 seed and long-time rival Michael Chang. Agassi would advance to the quarterfinals with his second career five-set victory at the Open ('89 QF d. Connors).
He would save his best tennis for the final three rounds, eliminating No. 13 seed Thomas Muster in the quarters, No. 9 seed Todd Martin in the semifinals and No. 4 seed Michael Stich in the championship match, losing one set along the way. Agassi set a record by defeating five seeds en route to his second Grand Slam title and he became the first unseeded player to win the U.S. crown since Aussie Fred Stolle in 1966.
Agassi, who would reach the US Open final one year later, losing to Sampras, would collect his second title in 1999. He came into New York ranked No. 2 and he lost only one set in his first five rounds. In the semifinals he lost the opening set against No. 3 seed Yevgeny Kafelnikov before winning in four sets. Then in the title match, he rallied from a 1-2 sets deficit against 7th-ranked Todd Martin to win 6-4, 6-7, 6-7, 6-3, 6-2. Agassi fought off all eight break points and it was the first time a player rallied from a 1-2 sets deficit in an Open final since John Newcombe in 1973.
Andre on Andre: "Well, I only had one Slam at that point, which was Wimbledon, which, arguably, was a fluke, meaning I just was not expected to win it. It had been two years. You wonder if that's it, if you'll ever win again. You sort of say, 'Well, if that's it, then that's it. Then I feel great about winning Wimbledon.' So I surprised myself. I was obviously not ranked very high. I went in there with a lot more questions than answers, and it was pretty amazing when I happened to win it.
"That was a tournament [US Open, 1999] where I felt like I just went and took it. I worked hard, I was ready and I was playing my best tennis. I went in playing well and I played well throughout. I finished it off and I felt different than I'd ever felt before winning a Slam."