Andre Agassi inducted into Tennis Hall of Fame


Andre Agassi's Saturday induction into the International Tennis Hall of Fame was less a commemoration of his on-court achievements than it was a celebration of the person he has become.

The Las Vegas native first made a name for himself as an exuberant tennis talent with rock-star hair and huge endorsements, including commercials for Canon cameras that had him famously tell consumers, "Image is everything."

He became equally renowned for nearly flaming out of the game, falling from No. 1 in the world in 1995 to No. 147 in 1997. Despite three Grand Slam singles titles, Mr. Agassi had become the poster boy for unwarranted hype and underachievement.

"I know what it's like to be at rock bottom," the 41-year-old Mr. Agassi said in his induction speech at Bill Talbert Stadium Court in Newport, R.I. "It's not all that bad a place to be, because it forces you to make a decision whether you should continue on or quit. I was going to quit. But as I have been known to do, I changed my mind, and that turned out to be the right decision."

The humbled Mr. Agassi began dominating the game as he never had, returning to the top of the rankings in 1999 and, in 2003, becoming the oldest man to ever be ranked No. 1, at age 33. But something else had changed. The man began thinking far beyond himself, far beyond tennis.

Mr. Agassi had won 60 singles titles, eight Grand Slam championships -- at least one from all four events -- two Davis Cup titles for the United States and an Olympic gold medal when he called it quits as a tennis player in 2006. Then he really started making his mark on the world.

He dedicated his new life, as a family man and prolific philanthropist, to improving the education of children in need of opportunity. He opened the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy, a charter school in a West Las Vegas neighborhood with little historic academic success. Mr. Agassi is raising money to build charters across the country and grow independent schools.

Mr. Agassi was introduced Saturday by Simone Ruffin, the 2009 class salutatorian at Agassi Prep, who attends Concordia University in Irvine, Calif. "I am the voice of so many children whose lives have been changed by the generosity of one," she said.

Such public personal transformations are rare. But Las Vegans have been privileged to witness it. Mr. Agassi brought this city tremendous pride as a professional athlete, but he has brought even more now as a leading citizen. His life's journey and his humility offer lessons to us all.

"I fell in love with tennis far too late in my life," Mr. Agassi said Saturday. "Standing here, you give me compassion, understanding and love more than I can imagine, and sometimes more than I've deserved."

Mr. Agassi deserves it today. Congratulations on your Hall of Fame induction, Mr. Agassi.