Andre Agassi to be inducted into International Tennis Hall of Fame


The countdown to Andre Agassi's induction into the International Tennis Hall of Fame began Sept. 3, 2006, the moment he left the court at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

That wait is about to end.

The eight-time Grand Slam champion from Las Vegas will be inducted July 9 in Newport, R.I., with an official announcement expected Thursday at Agassi Prep.

"I hope they're not coming to my school to rip my heart out of my chest," the 40-year-old Agassi said Tuesday, speaking in guarded fashion about the pending announcement.

Agassi will join his wife, Steffi Graf, in the Hall of Fame. Graf, a 22-time Grand Slam champion, was inducted in 2004.

"When you think about a Hall of Fame, you ask yourself, 'Is the game better off when you left it than when you entered it?' " Agassi said. "It's the ultimate testament to a person's accomplishments."

A tennis prodigy who was introduced to the game at age 2 by his father, Mike, Agassi displayed a natural ability to out-think opponents and the athleticism to return balls that most players couldn't come close to.

At 13, Agassi went to the famed Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton, Fla. He turned pro at 16, and by the end of his first season, in 1986, he was ranked No. 91.

Agassi won his first Grand Slam title in 1992 at Wimbledon, defeating Goran Ivanisevic in five sets.

He captured his first U.S. Open title in 1994, besting Michael Stich in the title match, as an unseeded player.

He followed that up by winning the 1995 Australian Open, defeating Pete Sampras in the final. Agassi would win the Australian Open three more times (2000, 2001, 2003).

Agassi took over the No. 1 ranking in April 1995 and held the top spot for 30 weeks, going 73-9 that year.

He helped the United States defeat Russia for the Davis Cup title in 1995 and also represented his country during the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, winning the gold medal in men's singles.

But Agassi's career and life bottomed out in 1997. Struggling with a wrist injury, he plummeted to No. 141 in the rankings in November. His marriage to actress Brooke Shields was falling apart, and Agassi started using crystal methamphetamine, an admission that he made in his 2009 autobiography, "Open."

However, Agassi managed to get his game and his life back on track.

He completed a career Grand Slam in 1999 by defeating Andrei Medvedev to win the French Open. At the time, Agassi was only the fifth male player to win all four major tournaments. Since then, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have matched the feat.

Agassi began dating Graf in 1999 and they married in 2001.

He continued to play effectively, winning the Australian Open in 2003 for what would be his last Grand Slam victory.

Despite chronic back pain, Agassi made a dramatic run to the 2005 U.S. Open final, beating James Blake in a five-set quarterfinal thriller, before falling to Federer.

He tried to play one more year, but his body refused to cooperate. Returning to the U.S. Open in 2006, Agassi struggled to get around the court.

He defeated Andrei Pavel in four sets in the first round, then beat No. 8 seed Marcos Baghdatis in a five-set thriller reminiscent of his battle with Blake the year before.

Agassi received cortisone injections but was unable to overcome the pain in his back and unseeded Benjamin Becker in a third-round loss.

In a tearful goodbye, Agassi thanked the New York fans and left Arthur Ashe Stadium to a standing ovation.

Since his retirement, Agassi has enjoyed spending more time with Graf, their son, Jaden, and daughter, Jaz, and taking a more active role in his charitable foundation, which is responsible for his school and other philanthropic projects.

Now, Agassi will receive the ultimate honor from a sport that he has devoted his life to.

"Having seen my wife go through it, being on the receiving end is incredibly humbling," Agassi said.

Contact sports reporter Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or at 702-387-2913.

 

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