Wild about Andre

Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
Right from the start, he looked more like a member of an LA-based rock band than a tennis player. And there have been times in Andre Agassi's nine-year career when number one in the pop charts looked significantly more likely than number one in the men's rankings. How unpredictable was Agassi in those early days? Put it this way: he was beaten by Jeremy Bates.

Yet, amazingly, after a year of graft and discipline and stunning tennis, Agassi arrives for this year's Wimbledon at the top of the men's list. And with short hair, too.

Crowds warmed to him from the start. In contrast to the thorough, disciplined, earnest performers who rose to dominate the game in the early Nineties, Agassi was a cabaret on legs. And he came from Las Vegas, too. While Pete Sampras and co concentrated on unimportant things like winning tournaments,Agassi seemed mostly to be concentrating on clothes and hair.

Nice shirt, shame about the third set. Good shorts, too: mostly they looked like other people's swimming trunks. He has worn shortened shirts, designed to flash, as he flipped up on to his toes and whipped the racket across his body, generous portions of his midriff - which he has shaved. He has used an excitable shade of pink on his fingernails and stored his hair under cotton bandanas. And he has hardly been discouraged. In the next ten years, Nike will pay him $100 million to wear their outfits.

Agassi showed, on occasion, the temperament to match some of his flame- coloured tops. At the US Open in 1990, he was fined $3,000 for an on-court tantrum during which he may or may not have spat at a line-judge. He is a scurrier, with a two-handed backhand unpacked in a hurry. But he is a fighter. What would you do, facing a Sampras serve? Hold out your racket, shut your eyes and hope, probably. But not Agassi: he goes into attack on the return. He finally ascended to number one in January, and it was Sampras he leapt over to get there.

Wimbledon will go crazy for him, the way it does. It thinks of itself as a hallowed and velvety theatre and needs a constant supply of figures for its stage. It cries out for its Newcombes, its Nastases, its McEnroes, its Navratilovas. And its Agassi. But this year it may note, with disappointment, that some of the flamboyance has been sacrificed to success. For Wimbledon 1995, Agassi is wearing a shaved dome and a trimmed beard. And a very determined expression