Agassi out of Wimbledon as great career draws to close

Wimbledon is over for the 35-year-old Andre Agassi. A persistent back injury has caused the 1992 men's singles champion to withdraw from the tournament, which starts next Monday.

Wimbledon is over for the 35-year-old Andre Agassi. A persistent back injury has caused the 1992 men's singles champion to withdraw from the tournament, which starts next Monday.

The brash Las Vegas showman, who matured into a tennis icon, is unlikely to compete in SW19 again and may well retire after the US Open in September.

His determination to give his home Grand Slam championship his best effort is underlined by the fact that he has added the ATP Tour events in Indianapolis and Los Angeles to his pre-US Open commitments in Washington, Montreal and Cincinnati. How many of these tournaments he plays remains to be seen.

In agony while losing to Jarkko Nieminen, of Finland, 6-0 in the fifth set in the first round at the French Open on 24 May, Agassi graphically described the extent of the problem, the source of which is a nerve in his lower back.

"When I go home in the evening and I'm walking three blocks from the restaurant," he said, "you wouldn't guess I'm a professional athlete."

He said a cortisone injection in February had enabled him to play without pain until he was faced with having to compete over five sets in Paris, and added that he planned to have another cortisone injection before Wimbledon. "I've been told I can have up to three of the injections within a year," he added.

It is believed that a second injection was given, and a few days ago the word was that Agassi was on the point of leaving America for London, but apparently he became worried that the low bounce of the ball on the lawns would add to the wear and tear in his back.

Last night the following statement was issued by the Wimbledon referee, Alan Mills: "Mr Andre Agassi regrets that he will have to withdraw from the gentlemen's singles due to injury. Mr Agassi says in a fax that he will miss playing in the most prestigious tournament in the world."

Steffi Graf, now Agassi's wife, won the Wimbledon women's singles title seven times before retiring because of a chronic back condition after losing to Lindsay Davenport in the 1999 final.

"I never saw her go through it," he said in Paris. "She retired weeks after our first date. But I knew she struggled with injuries throughout her career."

Asked if his wife or their children had watched him limp about the house and wanted him to retire, Agassi said: "No, they're very supportive. Ultimately, any decision I have to make will be mine but I'll value their input. Stefani also knows it's a decision that I have to be comfortable with."

In his 19-year career, Agassi has won $30m (£16.6m) in prize money alone, and earned millions more from sponsorships and endorsements.

His match against Nieminen at the French Open was his 58th at a Grand Slam tournament, a record. He has won seven Grand Slam singles titles and is one of only five men to have won all four of the major championships.

Wimbledon was his first, and the most surprising, given that he had already lost in three Grand Slam finals on surfaces better suited to his counter-punching style: two on the slow clay in Paris, the other on the medium-pace concrete at the US Open.

He has always said: "The more you play on grass, the worse your game becomes." With that in mind, Agassi gave Wimbledon a miss for three years after losing to Henri Leconte in the first round in 1987.

On his return to the All England Club in 1991, Agassi advanced to the quarter-finals. A year later he triumphed in a monumental final against Goran Ivanisevic, of Croatia, 6-7, 6-4, 6-4, 1-6, 6-4. That afternoon on Centre Court, the young punk who symbolised the slogan of Nike, his clothing sponsors - "Image is Everything" - was transformed from under-achiever to substantial champion.

He reached the final again in 1999, finishing runner-up to his great American rival, Pete Sampras, 6-3, 6-4, 7-5.

Agassi was absent from Wimbledon last year. He was recovering from what he believed to be a hip injury. It transpired to be the back ailment that sooner or later will end his colourful career.

Agassi's record in SW19

* 1987 Lost in first round

* 1988 Did not play

* 1989 Did not play

* 1990 Did not play

* 1991 Quarter-final

* 1992 Champion

* 1993 Quarter-final

* 1994 Fourth round

* 1995 Semi-final

* 1996 First round

* 1997 Did not play

* 1998 Second round

* 1999 Runner-up

* 2000 Semi-final

* 2001 Semi-final

* 2002 Second round

* 2003 Fourth round

* 2004 Did not play

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