Don't walk away, Andre: Charismatic gifts of Agassi should not be allowed to slip through net
Las Vegan does not know how his life will unfold - but he would be a perfect ambassador
One of the first questions aimed at Andre Agassi when he walked into the Wimbledon interview room and announced his retirement was: "What is your legacy?" Never having been stuck for the answer to a media question in two decades of being challenged, Agassi shot back: "I don't know. I look forward to reading about that."
So do we all. Agassi is genuine when he says he doesn't know which direction his life will take after the final series of bows and blown kisses on his exit from tennis at the US Open two months from now, but it is unlikely he will be permitted to turn his back on the game, even should he want to.
John McEnroe's ambition was always to be the Commissioner of Tennis, along the lines of the ones they have in American sports such as baseball and gridiron football. That such a job did not exist never overly bothered Mac. It still doesn't exist, and if Agassi might not be the right office-bound, production-line sort for such a role, he would make a fine ambassador for the game. Perhaps the finest. Be assured that he will be asked, and that he will give the matter due consideration. In fact, he says he looks forward to the next chapter of his life "with great anticipation". Like the rest of us, really.
"My two little ones are going to take up a lot of my time, I know," he says. "And I look forward to not putting my family through the sort of ups and downs of trying to get yourself out [on court] in the right state of mind and body, doing some time together and going on from there." There is also the charity foundation he runs with such zest in Las Vegas, and will continue to run.
For sure, though an Andre Agassi Tennis Centre might well be on the cards sometime in the future, he will not show the slightest interest in becoming coach to one player, or something like Davis Cup captain of his country, honour though that undoubtedly is.
Already Agassi is being asked about the future of tennis, and this is what he sees: "[Roger] Federer and [Rafael] Nadal have captured the imagination of the sporting public with their rivalry. To have a dominant number one player in the world [Federer] being dominated by the number two [Nadal] is a bit of a story in itself. Two different styles entirely, two different personalities entirely. That really lends for good theatre potentially down the road."
Agassi adds: "Just watching the game evolve is going to be a joy for me. I always felt, going from generation to generation, that I had to remain objective about how the game was changing, how it was improving. I had to make those adjustments. My mindset is one that's going to be willing to accept the game getting better. As I sit back and look at the youngsters coming up, I'll be able to appreciate what it is they're doing fully.
"I have a strong belief in what this sport offers a person's life. It's one-on-one combat. It's a sport that forces you to solve problems by yourself. It's a sport that somebody can play their whole life, keeps them healthy. You can get scholarships, it's a vehicle for education. The message just needs to be sold better.
"The growth of this game is important to me. We're at an interesting time now. It's certainly a transition time where a lot of good things can happen. We've got a lot of great young guys out there with personalities. I don't know what shoes need to be filled when I go, but I look around and I marvel at some of the talent I see out there."
The shoes that need to be filled are the size of ones worn by circus clowns. Who else would want to step into the ring and suffer what his fitness trainer and close friend, Gil Reyes, says of him: "Andre's earned his place in this game. He's taken his lumps, taken some big punches in the nose along the way." Figuratively speaking, of course.
What Agassi did most notably was transform the way tennis was viewed in its biggest market, the United States. Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe had dragged it out of the country clubs and into the alleyways; Agassi threw it in the face of the young people with his sponsor's challenging slogan: "Image Is Everything".
Bright colours, power rackets, up-and-at-'em stuff. And they bought it. They wanted to be like Andre, who flew around the world in his private plane with his initials on the tail, they wanted to be rich like him, taking the dosh while questioning the motives of those who were making it available.
Agassi's gradual change of lifestyle into marriage with Steffi Graf, someone arguably more famous than himself ("I don't fight battles I can't win," he says of that one), and parenthood has gone hand in hand with the inevitable decline in his playing powers, though the man remains a wonder at the age of 36 when you consider that the only other player worth mentioning in the same sentence who also won everything from the baseline was Bjorn Borg, who quit, burned out mentally and physically, at 26.
Agassi puts it this way: "The body loses an edge through the demands you put on it. You respond to that by pushing. Your body responds, then it doesn't.
"It gets tiring mentally, too. It's hard. Three days good, two days not good, one step forward and two steps back sometimes. I can't do that. I have to be moving forward."
Now he is poised for his final move, through the exit door, and he has been almost smothered by the surge of affection as he treads the All England Club's turf for the last time. "I've been embraced so warmly at Wimbledon from my early years, and that has meant the world to me," he says. "This championship has allowed me to grow into the player and person I am today, and I have so many people to thank for that.
"It's been 20 years of incredible memories, and I thank everybody for supporting my life and my dreams, which I can keep for the rest of my life. It's been a lot of sacrifices trying to get myself right to come back and enjoy this tournament for the last time, but it has meant so much to me over the years."
For these sentimental, wind-down days Agassi is proudly sporting a necklace made by his four-year-old son, Jaden. It bears the message "Daddy Rocks". Not a bad judge, Jaden.
Barrett's Best: From Little Mo to Pistol Pete
1 MAUREEN CONNOLLY
Little Mo played chess on a tennis court, constructing her rallies brilliantly. She won the US title three times, three Wimbledons, the French and the Australian, and was beaten only four times ever, anywhere.
2 STEFFI GRAF
No other woman has won all the four Grand Slams at least four times. Graf's 22 Slam singles titles are two fewer than Margaret Court's, but many of Court's were at the Australian, when many top players did not enter.
3 ROD LAVER
Outstandingly the best male player. Nobody has won the Grand Slam twice, before or since, or is ever likely to. He was a great shot-maker, very quick of thought and movement. In today's world Laver would have been just as good.
4 PETE SAMPRAS
The undisputed king of Wimbledon for so long, with seven titles. He was also world No 1 for six straight years. It was a phenomenal achievement to maintain that level, and it cost him in the end because he was drained physically.
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