Agassi continues to defy Father Time

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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - It appeared as though the great Andre Agassi was washed up as recently as last fall, but the American superstar has "flicked the switch" one more time in hope of solidifying his place in tennis history.

After battling injuries and personal problems last season, the 30-year-old Agassi added yet another Grand Slam crown to his resume by capturing the 2001 Australian Open. His powerful performance against Frenchman Arnaud Clement in the Down Under final gave Agassi his second straight Aussie Open title and a third in seven years.

Agassi dismantled the helpless Clement 6-4, 6-2, 6-2 to secure Grand Slam championship number seven, tying him with fellow greats John Newcombe, Mats Wilander and John McEnroe. The Las Vegas resident was already in exclusive company as one of only five career Grand Slam aces after capturing the French Open in 1999. Throw in a 1996 gold medal, and Agassi is the proud owner of the Golden Slam (Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, U.S. Open, Olympics).

Andre Agassi Agassi dismantled the helpless Clement 6-4, 6-2, 6-2 to secure Grand Slam championship number seven.
(Photo by Empics)
It might be interesting to point out that if you take away Wimbledon, Agassi has as many Grand Slam trophies as his legendary compatriot Pete Sampras. Outside of the All-England Club, Agassi and Sampras have corraled six Slams apiece. Unfortunately for Agassi, Wimbledon is arguably the most-important tennis tournament in the world and Sampras has won it seven times, compared to only one for Agassi.

But, Agassi has actually captured more Aussie Opens than Pete (3-2), and proved his all-around prowess in '99 by running the table at Roland Garros, a place where Sampras probably has no shot at ever winning seven straight matches in one fortnight.

Thanks to his dazzling display of tennis at Melbourne Park, Agassi is back in familiar territory as the world's No. 1 star. After ending 1999 atop the rankings, stopping Sampras' six-year reign as the "King of Swing," and holding the lofty perch in the early part of the 2000 season, Agassi is No. 1 again in the ATP Champions Race.

Agassi opened his 2000 campaign by capturing the Australian Open, but failed to win another tournament until last week in Melbourne. His 2000 season was slowed by injuries, a grueling ATP/Davis Cup schedule, and, of course, a family situation that required him to spend time with his cancer-stricken mother and sister.

Agassi showed signs of a comeback of sorts in December by posting an impressive 4-1 record at the season-ending Masters Cup event in Lisbon. After practically being left for dead prior to the tournament, Agassi traveled to Portugal and rattled off four straight wins at the exclusive eight-man event. Victories came against eventual world No. 1 Gustavo Kuerten, former world No. 1 Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Magnus Norman and Marat Safin, who was No. 1 at the time. Agassi wound up losing in a rematch against Kuerten in the final, but sent a message that he wasn't done yet.

He promptly set off on an intense training regimen to get ready for 2001...specifically the Australian Open, where Agassi's had a great deal of success, to say the least. The tennis icon is 32-3 all-time in Melbourne.

The title run at the Aussie Open also marked the first time that Agassi successfully defended one of his Grand Slam reigns. He also became the first man to repeat Down Under since fellow American Jim Courier turned the trick in 1993.

Agassi, seeded sixth this year in Melbourne, barely broke a sweat against the 15th-seeded Clement, clobbering the upstart Frenchman in 1 hour, 45 minutes. In the process, Agassi avenged his straight-set loss to Clement in the second round of last year's U.S. Open. As a matter of fact, Agassi had dropped two consecutive matches against the Frenchman, who also topped the American last November in Lyon after Agassi retired with an injury, trailing 3-6 after one set. The setback in Lyon marked Agassi's last tournament action before his return in time for the late-November/early-December Masters Cup.

Agassi's seventh Grand Slam title (in 12 finals) moved him ahead of German Boris Becker and Swede Stefan Eberg on that all-time list. It also gave him career title number 46, which leaves Agassi one behind another legend, "Rocket" Rod Laver (47).

In terms of Grand Slam plaudits, Agassi now has eight-time winners Fred Perry, Jimmy Connors, Ken Rosewall and Ivan Lendl in his sights. And the sky could be the limit for the healthy, committed, and, of course, immensely-talented American. If and when Agassi secures Grand Slam number eight, only five more men would stand above him -- Sampras (13), Aussie Roy Emerson (12), Bjorn Borg (11), Laver (11) and Bill Tilden (10).

Agassi has won at least one Grand Slam three years running and has appeared in five of the last eight Grand Slam finals, winning four of 'em. Two years ago, Agassi was clearly the best player in tennis, capturing French and U.S. Opens and losing to Sampras in the Wimbledon final.

Can he duplicate his '99 season in 2001?

Agassi realizes he has squandered some opportunities during his career. He could have been as consistently superior as Sampras. Instead, he is prone to stretches in which he seems to be distracted from the game in a usually self-imposed fashion.

The maturing star knows he should probably be in double-digit Grand Slam wins by now, but his on-court performance has suffered in the past because of things like a courtship and brief marriage to actress Brooke Shields and the "image is everything" marketing stretch.

With his peak physical fitness, rendered on him by personal trainer Gil Reyes, most think Agassi can play another five years on the circuit, if he so chooses.

Agassi still possesses the game's best return-of-serve, and he's still tops in the business at running his opponent ragged with a shot selection that covers every inch of the court. He has said he prefers to make every point one of misery for the player on the other side of the net.

It's hard to say how much grander Agassi's tennis legacy can be.

Will the 16-year pro be able to approach his chief rival -- the 29-year-old Sampras?

When it comes to head-to-head action, Agassi is 12-17 in his career against the mighty Pete. But Andre has won the last two battles, including their most recent one in the 2000 Australian Open semifinals.

Agassi, who continues to defy Father Time, will turn 31 in April. And if he continues to perform like he did in Melbourne, he'll be the favorite at the year's next Grand Slam event -- the late-May/early-June 2001 French Open.

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