Agassi's career went full circle

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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The U.S. Open concluded last weekend, with the amazing Roger Federer and the ultra-popular Maria Sharapova securing the big hardware, but it was Andre Agassi who stole the show in Queens by performing in his final tournament.

The 36-year-old American capped a legendary career with a four-set third-round loss against little-known German Benjamin Becker at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. The Las Vegas native then rode off into the sunset after giving an emotional farewell speech, which he delivered crying all the while.

It marked Agassi's 21st straight U.S. Open, where he was a career 77-19, including two of his eight career Grand Slam titles, in 1994 and 1999. The icon also recorded four runner-up finishes in Flushing.

It became increasingly obvious this year that it would have been a better sendoff for Andre had he retired following his U.S. Open final loss at the hands of the great Federer last year, but he sought out a brief farewell tour, which started in June when he announced that he would retire from the ATP following one last appearance in New York. A retirement last year would have sent him out on top (or very close to it).

Andre Agassi
A tearful Agassi says goodbye at the U.S. Open.
Agassi finished his career with 60 singles titles, including a record 17 Masters Series shields, and a co-record 16 year-end top-10 finishes. Jimmy Connors also placed inside the top 10 an astounding 16 times, from 1973-88. Agassi appeared in an even 90 career finals, going 60-30, with his first title coming in 1987 and his last coming last year in Los Angeles. His last final resulted in the loss to Federer in NYC 12 months ago.

The return-of-serve artist was the year-end No. 1 in 1999 and placed inside the top five seven other times. His career prize money (just his on- court money) exceeded $31 million and he piled up millions more as a coveted pitchman, representative, etc., etc.

Agassi finally succumbed to an ailing back, which received a series of cortisone and/or anti-inflammatory shots over the last two years. He had a pair of shots over a four-day span in the first week of the most recent Open, where he ultimately bowed out on Day 7 of the fortnight in front of a packed house on a beautiful day in the Big Apple.

A hobbled Agassi played in a mere eight events this season, going 10-8 and failing to reach a semifinal. His career match win total stopped at 870 (870-274).

The charismatic A-Train bid farewell after establishing himself as the biggest (not the best) tennis star of all-time. And he is one of only five men to capture the career Grand Slam, having won four Australian Opens, two U.S. Opens and one Wimbledon and French Open crown. He turned the career Grand Slam trick by running the table at Roland Garros in 1999, highlighted by a gutsy come-from-behind victory against Andrei Medvedev in the finale in Paris. The American dropped the first two sets before mounting a comeback against his Ukrainian counterpart.

Agassi actually possesses a career Golden Slam, which is all four majors and an Olympic gold medal, which he captured in 1996, and he helped the U.S. secure its last three Davis Cup titles, in 1990, 1992 and 1995.

He began his pro career way back in 1986, a tennis prodigy from the famed Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Florida. He was perceived, and rightly so, as a flashy and cocky rising star, but clearly had the type of game to back up his "Image Is Everything" persona.

Andre Agassi
A younger Agassi demonstrates his powerful two-handed backhand at Wimbledon.
But later in his would-be full-circle career, he became the sport's greatest ambassador, and certainly the game's most recognizable athlete.

Agassi's playing career hit rock bottom in 1997, as he was hampered by tendinitis in his right wrist for part of the year and wound up playing in Challenger events (tennis' minor leagues) and plummeted to No. 122 in the world before embarking on a brilliant run over his last eight-plus years on the circuit. He won five of his eight major titles during his "revival," and reached No. 1 in the world by the end of the 1990s. In '99, Agassi won Roland Garros and the U.S. Open and was the runner-up at Wimbledon. He wound up playing in four straight Grand Slam finals from '99-2000.

One of the defining elements of Agassi's career was his rivalry with his fellow American Pete Sampras. Their contrasting styles made for some top-shelf tennis entertainment, with Pete's serve-and volley prowess and Andre's rocket- like groundstrokes from the baseline.

Sampras won 20 of their 34 career matchups, including a 4-1 record in Grand Slam finals. Agassi went 3-6 overall against Pete in the majors, including an 0-4 mark at the U.S. Open. And who can forget their memorable four-tiebreak quarterfinal classic at Ashe Stadium on that September night in 2001?

More importantly, Agassi has helped raise millions of dollars with his Andre Agassi Charitable Foundation, which assists at-risk youths in his native Las Vegas. He also helped open The Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy, a charter school for at-risk youths, and his countless goodwill efforts have been well documented for more than a decade. I think he's got Pete beat here.

Agassi, of course, is married to fellow tennis legend Steffi Graf, and the superstar couple has two children. With that kind of pedigree, can we expect some more Agassi championships down the road?

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