American Andre Agassi seems to have accomplished just about everything a professional tennis player could achieve. The 33-year-old Agassi is the oldest man to hold the number one world ranking as he embarks next week on another quest for a U.S. Open title.
He has won 58 career singles titles, four this season alone. Eight of his titles were in Grand Slam events, with at least one from each of the four major tournaments. Add to that an Olympic men's tennis gold medal, and one could wonder, what remains for Andre Agassi?
"I have something to prove everyday. You have to. I will keep doing that until I decide not to anymore. I do not have to prove it for the sake of how I look back on my career. But I have to prove it for the sake of getting better and proving to myself that I can do it," he says. "And proving it to my opponent every day that I can do it. The second you stop proving it, that is it."
Agassi turned professional in 1986 and won his first title the next year. The tournament wins quickly began to pile up. As an 18-year-old in 1988, he won six titles in seven finals. By 1991, Agassi had even made two appearances in the French Open final and one in the U.S. Open final, losing each time. He says the early victories were not his most important motivation, but his unfulfilled quest for a major championship sharpened his desire to win.
"My focus was never winning tournaments," he says. "My focus has always been the process of challenging myself as a player. But after losing a few Grand Slam finals, that is when I think the taste really starts settling in. That is when you go 'can I really get over the next hurdle.' The only reason why that became important was because that was the next challenge for me."
Agassi finally captured a Grand Slam in 1992 on the grass courts of Wimbledon and later ascended to the top of the world rankings. Agassi's career slipped during his marriage to actress Brooke Shields. But now he is married to German tennis great Steffi Graf. The couple has one child with another on the way, and the union has been a major factor in rejuvenating Agassi's career. He follows a good physical workout program and is drawing heavily from experience.
"I am actually moving better, contrary to losing speed. That is key, especially in this sport. But decision making. It is a game of instinct and reaction. But it is also one of decision making. You make better choices out there," he says. "You train smarter. You do everything that puts you in position to win a little bit better."
In an active sport like tennis, Agassi is considered old at age 33. And he knows winning requires more than just motivation and smart tactics. "A lot of things have to hold up. Motivation is certainly one [part] of it. But your body has to hold up. Trust me, if my body was hurting every day, I would lose motivation," he says. "If I was injured and just always sort of surviving, I would lose motivation. I am still healthy. I still feel good out there. And I still feel like there are things to do."
One of the things for him to do is win at the upcoming U.S. Open, where he placed second last year to fellow American Pete Sampras.