American tennis star Andre Agassi will retire from professional tennis after playing in this year's U.S. Open. VOA's Ernest Leong has more on an athlete who began his career as the 1980's "bad boy" of tennis, and matured into one of the game's greatest players.
Andre Agassi, warming up on the tennis court -- shirtless, of course. For the last 20 years, a common sight on the pro tennis circuit.
Years of grueling competition against the world's best players have taken their toll on the 36-year-old veteran, leading to Agassi's decision to retire from the game after his record 21st consecutive U.S. Open.
"It is hard to stay healthy out here year after year with the trials and tribulations of competition on [different] surfaces."
Agassi was 16 when he turned professional in 1986. With his long hair, colorful clothes and rebellious attitude, he won the hearts of many fans.
VOA Sports Editor Parke Brewer recalls when Agassi first came on the scene.
"He was almost like a rock star. He was the one the girls would go screaming for. This long-haired, sort-of rock star type persona."
Agassi changed his look and attitude later in his career, but his strategy for winning remained the same. He employed a solid serve with a strong baseline return to become one of the most successful players in tennis history.
He won eight major titles, and is one of just five men to win all four Grand Slam titles [Australian, French and U.S. Opens, and Wimbledon].
As recently as 2005, Agassi was seeded in the top twenty by the ATP, the Association of Tennis Professionals.
But time has caught up with Agassi. He has fallen sharply in the rankings this year. A chronic back injury has stolen some of his speed and flexibility, and cortisone shots are now a necessity.
Agassi has expressed mixed feelings about leaving the game he's been playing since he was three, when he began training with his father -- who had been a boxer on the Iranian olympic team.
"I'll miss doing this in front of the fans of this game. I'll miss the practices out there, with people lining up on the fence. But I don't know if I can say I'm sad, because I really believe it's going to grow into something better than this."
Brewer recalls Agassi's tremendous comeback at an age when most players are thinking about retirement. He adds, "We'll also remember how he was at the top of his game as a youngster, fell all the way to 141st in the world rankings, and then got back to the top in his 30's. Something that really was an amazing achievement."
After 20 years in professional tennis, Agassi's presence in the 2006 U.S. Open is also an "amazing achievement".