American tennis icon Andre Agassi has closed out his 21-year career with a four set
loss (7-6, 6-7, 6-4, 7-5) to German qualifier Benjamin Becker at the U.S. Open tournament in New York. Agassi won 60 singles titles, including eight Grand Slams, and two at the U.S. Open. But there was one opponent he could not overcome.
Even Andre Agassi could not conquer Father Time. As his career wound down, it was his 36-year-old back that betrayed him. The years of strain and pain limited his speed and mobility to the point where shots he would have once easily returned, now flew by him untouched.
To play this week he needed a series of four pain and cortisone injections just to dull the searing agony of an irritated sciatic nerve. By the end of his matches he could barely limp around the court, much less move with the agility and speed the sport requires.
His final opponent, Benjamin Becker, spoke about playing Agassi.
"He was my idol growing up, you know, I followed his whole career. He is definitely one of a kind. He brought so much to tennis, he is such a gentleman. For me it was an honor to play him - Andre, thanks," he said.
After his final match at his 21st consecutive appearance at the U.S. Open had ended, Agassi, one of just five men to win all four Grand Slam titles in the Open era, wept openly in his courtside chair. Through tear-filled eyes he watched as more than 20,000 fans stood and gave him a standing ovation that lasted several minutes.
Agassi returned to the court, and as is his habit, bowed and blew kisses to all four sides of the stadium before thanking the crowd.
"The scoreboard said I lost today. But what the score board does not say is what it is I have found. And over the last 21 years I have found loyalty, you have pulled for me on the court and also in life. I have found inspiration," said Agassi. "You have willed me to succeed sometimes even in my lowest moments. And I have found generosity."
Agassi told the stadium crowd that he appreciated the support they had shown him over the years.
"You have given me your shoulders to stand on to reach for my dreams. Dreams that I never could have reached without you. Over the last 21 years I have found you. And I will take you and the memory of you with me for the rest of my life. Thank you," he said.
At a press conference after the match, Agassi talked about the fans.
"That just felt amazing out there, you know, felt amazing. Nothing I have ever experienced before and overwhelmed with how they embraced me at the end," noted Agassi. "They saw me through my career and they have seen me through this [retirement] as well"
Later, Agassi said he really did not know what to expect when he realized his career was over.
"I did not know how much would be emotional, how much would be sort of disappointment or sadness. Or how much would feel in a sense liberated, you know. I mean, I do not know. I was not sure what to anticipate. But I do not think it was sadness. It was a beautiful feeling combined with a real excitement for the future," he commented.
Part of that excitement surely comes from knowing he will now have more time to devote to his wife, Steffi Graf, their two children. Now he can set his own schedule and work more for his charitable foundation that raises tens of millions of dollars for at-risk youths in his hometown of Las Vegas.
Andre Agassi has come a long way from his beginnings as the long-haired bad-boy of tennis - the colorful teen-aged rebel with attitude, who once proclaimed that "image is everything." Somewhere along the way he matured into the elder statesman of American tennis.