At the start of the 2006 Wimbledon Championships last June, tennis great Andre Agassi announced that he was retiring from professional tennis. The curtain was about to come down on one of the most successful and popular careers the sport had ever seen, a career that spanned two decades, eight Grand Slam championships and a host of unforgettable moments on the tennis court.
The 36-year-old Agassi said that after Wimbledon, he would play just one more major tournament, the US Open, and then call it quits. The announcement caused shock waves in the world of tennis and almost immediately, tennis players and fans alike started to consider Agassi’s place in the pantheon of the sport.
"He'll go down as one of the guys who changed our sport in a lot of ways, not only the way he played the game, but also the way that he conducted himself on and off the court," said 2002 Wimbledon champion and former world number one Lleyton Hewitt. "There are not too many more recognizable people in tennis. The sport probably owes a lot to him."
"His longevity and desire to compete at the highest level have been remarkable. He has brought a huge amount to our sport and will be missed," said Pete Sampras, the seven-time Wimbledon champion whose on-court rivalry with Agassi helped boost tennis' popularity in the 1990s.
"He's a legend," said reigning French Open champion Rafael Nadal
Many forget that he wasn’t always held in such high regard. Early in his career, Agassi was known mostly for his image (“Image is Everything,” said one of his popular advertising campaigns at the time) rather than the substance in his game. It was a reputation borne from his early days on the professional tour as a kid with the denim shorts, Day-Glo shirts and flowing hair. These days, however, Agassi leaves the tennis scene as a respected elder statesman and with a legacy that is perhaps without precedence.
"I don't think there's one bad thing you can say about the guy," said 2004 Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova. "I mean, that guy is just a champion. It's amazing to still have someone around that's achieved so much and that's done so much for the sport."