Andre Kirk Agassi

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AGASSI, Andre Kirk

(b. 29 April 1970 in Las Vegas, Nevada), tennis player and winner of seven Grand Slam events from 1992 to 2001.

Agassi was born to Emmanuel "Mike" Agassi and his wife, Elizabeth. He was groomed to play professional tennis literally from the day he was born. His father was an Iranian immigrant and a former Olympic boxer who became infatuated with the game of tennis as a young man. As his personal opportunities to pursue an athletic career dwindled, Mike Agassi turned his attention to raising his children to be sports champions, specifically tennis superstars. Because he was only marginally successful in training his three older children, he resorted to extreme measures by the time his youngest child was born. So determined was Mike Agassi to raise young Agassi to be a champion that he spared no effort in providing the newborn with a head start in the sport. The elder Agassi went so far as to hang a tennis ball over the infant's cradle in order to accustom the boy to watching the ball. The baby Agassi was encouraged to swat balloons with a Ping-Pong paddle and was given a full-size racket before he could walk so he could become accustomed to the weight. Agassi's father also established connections in professional tennis and arranged a practice match between his toddler son and Jimmy Connors. Agassi was barely of school age the first time he played against Ilie Nastase and still in grade school when he first practiced with Bjorn Borg.

Given his father's overwhelming influence, Agassi's career in tennis was an assumption rather than an option. In pursuit of this goal, Mike Agassi held down two casino jobs and donated much of his remaining time to working as a tennis coach for local children, including his own. When Agassi was six years old his father purchased a Las Vegas property with a large grounds and built a family home complete with tennis court. At his father's insistence, Agassi maintained a practice regimen in grade school that involved hitting about 3,000 balls daily. The balls were served to Agassi by means of three makeshift ball machines that operated simultaneously, pitching serves at speeds as high as 110 miles per hour. This practice setup was enhanced by powerful industrial fans rigged to send the balls on erratic trajectories.

Agassi competed in local amateur tournaments from the age of seven, winning nine events in the ten-and-under category during his first season of competition. After junior high, he enrolled in the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton, Florida. An above-average student, Agassi also spent his mornings in a traditional curriculum at the Bradenton Academy. This rigorous course of academic study and athletic training left young Agassi with an urgent need to succeed. While still competing at the junior level he won five national titles, including four doubles and one singles. In 1982 and 1984 Agassi was the fourth-ranked junior player in the United States and qualified for the United States Tennis Association (USTA) tour at age fifteen.

When Agassi became a professional in May 1986, shortly after his sixteenth birthday, he embarked on an impressive, albeit erratic, career. After a series of final-round losses in Grand Slam events, Agassi won his first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon in 1992. The following year he underwent wrist surgery to correct an injury and withdrew from the professional circuit while recuperating. He returned to active play in February 1994. Although Agassi was ranked twentieth and unseeded, he won the U.S. Open that year and registered winnings in excess of $2.4 million by the year's end. In 1995 he won the Australian Open and became the top-ranked men's player. Also that year Agassi's earnings approached $3 million, and he was recognized as a major force in bringing the Davis Cup competition to Las Vegas, although he dropped out of the competition on the third day due to an injury. In 1996 he represented the United States at the Olympic games in Atlanta, winning a gold medal.

Despite his innate shyness, Agassi adopted a flamboyant persona early in his career. He displayed a trademark fashion sense on the court, wearing earrings, brightly colored clothes, and keeping his hair dyed and long. He incurred fines for his unsportsmanlike gesturing and occasional temper tantrums. In 1996 he was assessed a huge fine of $50,000 for shunning certain mandatory functions in conjunction with the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) Tour World Championship in Hanover, Germany. His personal life proved equally sensational. He married actress Brooke Shields on 19 April 1997.

Agassi receded from the public spotlight for a time following his marriage to Shields; he reemerged professionally after their divorce in 1999 to win the French and U.S. Opens that year and the Australian Open in 2000. With another Australian title in 2001, Agassi had captured seven Grand Slam wins and was again ranked number one. Later that year, on 22 October 2001, he married retired German tennis player Steffi Graf; days later Graf gave birth to the couple's son, Jaden Gil.

Paul Bauman's (unauthorized) biography, Agassi and Ecstasy: The Turbulent Life of Andre Agassi, was published in 1997; an in-depth profile appears in Sports Stars, Series 1–4 (1994–1998). For an assessment of Agassi's career, see also Jon L. Wertheim, "One for the Aged," Sports Illustrated (9 Apr. 2001).

Gloria Cooksey

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US Open tennis champions

Year

Men

Women

1989

Boris Becker (Ger)

Steffi Graf (Ger)

1990

Pete Sampras (US)

Gabriela Sabatini (Arg)

1991

Stefan Edberg (Swe)

Monica Seles (Yug)

1992

Stefan Edberg (Swe)

Monica Seles (Yug)

1993

Pete Sampras (US)

Steffi Graf (Ger)

1994

Andre Agassi (US)

Aranxta Sanchez (Sp)

1995

Pete Sampras (US)

Steffi Graf (Ger)

1996

Pete Sampras (US)

Steffi Graf (Ger)

1997

Patrick Rafter (Aus)

Martina Hingis (Switz)

1998

Patrick Rafter (Aus)

Lindsay Davenport (US)

1999

Andre Agassi (US)

Serena Williams (US)

2000

Marat Safin (Rus)

Venus Williams (US)

2001

Lleyton Hewitt (Aus)

Venus Williams (US)

2002

Pete Sampras (US)

Serena Williams (US)


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Andre Kirk Agassi (än´drā, ăg´əsē), 1970–, American tennis player, b. Las Vegas, Nev. Trained by his Armenian immigrant father, he turned professional in 1986. By 1988 he had won a half dozen major tournaments, but until 1992 at Wimbledon had not won a grand slam event, and had acquired a reputation for failing in crucial matches. The Wimbledon victory and those at the U.S. (1994) and Australian (1995) opens vaulted him to the front; he won the gold medal at the 1996 Olympics, and engaged in a much publicized competition with Pete Sampras for top world ranking. Using speed and agility more than power, Agassi became immensely popular, as much for his sometimes whimsical demeanor as for his winning record. He again won the French and U.S. opens in 1999 and Australian open in 2000, 2001, and 2003, and won 60 singles titles during his career. Agassi, who retired in 2006, is married to Steffi Graf.

See his autobiography, Open (2009).