Agassi Lays Out Retirement Plan

Times Staff Writer

Andre Agassi is 36. He needs cortisone shots to help himself bend over. He has played only eight matches this year and, still, the words were a surprise.

"This Wimbledon will be my last," Agassi said Saturday. "And the U.S. Open will be my last tournament."

As one of only five men, along with Don Budge, Rod Laver, Fred Perry and Roy Emerson, to have won at least one time at each of the four major tournaments -- the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open -- and as owner of eight Grand Slam tournament titles, Agassi will be remembered as one of tennis' greatest players.

Still, Agassi wasn't about to define his legacy. "I look forward to reading about that," he said.

His mind remains in the present. He would like to stick around for more than a day or two here. He also plans to play a full summer schedule of four warmup tournaments before the U.S. Open, his body willing.

"I've given it a good talking to," he said. "I think it's going to oblige."

This decision, though not unexpected, did not come easily, Agassi said.

"It's been a lot of sacrifices the last few months trying to get myself right to come back here and enjoy this tournament for the last time," he said. "It feels great, but it's been a long road this year for me. After the U.S. Open last year I had a lot of reasons to be motivated to shoot for another successful year, but for many reasons that hasn't been the case."

Agassi had made a magical run to the U.S Open final last year before he lost a four-set championship match to top-ranked Roger Federer.

Though Agassi had suffered through various aches and pains last season, even missing Wimbledon, the Open run may have given Agassi false hope.

He was unable to play in the Australian Open this year and after seven matches in three tournaments during the winter, Agassi announced he was skipping the clay-court season, including the French Open, in hopes he could be ready for Wimbledon.

"I feel like I still have something to bring out there," Agassi said. "I've done this for 20-plus years and I want to be out there feeling like I'm right, physically and mentally. I wanted to make sure I made the right decisions to get myself ready for this championship and to hopefully carry through the summer."

Fourteen years ago, Agassi won his first major title here. He was viewed as a long-haired, wildly unpredictable, flighty, dramatic combination of tremendous talent and not quite enough determination or discipline.

He came to Wimbledon in 1992 seeded No. 12 and finished the tournament with a dramatic 6-7 (8), 6-4, 6-4, 1-6, 6-4 win over equally compelling Goran Ivanisevic. After the final point, Agassi fell to the grass and lay on his back. It was a moment that brought tears to some eyes. The more cynical suggested Agassi was milking the moment for dramatic effect and for his sponsors.

But Agassi slowly grew up in front of the public. He quit wearing denim shorts and neon-colored shirts and diamond earrings the size of small fruit. He lost the shoulder-length hair. He dated Barbra Streisand and was briefly married to Brooke Shields. In 2001, Agassi married former tennis great Steffi Graf. He and Graf have two children now. Agassi also founded his own academic school in his hometown of Las Vegas.

He fueled a rivalry with 14-time Grand Slam winner Pete Sampras and became ranked No. 1. After suffering a devastating loss to Sampras in the final of the 1995 U.S. Open, Agassi's ranking dropped well below 400 -- to the point where the former champion had to play in challenger tournaments, a rung below ATP pro events, in order to get his ranking high enough to be invited to big tournaments.

But in 1999 Agassi completed his climb from the depths by winning in May his only French Open title and adding in September his second U.S. Open championship. He also has won the Australian Open four times and Wimbledon once.

"The day I won in Paris was the day I knew I would never have another regret the rest of my career," Agassi said.

Sampras, who retired after winning the 2002 U.S. Open, said he hoped Agassi could go out in the same style.

"Andre brought tennis to the mainstream sports fan," Sampras said. "He got tennis talked about on the front page of the sports section. This is the end of an era in American tennis, that's for sure. He's the last of our group -- me, Jim Courier, Michael Chang -- to retire. I always looked forward to playing Andre, and I think our matches were always compelling and Andre was always gracious in victory and defeat.

"The way he's worked the last few years, he deserves to go out with a big win. But it's tough with all those young, talented guys out there. He needs a little luck and the adrenaline from the crowd."

Andy Murray, a 19-year-old from Scotland who is considered Britain's next great hope to win here, said he practiced with Agassi last week.

"It's the first time I've walked on to a practice court and been nervous. I had sweaty palms," Murray said. "Growing up, he was the guy I looked up to. He changed tennis. He made tennis a cool sport. He was one of the first tennis players to be a worldwide famous sort of personality.

"When he won the French Open to win all four Slams, that's got to be up there as one of the biggest moments in tennis history."

Australia's Lleyton Hewitt, a Wimbledon winner in 2002, said of Agassi: "He was kind of a character for our sport. There's not too many more recognizable people out there in tennis. He'll go down as one of the guys that changed our sport."

If form holds, Agassi, seeded No. 25, will meet second-seeded and recently crowned French Open champion Rafael Nadal in the third round.

"He's a legend," Nadal said. "He was very good, he go away, he stop, after he stop he came back and was top player again. I think that's very difficult. That's unbelievable."

This summer of play is not just a farewell tour, Agassi said. He would like to win. His opening match here is against Boris Pashanski, a 23-year-old from Serbia, who is making his Wimbledon debut.

"There's still a lot of fight left in me," Agassi said. "If I can get through a match or two here and get my teeth in this event I hope to cause problems for the big guys. That's what I intend to do."

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The Agassi file

A capsule look at the career of tennis great Andre Agassi, above, who announced Saturday that he will retire after this year's U.S. Open.

* Born: April 29, 1970, in Las Vegas.

* Turned pro: 1986.

* Career singles titles: 60.

* Grand Slam singles titles: 8 (Wimbledon in 1992, U.S. Open in 1994 and 1999, French Open in 1999, Australian Open in 1995, 2000, 2001, 2003). One of only five men in tennis history to win all four Grand Slam tournaments, joining Fred Perry, Don Budge, Rod Laver and Roy Emerson.

* Career record: 864-270.

* Career prize money: $31,043,450

* Highest ATP tour ranking: No. 1; first in April 1995, most recently in May 2003.

* Family: Married former tennis star Steffi Graf in 2001; son Jaden Gil born in 2001, daughter Jaz Elle born in 2003.

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Source: The Associated Press

For The Record Los Angeles Times Tuesday June 27, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 30 words Type of Material: Correction Tennis: In Sunday's Sports section, an article on Andre Agassi said his professional ranking dropped below 400 at one point. In fact, Agassi's lowest ranking was 141, in November 1997.
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