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Last Updated: Saturday, 1 July 2006, 16:24 GMT 17:24 UK
Agassi says farewell to SW19

By Piers Newbery
BBC Sport at Wimbledon

Andre Agassi
Agassi was emotional after losing to Rafael Nadal in his last Wimbledon
Rafael Nadal was barely one-year old when Andre Agassi first stepped foot on Wimbledon's courts.

That fact alone illustrates just how long Agassi has been around and how his retirement cuts the last link with a golden age of tennis.

When Agassi lost to Henri Leconte 6-2 6-1 6-2 in the first round in 1987 he hurried away from the All England Club almost unnoticed and vowing never to return.

"It made me think this place isn't for me," he admitted on Saturday.

Almost 20 years on, having proved how mistaken were his initial impressions, he finally departed after defeat to Nadal in the third round on Saturday.

Nadal already looks like taking the sport into a new dimension in terms of physicality, power and sheer energy.

But it is no slight to suggest that the Spaniard will never match the impact made by Agassi over two decades, because surely nobody will.

And while the American only won the title once, it was his conquering of Wimbledon that stands out as his greatest single victory.

This is the place that first taught me to respect the sport

Agassi on Wimbledon
For anybody whose knowledge of Wimbledon is limited to this century it would be hard to convey what a shock to the tennis system the young Agassi provided.

All hair and day-glo lycra and a blizzard of baseline winners, Agassi looked and played like something from a different planet to anything seen in SW19.

And his refusal to play on the grass for three years after his initial defeat to Leconte did little to endear him further to the locals.

So when Agassi finally did turn up in 1991 his arrival at the All England Club felt like Johnny Rotten turning up to the last night of the proms at the Albert Hall.

Fresh from a French Open final loss to Jim Courier, in which he wore a fetching black and purple number, there was a genuine feeling he would ignore Wimbledon's all-white ruling.

He walked onto Centre Court to face Grant Connell wearing a tracksuit and took obvious delight in teasing the crowd before removing it to reveal a pristine white outfit.

Agassi had got the balance right between showmanship and deference and started a love-affair with the Wimbledon crowd.

"This is the place that first taught me to respect the sport," he said. "To really appreciate the opportunity and privilege it is to play a game for a living.

There was relief all round when Agassi wore white in 1991
I think I had to come here and prove myself

Andre Agassi
"People work five days a week to play at the weekend, we get to call it a job. I think I learned that here, missing it for a few years, coming back, being embraced, seeing the respect for tennis and the competitors.

"They're here come rain or shine. Through the years I've seen them sit through some tough conditions just to see a few minutes of play, whether they're queueing up outside or sitting on Centre Court with their umbrellas.

"It's quite a love for the sport and that's what separates this from every other event."

The quality of his tennis also made him hugely popular as he took the type of counter-punching baseline play seen from Jimmy Connors to a new level.

After reaching the last eight in 1991 his great moment came the following year with victory over Goran Ivanisevic in an epic final.

The key moment arguably came in the quarter-finals when his lightning reactions helped him to a five-set win over Boris Becker, who at that point was still the man to beat on grass.

"I think I had to come here and prove myself," said Agassi. "I really felt like in 1991 I could use my shot-making to make something happen. The next year it went pretty well."

His victory dramatically shifted the balance of power, at least at Wimbledon where it proved the big servers could be beaten from the back of the court.

In the years that followed Agassi would fall to Becker, Pat Rafter and, most famously to a magnificent Pete Sampras in 1999, but he had shown the way for the players of today.

Maybe the real mark of Agassi's influence at Wimbledon is on the court itself.

Where once there would be a well worn path to the net, these days it is the baseline area patrolled for so long by Agassi that is in need of attention by the second week.



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