The man who regularly reminded that there is love in tennis, during a playing career that included a record 21 consecutive U.S. Open appearances, will be honored Monday night during the tournament's opening ceremony celebrating athletes who "give back."
Andre Agassi, sent off to athletic retirement three years ago by a bad back and a third-round loss to young German Benjamin Becker, will be the featured celebrity of the evening's festivities, along with soccer's Mia Hamm, football's Doug Flutie and basketball's David Robinson.
Twice an Open champion and eight times winner of one of the four Grand Slam tournaments, Agassi also started a foundation in 1994 to assist at-risk youth in his native Las Vegas, providing funding for a boys and girls club and for the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy charter school. The foundation has raised nearly $75 million, and a 2005 Sports Illustrated report cited Agassi's annual charitable outlay to be more than double that of any other fabulously paid professional athlete.
During more than two decades, Agassi came to be universally acknowledged as having matured - as if in time-lapse photography - from a mere athletic talent into a champion and a man of substance. Through changing hairstyles, anti-establishment clothes, marketing campaigns originally out of proportion to his tennis accomplishments ("Image is Everything"), two marriages (actress Brooke Shields and now former tennis great Steffi Graf), Agassi literally grew up in the public eye.
And, through it all, he was widely embraced by the public. Upon his return, he will be hard-pressed to match his brief, emotional farewell to a capacity crowd in Arthur Ashe Stadium on Sept. 3, 2006:
"The scoreboard said I lost today," he told the fans in the moments after his final pro match, "but what the scoreboard doesn't 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've found inspiration. You have willed me to succeed, sometimes even in my lowest moments. And I've found generosity. You have given me your shoulders to stand on to reach for my dreams, dreams I could have never 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."