Agassi eyes golden finale
Hewitt wins fourth Stella title
Hewitt back in top 10
Henman wrecks Agassi's comeback
Jun 20, 2006
As a wild-haired and rebellious teenager, Andre Agassi took a dislike to Wimbledon.
He despised the place so much that he would not fit a stopover at the oldest grand slam into his annual schedule.
Fast forward 20 years and the American runs out of superlatives whenever he tries to describe what the championships mean to his career.
Now preparing for what many believe will be his last stab at winning a second title in southwest London, the 1992 champion is clear that he would like nothing more than to end his career by holding aloft the famed gold cup again.
The tournament means so much that this year he sacrificed the claycourt season to keep his ageing body in shape for the challenge that lies ahead.
"It's the first one I ever won so it's a special place to me for sure," the 36-year-old said at the Stella Artois Championships last week.
"That's why I didn't play the clay this year, just to give me a chance to be here again."
Two decades ago, he was singing a rather different tune.
The talented baseliner was convinced he did not possess the tools to make an impact on the speedy surface and packed his grasscourt shoes away after a first-round thrashing in 1987.
He described the outing as "a short experience, probably an hour and seven minutes on court number two against Henri Leconte and swore I'd never be back".
The Las Vegan showman boycotted the event for three years.
"I didn't have any desire to be on the grass, I didn't feel it was tennis," said Agassi.
"I remember feeling it was inconvenient in my schedule. A lot of things that really had nothing to do with the reality of what it was.
"I just didn't have the desire to come over and play on a surface I was convinced that I couldn't really do well on."
At the time, when image meant everything to him, Agassi even blamed his absence on Wimbledon's all-white dress rule.
With a penchant for loud and outlandish outfits, Agassi was determined to make a stand but before long his better sense prevailed.
"As I got older then I became aware of what place Wimbledon has in the sport of tennis. To miss out on that was my loss."
To his astonishment, he landed the first of his eight grand slam titles on the hallowed turf in 1992 by defeating favourite Goran Ivanisevic in a five-set final.
Fourteen years on, the unkempt blond tresses are long gone, the wardrobe is much more sedate and he has embraced parenthood with his wife Steffi Graf.
But all this has not diminished Agassi's competitive fire.
As one of only five men to have captured all four majors in their careers, the former world number one has little left to prove in the sport.
Yet he is not ready to give up.
As he is the last American to reach a grand slam final, when he finished runner-up to Roger Federer at the 2005 US Open, no one will be brave enough to write off his chances even though he will be the oldest competitor in the men's draw.
Agassi, along with twice finalist Andy Roddick, is also likely to provide the US with their best hope of ending a men's grand slam drought dating back to the 2003 US Open.
Unable to compete at Wimbledon the last two years because of a recurrent back injury, he is determined that nothing will prevent keeping him from walking through the gates of the All England Club on June 26.