Agassi just makes Top 10
By Paul Malone
September 05, 2006 12:00
TOP 10 at a stretch - that's how experienced American tennis pundits are rating Andre Agassi's place among the best tennis players of all time
Agassi, 36, spent his first day in retirement as one of the best-loved tennis players internationally and with a record of eight Grand Slam titles, placing him equal sixth among all-time male major winners, from his 21 years as the sport's premier entertainer.
The Amercian veteran's friend and former opponent Jim Courier said he belonged in the top 10, without being a top five player, while US historian and commentator Bud Collins said he could only put Agassi in his top 15.
Agassi's place in tennis history is difficult to weight up because he is the only man other than Rod Laver to have won all four Grand Slam titles in his career in the Open era and held the No1 ranking in four different years between 1995-2003.
"There's cold numbers and facts and then there's the story around him which adds to the significance he's had on tennis and amplifies his achievements to another level,'' Courier said.
"Where Andre falls among the champions of all time is in the top 10, I think. You can safely say that based on his longevity and how he won on every surface and won every title worth having, including Olympics and Davis Cup.''
Agassi's great rival Pete Sampras, winner of the most men's major titles with 14, won four of their five Grand Slam finals, losing only the 1995 Australian Open final.
Their place in tennis posterity hinged on the 2002 New York final, when Sampras prevauled because his serve gave him a weapon in a match where both 30-something players were suffering from wear and tear injuries.
"I'd have Andre in my top 15. He won all four Grand Slams and Sampras didn't do it, but Sampras kept beating Agassi in big matches,'' said Collins, who wrote at his first US national championships in 1963.
"He had chances to win the US Open several more times but didn't do it. He had a great record in Australia and if only he'd have got off his butt and stopped worrying about being homesick or not liking the idea of the long flight, his record would have been better.
"They play such such different games these days, but players like Rod Laver or Ken Rosewall could play this game if they were around now.
A Melbourne panel of experts in 1998 voted Laver a clear number No1 of all time, with Sampras, still yet to win his last four majors and with five of his six consecutive years as the year-end No1 under his belt, second.
Bjorn Borg (11), John McEnroe (seven majors) and Australian Lew Hoad (four) were equal third, with 1980s warriors Jimmy Connors and Ivan Lendl (both eight) also in the top 10 not including Agassi who had won three at the time.
Agassi's own vote as the best of all time goes to Roger Federer (eight). "What Roger brings to the court, I've never seen before. His forehand is arguably the best there's ever been,'' Agassi said.
Agassi was asked after his third-round loss to German qualifier Benjamin Becker ended his career on Monday (Australian time) if he was disappointed he did not go out, like Sampras did, with one last major.
Agassi said he would not have necessarily retired had he managed to upset Federer in their 2005 US Open final which persuaded Agassi that Federer, rather than Sampras, is the best player he has encountered.
"It's one thing to win a title and then to decide, 'Hey, that was great, I'm not playing anymore,'," Agassi said.
"It's apples and oranges. For me, it was always about getting the most out of myself for as long as possible.
"I knew I would know when it was time to retire and it wasn't time for me here last year. What happened this year, the way the crowds embraced me at this stage of our journeys, is the memory I will have forever."
Agassi said that he wished he had played the Australian Open, where he won four of his eight major titles, more often, after he had not entered it for his first eight years as a professional .
"I wish I would have played it more, but every time I was down there, I felt so comfortable,'' Agassi said.
"If I could, I would re-write all those mistakes. But that would mean giving up what I learnt as a result of them.''
Sampras was on top of the ATP rankings, started in 1973, for the most weeks of any player, 286, with Lendl (270) and Connors (268) next.
Agassi left the No1 spot for the last time in 2003, but was still in the top 10 at the start of this year, when his sciatic nerve ailment prevented him from playing the Australian Open.
Federer, 25, said Agassi's longevity in playing against three generations of players made him unique in the modern era.
"Winning the four Slams, which is so hard to do, is what stands out the most, and the length of his career,'' Federer said.
Where would you rank Andre Agassi in the list of tennis greats?