Re: Bruce Jenkins: Andre one of the Top 10 All-time (sorry no Feds!)
Here is the article in full.
Strokes for Agassi: He belongs among the 10 greatest ever
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
(09-13) 04:00 PDT New York -- In a fanciful moment after her final U.S. Open match, Martina Navratilova wondered who would be the men's top player if all the greats were in their prime, ideally using the wooden rackets of old. She mentioned Roger Federer, John McEnroe, Rod Laver, Pete Sampras -- "Whoo, that would be fun," said Martina -- and it raised the question: Where does Andre Agassi fit into all this?
Agassi has cracked the all-time top 10 in the eyes of many, and that's quite an accomplishment, something like a modern-day outfielder being compared with Mays, DiMaggio or Cobb. Without question, in the wake of his retirement, Agassi's case is pretty strong.
He's one of five men to have won each of the Slam events, listing his French Open title as his greatest accomplishment. He won eight majors, putting him in a tie with Jimmy Connors, Ivan Lendl, Fred Perry and Ken Rosewall. Though it's common to see magical ball-striking in this era of forgiving rackets, Agassi was nothing short of a revelation in his youth.
"When I first came onto the scene, I was the first person to hit the ball big off both wings," said Agassi in a rare acknowledgement of his contributions. "If I was in position to take the ball early off both sides, I'd give it a good ride. I'd love to feel like I was part of the evolution of the game."
Richey Reneberg, a Davis Cup teammate of Agassi's, made this observation a few years back: "The last person out there in the same league as Andre in hand-eye coordination was McEnroe. The only person in Andre's league as a serve returner was Connors. But he doesn't really play like either one of those guys. I've never seen anyone with Andre's ability to hold his position on the baseline and not give an inch. He can take a deep shot on the half-volley from there and hit it as if he were swinging at hip level, like a normal ground stroke. Because of that, he can dictate points like nobody I've ever seen."
Added Agassi's onetime coach, Brad Gilbert, "Because of Andre, now coaches don't teach their kids to return the ball deep to the backhand off an opponent's second serve. They teach them to crack it, like Andre does."
In attempt to lodge Agassi's place in history, here's a quick review of the penthouse, in alphabetical order:
Bjorn Borg: Pulled off the French-Wimbledon double three times in a row, a feat considered impossible among today's players. Won five straight Wimbledons and engaged McEnroe in that unforgettable 18-16 tiebreaker in 1980. Big part of the stay-back, two-hand backhand revolution. Won 11 majors, but never the U.S. Open. A legend at 21, gone at 26.
Don Budge: Born and raised in Oakland. First to win the Grand Slam, in 1938. Said to have one of the best backhands ever. The great Bill Tilden called him the best he'd ever seen for pure consistency. Eminently likable, huge crowd favorite, owned a 92-match win streak and the distinction of reaching the finals of six straight majors -- winning them all.
Jimmy Connors: Might have had the Slam in 1974, his greatest year (99-4), if he hadn't been banned from the French Open because of his association with the competing World Team Tennis. Won five U.S. Opens between '74 and '83. Gave new meaning to on-court aggression. Perhaps the most inspiring body language (in triumph) ever witnessed.
Pancho Gonzalez: Forget the theatrics of McEnroe, Ilie Nastase or even Rafael Nadal -- this was the greatest combination of grace, power, temper and panache. There wasn't a Hollywood actor with more style, although Gonzalez, due to his Mexican descent, had to fight his way through the L.A. establishment in the 1940s. Once there, he was the game's most commanding figure. Turned pro early, after twice winning the U.S. Championships (now the U.S. Open), and thus was banned from playing the majors for some 20 years. Continued to beat top players well into his 40s.
Jack Kramer: Won Wimbledon and two U.S. Championships, then turned pro, dominating everyone on those gypsy-like tours and setting bold standards with his serve-and-volley style. Lost three years to the Coast Guard in World War II, but never broke stride. For those who saw him, Kramer's elegance is an unforgettable memory. (In this mythical tournament, we're all using the old Kramer-model wood.)
Rod Laver: Perhaps the only player without an "if." He had every shot and was the ultimate sportsman. Won the Grand Slam as an amateur (1962) and as a professional (1969). Won 11 majors and missed another 21 until the Open Era let him back in. Said to be the father of modern topspin. The Rocket. Unparalleled.
John McEnroe: Falls short in longevity, but set lofty standards between 1979 and '84, when he won four U.S. Opens, three Wimbledons and held the edge over Connors and Borg. Never won the Australian or the French, and still agonizes over losing the '84 French final to Ivan Lendl (7-5 in the fifth). Inadvertently popularized the game by being an irreverent, incorrigible genius.
Pete Sampras: Won more majors (14) than anyone. Would probably be everyone's No. 1 if he'd won the French (he reached the '96 semis but didn't even clear the second round in his last five attempts). Epic farewell, going out with the 2002 U.S. Open title.
Bill Tilden: As the man who brought tennis into the Roaring Twenties mainstream, Tilden was his sport's answer to Babe Ruth and Red Grange. Totally invincible between 1920 and '26. Won Wimbledon both times he entered. Had .936 record (907-62) over 18 years as an amateur.
My own picks? I saw enough of Laver to close my personal case for No. 1. I also saw Gonzalez, in the dingy halls of the old L.A. Sports Arena, and I think he would beat Federer on the strength of his will. Sampras has to be No. 3, just on the numbers and his phenomenal reliability on huge points. I put Kramer fourth, imagining the joy of watching his all-court game. McEnroe has to be fifth -- just too much pure talent -- followed by Connors (stirred the soul) and Borg (boring style, yet an intriguing man of mystery).
Bypassing such esoteric picks as Ellsworth Vines and Lew Hoad (you should hear players of the '50s talk about his talent), I give Tilden and Budge their due in the eighth and ninth spots. And Agassi has to round out the field. Nobody ever struck the ball quite like him, and he carved out those eight majors in the Sampras era.
Experts' top ten
Why take The Chronicle's word on the top 10 men's tennis players of all time? For a truly authentic analysis, I asked the only three American writers on tennis' Hall of Fame nominating committee (and also the three I'd ask, anyway): TV analyst and Boston Globe columnist Bud Collins, historian and magazine writer Steve Flink, and the multi-faced media maven of Oakland, Joel Drucker. Here are their lists, in order. (We all agreed to wait on Federer until his career has ended; if anyone asked me, I'd have him at No. 4 -- and on the rise.)
-- Bruce Jenkins
Pete Sampras, Rod Laver,
Pancho Gonzalez, Jack Kramer, Don Budge, Bill Tilden, Bjorn Borg, Jimmy Connors, Ivan Lendl, (tie) John McEnroe and Andre Agassi
Sampras, Laver, Kramer, Tilden, Borg, Budge, Gonzalez, Connors, McEnroe, (tie) Lendl and Agassi
Laver, Gonzalez, Tilden, Budge, Borg, Sampras, McEnroe, Connors, Ken Rosewall, (tie) Lendl and Kramer
E-mail Bruce Jenkins at firstname.lastname@example.org.