Tennis has been transformed over the last five decades by TV, money, technology, equipment, fashion and politics. But through all of that, the players have remained at the heart of the game. As part of our golden anniversary celebration of the Open era, Tennis.com presents its list of 50 best players—the Top 25 men and the Top 25 women—of the last 50 years. You'll be able to view the entire list in the March/April issue of TENNIS Magazine.
(Note: Only singles results were considered; any player who won a major title during the Open era had his or her entire career evaluated; all statistics are through the 2018 Australian Open.)
11. Andre Agassi
Years played: 1986–2006
Major titles: 8
Agassi’s autobiography was called Open, but it could have come with a subtitle: “How to Survive Child Stardom, Burnout, Spandex, Hair Loss, and a Love-Hate Relationship With Your Job and Still Succeed.”
Agassi came into his own as a player at the same time that he came into his own as a man. He began in 1986 as a cocky, acid-washed, mullet-wearing 16-year-old, a kid that Ivan Lendl summed up (and dismissed) as little more than “a forehand and a haircut.” Three years later, Agassi summed himself up in many people’s eyes with his infamous “Image is Everything” ad campaign for Canon. The fact that he couldn’t win a major title only made the phrase harder to shake.
Twenty years later, Agassi had turned himself and his career 180 degrees. The highlighted hair and the jean shorts were long gone, replaced by a new accessory: A necklace that read “Daddy Rocks.” Married to Steffi Graf and a father of two, Agassi, who once said you could never travel too far for Taco Bell, became famous for his dedication to fitness. He also lived up to the potential that had once seemed destined to go unfulfilled. Unable to win a Slam early, he ended up being the first man since Rod Laver to win all four, and he dipped that career Slam in gold when he won the men’s singles at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. Three years later, at 29, he finally won the tournament that had broken his heart 10 years earlier, the French Open, and finished the year No. 1 for the first time.
“Nobody has hit the ball that hard at me,” a stunned John McEnroe said when he first faced Agassi. Along with Boris Becker, the Las Vegas native helped usher in the power game with his lethal forehand and two-handed backhand, both of which he took as early as possible. More than any other player, he turned the return of serve into an offensive weapon. Over the years, Agassi went from being a streaky shot-maker to a methodical grinder who delighted in wearing younger opponents down.
The story of most top tennis players’ careers is one of success from start to finish. While Agassi may wish that he had won more early on, his own story was about something deeper and sweeter: redemption.
Defining Moment: When Agassi lost his final match, at the 2006 US Open, he took the microphone and told the audience, as he fought back tears, “The scoreboard said I lost today, but what the scoreboard doesn’t say is what I found...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.”
Watch: Andre Agassi wins the 1992 Wimbledon title
This Week on Tennis Channel Plus 2/12
ATP Buenos Aires (Feb. 14-18)
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