Agassi set to retire


WIMBLEDON, England -- The final stroke of Andre Agassi's spectacular, plot-laced career will be played at the U.S. Open in September, ending 21 years in which the man Barbra Streisand once called "my Zen master" has transformed himself with magnificent grace from punk kid into one of the most admired sportsmen of our time.

"Only a few people leave behind anything in life that is bigger than the business they were in. Andre Agassi is one of those people," said famed tennis instructor Nick Bollettieri, who nurtured Agassi as a teenager, then coached him through his turbulent first seven years on tour.

"No matter where you come from in life and no matter what happens in your earlier years, Andre has proved you have a chance to become someone special."

After two years of occasional cortisone shots to quiet Agassi's flaring bad back, a retirement announcement was expected sooner than later - perhaps after the U.S. Open.

It was surprising, then, when Agassi, 36, held a news conference yesterday and announced: "It's great to be here. This Wimbledon will be my last and the U.S. Open will be my last tournament."

Because of his back and the associated sciatic nerve pain, he has played only eight matches this season, winning four, and after losing in the third round at Indian Wells in March he withdrew from the Nasdaq-100 Open in Key Biscayne, Fla., and wrote off the entire clay court season.

He played at Queens Club in London two weeks ago as grass-court preparation for Wimbledon, but lost in the first round to Tim Henman.

"I've had time, unfortunately, to take stock of a lot of things," Agassi said. "After the U.S. Open last year, I had a lot of reasons to be motivated to shoot for another successful year. But, for many reasons, that hasn't been the case and I wanted to do everything I could just to get back here.

"This is where it started for me," Agassi said, recalling his first Grand Slam triumph at the 1992 Wimbledon. "So, I wanted to make sure I made the right decisions to get myself ready for this championship and to hopefully carry me through the summer."

He was calm and unemotional as he made his declaration of retirement. In a few minutes, though, there would be a catch in his voice, but no tears as he turned a little philosophical.

"I have to make sure I approach this through the sense of what's best for who I care about the most and what's best for me. There's been a lot of challenges, but it's been 20, 21 years of incredible, incredible memories. I thank you for embracing, supporting my life and my dreams," he said.

He'll go into this final Wimbledon as one of only five players to have won each of the four Grand Slam tournaments. He has 60 titles, eight of which came at majors. He has won 864 matches, lost 270 and has been No. 1 in the world.

In 1995, his greatest year, he was 53-3, won the Australian Open, reached the final of the U.S. Open, where he lost to Pete Sampras, and won six other tournaments.

Charles Bricker writes for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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