How do you explain the love affair between Andre Agassi and Wimbledon?
He had pigeon toes, bandy legs, no serve to speak of and he didn’t really like grass as a surface, yet somehow Wimbledon grew to love Andre Agassi and Agassi loved Wimbledon.
What could the world’s oldest tennis tournament, with its archaic clothing rules and grand traditions, possibly have in common with a player from Las Vegas who made television advertisements declaring “image is everything”?
In the early days, Agassi was a teenage human billboard with high profile sponsorship deals and high visibility clothing, yet he was ambivalent about the Championships. After losing in the first round to Henry LeConte in 1987 at the age of 17, Agassi skipped Wimbledon between 1988 and 1990 for various reasons.
“I don’t know why everybody puts so much emphasis on Wimbledon,” said Agassi’s agent Bill Shelton, defending his client’s decision to miss the tournament in 1989. “It’s just another tournament, like the rest. It’s just not in his schedule. Andre needs a rest between the clay season and the hard-court season. He’ll play Wimbledon. Wimbledon is going to be around.”
Jimmy Connors verbalised the thoughts of many Wimbledon fans when he said Agassi was a victory for style of substance. “They’ve tried to create this rebellious image for him and make him look like a big-time winner. But it doesn’t mean very much unless he wins tournaments. He’s nothing more than the product of sponsors’ hype. They have tried so hard to give him the bad-boy appeal of John McEnroe, but they forget that John has always been a winner and a champion. He never needed fancy coloured clothes.”
Connors was spectacularly wrong. Agassi compiled a list of achievements that has put him amongst the tennis greats: one of only five men to win all four Grand Slams; oldest world number one; winner of 60 singles titles; etc. And when it came to substance, he was like an iceberg: what you saw was just the tip. Andy Roddick once asked Agassi for his greatest regret, and Agassi replied it was not starting his charitable foundation earlier.
We can throw stats around all day, but that doesn’t explain the whole Agassi-Wimbledon thing. My question is: when did Wimbledon fall in love with Andre Agassi?