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Agassi retires with no regrets
September 04, 2006 08:59 IST
"It's important for me to leave this game better off," the 36-year-old told a packed news conference after his 7-5, 6-7, 6-4, 7-5 defeat to German qualifier Benjamin Becker in the third round.
"I hope they're better off for having me, because it's me being much better off for having them. That's my hope. For me it's been about trying to give more than I take."
Agassi had hoped of one more dramatic run but it did not quite materialise.
The American, winner of 60 career titles including eight Grand Slam crowns, hauled his aching back onto the court one more time at the place where it all began in 1986 but this time it was too much.
Cheered to the hilt by the almost 24,000-strong crowd on Arthur Ashe Court, he made a tearful exit to a standing ovation from the crowd and fellow players.
"When I went into the locker room afterwards, they all were standing, applauding me," he said.
"The greatest applause that any person will ever receive in their life is that which comes from their peers," he said.
"It's not like we're a company who's working together to accomplish something. We're people that succeed, in some cases, at the demise of the other. To have them applaud you is the ultimate compliment.
"The part that makes this so good over the years is the fact that it will come to an end and a goodbye makes you really take in what you get to share and experience.
"The pain of the good-bye really lifts the joy of the experience. I'm very much at peace with that."
As a teenager who courted controversy with a seeming lack of respect for authority and a unique sense of fashion that had traditionalists tearing their hair out, Agassi's transition to caring, elder statesman has been something to behold.
He said he had enjoyed that evolution most of all.
"There's been a lot of difficulty that has come with this journey and there's also been a lot of reward, which as I've gotten older I've realized that most of us experience those things, just in different ways," Agassi said.
"Who I was at 17 is most likely not far off how most of us were at 17, except I was just expressing it a little differently."
When he fell to number 141 in the world rankings in November 1996, it took a change of lifestyle and outlook for Agassi to come back to the top.
"My motivation was just wanting it to be on my terms," Agassi said.
"I didn't know I would be able to get back to the top. I knew that I would try to get the most out of myself every day from that day forward. That was my commitment.
"That never stopped. That's probably something I take the most pride in."
Agassi also paid tribute to the effect his wife and former world number one Steffi Graf had in his ability to stay at or close to the top well into his thirties.
"Overall, she's been the reason why I've been able to do this over the last six years," he said. "Certainly since we had children. She's given me a lot. When I met her, I think I went 27-1 in grand slam matches."
Having begun his career at the US Open in 1996, it was fitting that Agassi should say goodbye there.
"That's what I planned on," he said. "This is the place that's given me the most over the years, that has touched me in a way that I haven't experienced anywhere else."
Agassi will be able to spend more time running his charity to help at-risk children but he hinted he would stay close to tennis.
"I hope I can be involved in this game in a way that makes a difference to it," he said. "I'll still care about it. I don't know how that will manifest itself."