Eight-time Grand Slam singles champion Andre Agassi was inducted into the International Tennis Hall Of Fame on Saturday, along with Fern ‘Peachy’ Kellmeyer in Newport, Rhode Island. “I’m thrilled and humbled and quite honestly a bit terrified to be here standing in front of you today,” Agassi said during his induction speech.
The 41-year-old American had an illustrious career on the ATP World Tour, spending 101 weeks atop the South African Airways ATP Rankings, and claiming 60 titles along the way. He triumphed at the Australian Open four times, hoisted the trophy at the US Open twice, won Wimbledon and Roland Garros, and captured the gold medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics to become only the third player in history to achieve a career Golden Slam, joining wife Steffi Graf and preceding Rafael Nadal.
On Saturday, the Las Vegas native showed his appreciation for the sport that
was the nucleus of his life for so many years. “I fell in love with tennis far too late in my life but the reason that I have everything that I hold dear is because of how much tennis has loved me back,” proclaimed Agassi. “Tennis has not only given me much, it has taught me much.”
Agassi thanked his friends and family who helped him along the way. Among those in attendance were long-time trainer and friend Gil Reyes, former coaches Nick Bollettieri and Brad Gilbert, Graf and their two children, Jaden
and Jaz, and Agassi’s parents, Betty and Mike. Agassi’s father was the driving
force behind his son’s introduction to tennis and Andre thanked him for pushing him to the limits.
“Dad when I was five you told me to win Wimbledon. When I was seven you told me to win all four Grand Slams. And more times than I can remember, you told me to get into the Hall Of Fame. And when I was 29, don’t know if you remember this, you told me to marry Steffi Graf… best order you ever gave me… so dad please don’t ever stop telling me what to do!”
Added Agassi, “If we’re lucky in life we get a handful of moments when we
don’t have to wonder if we made a parent proud, we don’t have to ask them, we just know, I want to thank tennis for giving me one of those moments today,
it’s one of the many things in which I need to thank this sport.”
But perhaps Agassi’s greatest gratitude towards the sport is for all the life
experiences and wisdom he accrued during his career. “It’s no accident that
tennis uses the language of life, service, advantage, break, fault, love. The lessons of tennis are the lessons of maturity,” said Agassi.
In 2001, Agassi opened the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy in Las
Vegas, a tuition-free public charter school in the area’s most at-risk neighborhood for grades 3-5. The academy has since expanded to a K-12 program, and its inaugural class graduated in 2009.
“I believe we have a responsibility to each other. A responsibility to create
more than we consume, a responsibility to build things that will outlast us. A
responsibility to find our own limits and push through them,” declared Agassi.
“Even when life’s challenges, weigh us down, make us unrecognizable to
ourselves, we can always begin again. There’s always time to thrive. It’s not
too late to be inspired, it’s not too late to change, it’s not too late.”
Two graduates of Agassi’s Academy were invited by committee organisers to be part of the ceremonies. A.J. Green sang the national anthem and Simone Green addressed the crowd with an inspiring speech. “I chose a student because I believe the Hall of Fame really connects our past and our present and our future. It's what this establishment does so well,” believes Agassi.
“I can't think of anything that represents us better than a child and their future, and the fact that tennis has given me a chance to allow a future of their choosing for them. So there was a lot of symbolism to me with the past being connected with tomorrow.”
Agassi is scheduled to play in the Hall Of Fame Classic Exhibition on Sunday, partnering Brad Gilbert. The two will take on Hall Of Famer Owen Davidson and former World No. 4 Todd Martin.
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