Patrick Rafter]

Agassi - a conundrum on two legs

There are some laws which are fundamental. For instance when a mirror is dropped, the glass will always, always crack. Then there is the law when one says nothing can go wrong - and it will. And then there is the law that decrees you win when you should lose and you lose when you should win. This is, without a doubt, Andre Agassi’s law.

Agassi took it into his own hands in 1992 when he won Wimbledon against all the odds and again, the following year when as favourite he went out of the competition almost immediately.

Agassi is one of those rare men who make their own laws - and because of this, he has done as much to attract new fans to the sport as Borg and McEnroe in the previous two decades.

Agassi lives by his own, individual set of rules and consequently rakes in more money than anyone else in the history of tennis. There have been advertisements with Nike and Pepsi Max to name but a few.

Agassi's is the player who brilliantly but briefly matched and indeed took over from Pete Sampras as the world number one. Although Sampras has proved to be by far the more consistently successful player, Agassi’s marquee value is probably still the greater.

Agassi's made an immediate impact on the conservative game of tennis. Rather like McEnroe, he is loud, controversial and immensely temperamental - so much so that he can be accused of a lack of professionalism. When he won the Olympic Gold medal at Atlanta, he upset many people by swearing loudly and harming the games’ wholesome and innocent image. Yet there is no question that Agassi’s cocky attitude and undoubted charisma has kept tennis firmly in favour with the young.

As another consequence of one of the earlier mentioned laws, Agassi is the tennis player groupies love to lust after. This is not a reference to Ms Shields (the infamous virgin), but instead the teenage girls and dignified middle aged women who hang around at top tennis tournaments hoping to catch a glimpse of their idol. Many would argue: what do they see in him?

Andre is a pigeon toed, slightly knock kneed and has been known to turn up with his stomach overhanging his shorts. It is likely that his ears will be bedecked with jewellery but it is never quite known whether he will have waxed his chest, legs, shaved his locks - or all three.

Yet even though Andre is not conventionally handsome, he has real sex appeal and has won legions of fans by modelling increasingly outrageous Nike tennis outfits. His style os always innovative.

Agassi is a born again Christian but yet one whose language is often dominated by crude four letter words. Andre calls everyone ‘dude’. He once joked that Sampras looked as though he had swung out of a tree. He made the disparaging remark that Richard Krajeck got injured just thinking about playing tennis. He is the Las Vegas boy who praises Vegas for its cultural and community values. He is the guy who insisted that the name given to his clothing line should be ‘Tennis sucks.’ He was voted ‘Sissy of the Year’ by a gay magazine after making a fatuous comment about Elton John. He suggested that Patrick Rafter would never win the 1997 US Open - only for the Aussie to storm on and claim the title. Agassi, in short, is the man who breaks conventions - as often as breaks his opponent’s serve.

But of course Agassi has won Wimbledon, the US and Australian Opens with scintillating tennis that endears him to crowds everywhere. he has produced a stream of shots of sheer perfection - and always with the promise of absolute brilliance, enhanced by total spontaneity. On the CV of any other player, his Grand Slam titles to date would be impressive but Andre is an underachiever. Agassi is the only player who has the game to rival the seemingly invincible Sampras. Sampras himself has admitted that he misses the rivalry that he and Andre had - and recognises that Andre was and is good for the game. Now it is just a case of important is tennis to Agassi. Andre once said: “I know my talent is extraordinary but the trick is to make tennis the most important thing in your life.

Agassi has the tennis talent of a God but, with his marriage to Brooke Shields, he is also one of the leading icons of the 90s entertainment scene. Agassi is a colourful, exciting character - injecting new life into the tennis scene. He told the press worldwide that he had fallen in love with Wimbledon and planned to annexe it. He said he could smell the scent of Wimbledon in Las Vegas, his hometown.

In an age of tennis clones, Agassi was the ultimate original. Yet he was also almost boorish and self indulgent. Fast food binges coincided with defeats and people wrote him off. Some say you can take the boy out of the country but not the country out of the boy. This is true with Agassi and Las Vegas. Tennis ultimately did not seem to be enough for Andre - and this is the tragedy. He wanted it all: the tennis and the high life.

Yet just as Sampras is predictably predictable, Agassi is predictably unpredictable. He bounced back at this year’s 1997 US Open grounding opponents into submission until an in form and inspired Rafter stopped him. It was the Agassi of old as he slammed the ball down the line, angled it across the court, dropped it tantalisingly over the net - and hit returns few would even dare attempt.

The gaudily dressed player had a message for the world: “I gotta say that when I got out there, I remembered the dance. To all those who cannot make the distinction between when I am playing and when I’m not, I’m playing.”

Yet even his comeback was clouded with controversy when Agassi shunned the parade of champions in honour of the late Arthur Ashe. However Andre typically charmed his way out of it. “It was very disappointing for me not to be there, but sometimes priorities call and I missed out. I was more disappointed than anyone.”

Agassi exited the US Open vowing to be back but perhaps only the more gullible will take him at face value. Agassi wanted his jet set life, the parties in tinseltown - and the tennis glory. But it doesn’t work like that. To quote the Sport’s journalist James Lawton, “God gave Agassi sublime talent but he first dressed him in the uniform of valet parking on the Vegas strip. That was the complication. He could hit the ball quite beautifully but he never quite got the lights out of his eyes.”

It seems as though Agassi may have temporarily thrown out tennis bit can tennis throw out Agassi? The game is desperately crying out for him in no uncertain terms and, if one is honest, tennis and Andre fit like a glove. Agassi once said: “To become jaded or non trusting or paranoid is not just losing hope. I call it losing the game of life.”

You cannot imagine Agassi losing his particular game of life, not when he makes the laws. But then again Agassi is Mr Unpredictable - and this is his allure.