July 10, 2011
Newport, RI —On Saturday, July 9, a boy from Las Vegas, who grew up to be one of the greatest tennis players of all time, was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. A man who, in many ways, has lived a life filled with disconnected opportunities. But somewhere along the way, through all of the ups and downs in his journey through life, Andre Agassi found a way to connect the dots, and in the process, found his life’s work.
When it comes to tennis, Andre Agassi is, without question, a legend. During his illustrious (and occasionally tumultuous) tennis career, he amassed eight Grand Slam titles, an Olympic gold medal, and two Davis Cup titles as a member of the US Davis Cup squad. He is also the first male player in tennis history to have achieved a singles Career Golden Slam.
On Saturday, friends, family, and fans gathered together to celebrate a tennis career that has touched the lives of many, and served as inspiration to current and future generations of tennis players. Agassi’s parents, Mike and Betty were both in attendance to watch their son receive the highest honor in tennis, along with his wife Stefanie (“Steffi”) Graf, their two children, Jaden and Jazz, and his older brother, Phil. Also in attendance were Agassi’s former coaches, Brad Gilbert, Darren Cahill, and Nick Bollettieri, as well as Gil Reyes, whom Agassi described as his friend, protector, and trainer.
The newly inducted Hall-of-Famer, who delivered an emotional, heartfelt speech, said that he has stood at the podium at the Tennis Hall of Fame on two occasions: Once as a presenter for his wife, Stefanie, when she was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 2004. The other was in his father’s imagination. “From the day I was born, my father Mike saw this day in my future, and described it to me many times,” said Agassi, as his father sat nearby, proudly listening to his every word.
Agassi also said that one of the most influential people in his life was Nelson Mandela. A man whom he met just once. In their brief meeting, Mandela explained to Agassi the reason why we were placed on this earth. “We must be careful in our decisions, careful in our words, and we must be careful in our relationships,” said Mandela. “We must live our life carefully.” Agassi admitted in his speech to not always living his life carefully, which at a low point in his career, landed him at No. 141 in the world. Agassi said that his successful journey back to No. 1 “was the symptom of good choices and the result of being careful.”
It’s no secret that Andre Agassi has paid a heavy price for his success as a tennis player. An overbearing father, a tennis career that he didn’t choose, and a life not lived on his terms all contributed to his inability to make the right choices when it mattered most. It wasn’t until later in life that Agassi was able to recognize the teachable moments and hidden opportunities that came his way as a result of personal and professional adversity.
“Tennis teaches you the subtlety of human interaction, the curse and blessing of cause and effect,” said Agassi. “After playing tennis for a living, you never forget that we are all connected, and there’s nothing quite like a tiebreak that teaches you the concept of high risk, high reward. Tennis teaches you there’s no such thing as perfect. You want to be perfect, you hope to be perfect. Then you’re out there, and you’re less than perfect. And you just realize, I don’t have to be perfect today. I just have to be better than one person.”
Having been on the receiving end of so many opportunities over the course of his life has enabled Agassi to take everything he has learned and turn it into learning opportunities for those who need them the most. Agassi Prep, a charter school which Agassi started in 2001 (and became his life’s work), has opened many doors that were once closed for thousands of children in his hometown of Las Vegas.
Agassi’s generosity was on full display at his Hall of Fame induction ceremony, where he gave two Agassi Prep graduates a chance to shine on a big stage. And shine they did. Simone Ruffin, valedictorian of the first graduating class at Agassi Prep, and a bundle of energy, was Agassi’s choice to give his presentation speech. The 18-year-old referred to Agassi as “My hometown hero” as well as “A game changer.” Ruffin didn’t shy away from making fun of her hometown hero. “He wasn’t always perfect,” said Ruffin. And that’s ok. There was that wig/mullet thing.” Ruffin, who met Agassi for the first time in grade school, said “He provided us with the tools to build our own lives. Because of him, I will never forget to look back and lift up others.”
(Simone Ruffin, pictured with her brother, Christian)
AJ Green, another Agassi Prep graduate and choir member, had a chance to show off his vocal talents, singing the United States national anthem at the start of the induction ceremony.
With his tennis career in the rear-view mirror and his life's work in full swing, Andre Agassi’s true legacy will no doubt be based on the opportunities he has given, not the ones that he has received.