It still seems strange for Andre Agassi to look out on a tennis court which he is still not that far removed from and refer to any present era as “Golden,” other than one he has played in. Yet there he was on a conference call Monday, looking ahead to The French Open and talking about the current reigning kings of the court…Federer, Nadal and Djokovic…along with a look ahead to the great potential of hulking American John Isner, and talking about the current crop of players being maybe the best ever.
“They are so athletic, so talented, I think 20 years from now people will look at them as one of the best, if not the best, group of players ever,” the Hall of Famer said. “Our game is in a great place now, I just hope people appreciate it as much as we do watching what these guys can do.”
The Las Vegas native jumped on the phone with fellow Hall of Famer John McEnroe to help co-promote their World Team Tennis match this summer, which will raise scholarship funds for McEnroe’s fast-growing academy now in three locations (Randall’s Island, Westchester and Long Island) in New York. However the real talk of the day was about the current players and what fans will look forward to with the French and Wimbledon coming, and then a second Wimbledon trip for some during the London Olympics.
“I have nothing but the utmost respect for the guys at the top of the game now,” Agassi added. “Their commitment to excellence and the epic matches they have played, along with their varying styles, has really raised the level of tennis for everyone to a point it has never really seen before, it’s great to watch.”
As far as the future goes, Agassi hinted that the two children he and fellow Hall of Famer Steffi Graf have may not make their own professional inroads (“At seven and ten they are great fun to be with but I see them choosing so many things down the line that it doesn’t have to be tennis”), and maybe that reason is the size and skill level of the next generation of players, one that may reflect the size of fast-rising American Isner. “He is so big and strong and creates such problems for anyone who plays him, his size is really tough to deal with,” Agassi added.
As far as the London Olympics goes, the one-time gold medalist said he probably won’t make the trip to London, but his Olympic experience (his father was an Olympic boxer for Iran in 1948 and 1952) , and he won gold in Atlanta in 1996, may still be the highlight of a storied career. “Growing up, tennis was never part of the Olympic competition,” he said. “So the pinnacle of your sports were Wimbledon and your home slam — for me, the U.S. Open. Those were the things you dreamed of winning. Those were the things that seemed to have the most value. I went there fully believing, ‘I need to do this. It’s the right thing to do for the country in a busy schedule,’ ” he says. “But when I got there, I was really blown away with just what it meant to be a part of it. It hits you that we get four chances a year to win the other pinnacles of our sport, but we get one chance in four years to win this. And you’re winning it for something you’re connected to, but much larger than you. And with my father being an Olympian, and having that dream that he never achieved as far as medaling, a lot came together those two weeks.”
Agassi beat Sergi Bruguera of Spain in the final.
It may be that quest for gold, and the current crop of players, had Andre talking more about a golden era than expected, especially since his days now are filled with promoting and working with young people through the various educational endeavors he and his foundation fund in Las Vegas. It is also striking that the call was essentially to talk about creating a stop gap for a hole which may exist today in American professional tennis, as most of the stars of today’s era are not the Americans of the past generations, one which Agassi proudly defended every time he and fellow countrymen like Michael Chang, Jim Courier and Pete Sampras took to the court.
A pride and a sense of commitment to a game which McEnroe is trying to help restore, with Agassi’s help this summer. Two relatively young veterans giving back to the game they love from one golden era to the next, with an eye on the future.