Agassi inducted into US Open Court of Champions

NEW YORK (AP) — Andre Agassi reminisced about that first U.S. Open trip 26 years ago, when he showed up "rocking a spiky, fluffy, two-tone mullet."

The teenager with a freshly minted driver's permit caught a bus too late and missed his practice time. He didn't miss much of anything else in more than two decades of visiting Flushing Meadows.

The two-time winner was inducted Sunday into the U.S. Open Court of Champions at Arthur Ashe Stadium before the women's final.

"I wish I had the words to describe the sound you make during critical matches, the roar, the applause, the love," the 42-year-old Agassi told the New York fans during the ceremony. "It's like a jet engine and a giant heartbeat."

He competed in the tournament a men's Open-era record 21 consecutive times, from 1986 through 2006. In 1994, Agassi became the first unseeded player in the Open era to capture the title. He won again in 1999, part of his eight career Grand Slam championships.

On that day in 1986, the 16-year-old Agassi couldn't convince the attendant overseeing the practice courts that he belonged at the Open.

"Sadly I couldn't convince my first-round opponent either," he said of a four-set loss to 128th-ranked Jeremy Bates.

Andy Roddick, who followed Agassi as the American star of the Open, took part in the ceremony four days after he retired following a fourth-round loss. Roddick recalled idolizing Agassi as a young player.

"He had a whole generation of kids wearing jean shorts and pink tights," he joked.

When Roddick was 17, he asked Agassi what he most regretted in life, figuring he'd hear an answer about tennis. Instead, Agassi said he wished he'd started his charitable foundation earlier.

And so Roddick learned from Agassi's example.

"Just by watching him going into a room, watching him shake every person's hand, look them in the eye, give them undivided attention," Roddick said. "That's something you don't see from a lot of professional athletes."

Agassi used the opportunity to pay tribute to the retiring Roddick, too.

"Thank you for the years you've given us," he said before the two embraced. "I think I can speak for all of us here today that we are so proud of you."

The inscription on Agassi's plaque describes him as "bold, brash and bigger than life" and "the ultimate showman at the ultimate show."

Perhaps even more deafening than the crowd's roars, he said, were the rare silences. When he gets asked whether he misses tennis, Agassi thinks about his bad back and his sore hips and the way Roger Federer took him apart "like my kids used to take apart Lego toys."

"When somebody asks me if I miss the U.S. Open," he said, "I don't hesitate. I miss your sound. I miss your silence. I miss giving you everything I had and a little bit more."
September 9, 2012

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