It was like old times at Arthur Ashe Stadium as US Open fans gave Andre Agassi a rousing ovation as the former champion was honored before Monday's opening night program at Flushing Meadows.
Eight-time Grand Slam champion Agassi, the US Open winner in 1994 and 1999, was one of four athletes saluted on center court as part of a celebration of the community work done by them.
Agassi was joined by former basketball player David Robinson, football quarterback Doug Flutie and women's soccer player Mia Hamm, but it was the tennis champion who won a standing ovation and blew kisses to the four corners of Arthur Ashe Stadium.
"Over the years I've shared this court with many great athletes but I'm extra proud tonight to share this court with athletes who are not only great, but doing great work," said Agassi, one of only six men to win a career Grand Slam.
In 1994, the year Agassi won his first US Open title at the age of 24, he started the Andre Agassi Foundation dedicated to improving public education in his hometown of Las Vegas.
In June, the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy graduated its first senior class and had a 100 percent college acceptance rate.
"There has not been a single match, a single tournament, a single accomplishment on the tennis court that comes even close to the fulfilment I feel with what it is our foundation is doing," Agassi said in a video message played to the crowd.
Agassi said it was special to return to New York, where he appeared in a record 21 consecutive Opens during a career in which he evolved from a cocky rebel with shoulder-length hair to a respected champion with shaved head.
"I've shared all my life with New York fans, for the most part," he said. "I mean, 21 years. They not only helped me to take a harder look at myself; they helped me grow up. They watched me and helped me."
Agassi repaid fans in grand fashion at his last Open in 2006, when at the age of 36 he won an epic second-round match against a cramping, eighth-seeded Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus.
Buoyed by a cortisone injection to soothe his aching back, Agassi kept his final tournament going with a 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 5-7, 7-5 victory. Afterward he was seen lying on his back in pain in the National Tennis Center car park.
"I didn't know how I was going to get off the parking lot floor and get to the car, let alone come back and play. But I had to walk through that door," he said.
Agassi's playing career ended in his next match, a four-set struggle against 112th-ranked Benjamin Becker of Germany.
"The scoreboard said I lost today but what the scoreboard doesn't say is what it is I've found," Agassi told the crowd after the 2006 defeat as tears streamed down his face.
"Over the past 21 years, I've found loyalty. You have pulled for me on the court and also in life. I have found inspiration."
(Reuters via China Daily September 2, 2009)