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November 10, 1997: The day Andre Agassi slumped to No 141, his lowest ranking in a decade
Each day, Tennis Majors takes you back to an important moment in tennis history. On this day in 1997 Andre Agassi dropped out of the top 100 after a miserable season on the court and decided to drop down to the ATP Challenger Tour
What exactly happened on that day?
On this day, November 10 in1997, Andre Agassi, who had been ranked No 1 in the world just 18 months earlier, reached the lowest point of his career, slumping to 141st in the ATP rankings. Struggling with motivation, Agassi entered only 13 tournaments, without reaching a final in any of them. Soon, the three-time Grand Slam champion would participate in ATP Challenger events to rebuild his confidence and eventually climb back to the pinnacle of his sport.
The players involved: Andre Agassi
- Andre Agassi: The Las Vegas Kid who was on a freefall after reaching world No 1
Andre Agassi, the Las Vegas Kid, was a tennis legend. He had turned professional in 1986 and soon became one of tennis’ biggest superstars, not only due to his outrageous tennis skills but also his unruly hair (or lack thereof – see his autobiography “Open” for more on that) and garish fashion sense, such as the iconic denim shorts, accompanied by an underlayer of pink compression shorts, that were his signature for a time.
Taught by his father originally, then trained at the world-famous Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy, Agassi’s game was wholly unique. It relied on jaw-dropping return (the best of its time) and on Agassi’s preternatural gift for hitting the ball on the rise off of both wings with incredible power. Revolutionary at the time, Agassi’s game style was then copied by generations of tennis players that came after him.
After finishing runner-up in three Grand Slams, once at the 1990 US Open and twice in Roland-Garros (1990 and 1991), Agassi claimed his first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon in 1992, defeating big server Goran Ivanisevic in the final (6-7, 6-4, 6-4, 1-6, 6-4).
This title was followed by triumphs at the 1994 US Open and the 1995 Australian Open, which marked the only time occasion he could defeat his long-time rival Pete Sampras in a Grand Slam final (4-6, 6-1, 7-6, 6-4). Agassi reached world No 1 shortly after this success, on April 10, 1995 and remained there for 30 weeks. In 1996 and 1997, despite winning a gold medal at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Agassi had a very hard time on the courts and his ranking dropped dramatically.
The facts: Agassi begins his climb back at an ATP Challenger event in Vegas
“My only good result in 1997 was marrying Brooke Shields.“
This is how Andre Agassi once summed up his catastrophic 1997 season. World No 1 in 1995 after a fantastic year, his 1996 season paled in comparison, even though he had won two Masters 1000 titles and the singles gold medal at the Atlanta Olympics. Agassi finishing 1996 as world No 8 was a disappointment for his fans, but the worst was yet to come.
At the start of 1997, the Las Vegas Kid was rumored to be more interested in his impending marriage to Brooke Shields, scheduled in April, than in his career. He skipped the Australian Open as well as Roland-Garros. Overall, he played only 13 tournaments, and won just 11 matches, his best result a fourth round appearance at the US Open (defeated by eventual Patrick Rafter, 6-3, 7-6, 4-6, 6-3).
What his fans did not know at the time was that Agassi wasn’t only struggling with his game. In his autobiography, Open, published in 2009, he would reveal that during the summer of 1997, he started taking crystal meth while his marriage was already sinking. He would admit in his book that he had tested positive and lied to the ATP to avoid being banned, claiming that he accidentally drank soda from one of his assistant’s cups.
As unbelievable as it was, 18 months after his last appearance at the top of the ATP rankings, on November 10, 1997, Andre Agassi was ranked No 141 in the world, his lowest ranking since 1986 when he was a 16-year-old making his first foray on to the men’s tour.
Nonetheless, at that moment, Agassi had already taken matters into his own hands. He had been on the verge of retirement, but eventually, he decided to continue playing and to fully commit to the sport. He started with three weeks of intensive training, losing 16 pounds in the process. On November 10, his ranking might have been his lowest in more than a decade, but the 1992 Wimbledon champion was fit and ready to compete… in a Challenger tournament in Las Vegas.
“It has taken a little while of [losing] before I said, ‘You know what, I’ve got the hunger and the desire to work at this again,” he said, according to The Los Angeles Times.
Seeing such a huge tennis star at an ATP Challenger tournament was so hard to believe that one of the officials said, “This will be like watching Bruce Springsteen play at the corner bar.“
“What’s wrong with Springsteen playing at the corner bar?” wrote Agassi in his book. “Sportswriters say I’m humbled. They love saying this. They couldn’t be more wrong… I’m just glad to be out here.“
At the time, the former world No 1 didn’t hide his ambition.
“I’ve taken a two-year sabbatical, but that doesn’t mean I can’t turn it around and start changing my work ethic,” Agassi said. “Every match feels important to me now.“
Although he seemed to have reached the lowest point of his career, Agassi was actually preparing to climb higher than ever.
What next? Agassi returns to the top 10 and then climbs back to No 1
Andre Agassi would finish runner-up at the Las Vegas Challenger, defeated by world No 202 Christian Vinck (6-2, 7-5). This loss would not affect his motivation.
“This has been part of a great training plan,” Agassi would say. “I’ve got my game in a place where every day was getting better.“
Two weeks later, he would claim his only title in 1997, at the Burbank Challenger, defeating world No 68 Sargis Sargsian in the final (6-2, 6-1). After the final, the Las Vegas Kid gave a warning.
“This is just the beginning.“
12 months later, Agassi would be back in the top 10. Two years later, he would reach the pinnacle of the sport once again, triumphing in a Roland-Garros final at his third attempt, and adding a second US Open crown to his list of achievements.