On a glorious Saturday afternoon by the sea on Rhode Island, Newport County, tennis gave back to its hero a small token of its appreciation.
The 41-year-old Andre Agassi, one of tennis' most colorful, compelling and controversial icons, was enshrined in the International Tennis Hall of Fame, the highest honor bestowed in the game of tennis, putting a punctuation point to his storied journey from a flamboyant, long-haired rebel to a dedicated, balding master on the court and ultimately to the devoted, fatherly philanthropist off the court.
During his illustrious 20-year career, Agassi had won eight Grand Slam titles, 60 finals titles and an Olympic gold medal, making him the only man in tennis history to win a career Grand Slam and an Olympic gold medal.
Agassi's longevity in tennis is legendary. He remained the only player in the Open era who won at least one ATP World Tour title over 18 consecutive years, and was the oldest player, at age 33, to be ranked No. 1 — an elite spot he would later hold for 14 weeks.
His membership into the game's most prestigious club transformed him from a rebellious youngster to a mellow master.
Tennis shaped Agassi, just like he shaped the sport.
The flashy, long-haired punk burst onto the scene in 1986, injecting a fair amount of energy, color and charisma into this genteel sport. The gorgeous looking Agassi, at the time, was a breath of fresh air. He single-handedly elevated tennis to a grander stage globally and brought in a new, younger audience.
Tennis is a business, above all else, and when Agassi served, you purchased. Tennis, as a professional sport, is mainly seen as an entertainment, a business and a tool to drive economies.
Agassi was arguably the biggest box-office superstar in the history of tennis, a magnet for camera and a sure-fire moneymaker for the sport.
As the long hair has long gone, Agassi embarked on his second life's journey. By serving the community instead of the ball, he established his charitable foundation and has raised $150 million, according to the Associated Press, to help at-risk children in his hometown of Las Vegas, Nevada, becoming one of the greatest philanthropists in any sport.
After the Hall of Fame induction ceremony was over, Agassi will always be remembered, not only for his undeniable achievements on the court, but also for what he had contributed to the sport.
(This is a reprint from the People's Daily Online of the July 12, 2011 edition.)
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Zhenyu Li, a contributing columnist for a variety of the world's leading publications, authors the column "Golden Sports — Inside China's Sports Industry With Zhenyu Li", for Bleacher Report. He can be reached at email@example.com.