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Sunday, September 03, 2006

Agassi's successor nowhere to be found

Andre Agassi's career came to an end Sunday -- tearfully, painfully and extremely disappointingly. It's not so much that he lost to B. Becker -- not that B. Becker -- to end his U.S. Open, it's that Sunday's loss leaves a tremendous gap in American tennis and the world of professional sports.

I grew up watching every move of athletes such as Michael Jordan and Andre Agassi. I have an obscene number of Air Jordans and even purchased those cool shorts with the neon spandex attached. Those were the days.

Agassi's career was remarkable -- even after you take away his multiple Grand Slam titles. He came onto the scene as a punky, cocky and flashy kid from Las Vegas, whose flowing locks and unshaven face symbolized his personality and lifestyle.

His return of serve was the best the game has ever seen.

As he matured, so did his tennis -- and his hairline. His work ethic became just as admirable as his celebrity. Pete Sampras won more titles, but everyone still followed Agassi, and the progression of his career was arguably more impressive.

There was just something about him, even with a bald head and mainstream outfits. A personality helped, of course. Not taking anything away from Sampras, who exacted victories from his opponents with unmistakable precision. But Agassi was a different breed.

He was as professional as they come. And fans should appreciate how he grew up, how he upheld the tradition of the game. How now, with his tennis career over, is left to be a proud father and husband -- just like so many of the fans he garnered throughout his 21-year run.

The most disappointing part of all this is that no one appears anywhere near available or willing to take the reins -- not in tennis anyway.

Who in sports could be considered a role model in the same regard as Jordan and Agassi?

Tiger Woods is the only figure who comes to mind. His success is obvious, and with the recent marriage and loss of his father, we've been privy to see the inner-workings of Woods unlike any time before.

He, like Jordan and Agassi, is a true professional. Again, nothing against Tiger, I just don't think he has the personality to captivate people the way his fellow Nike icons did. His appeal is more about his outlandish talent than his person. But again, that may be different as time goes on.

True professionals, at ANY level in any sport, are so hard to come by these days. On days when we lose some of the old guard, it's cause for concern, disappointment, and a whole bunch of tears.


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