When the U.S. Open began about two weeks ago, I noticed an article about the U.S. Open with the lead, “Agassi’s Last Hurrah?” Tennis is a funny game. At age 34, in most other sports Andre Agassi would still have a chance at being in his prime. In golf, hell, he’d still almost be a babe. But in tennis, 34 is pretty much geezerville.
Now that the U.S. Open is over, and since it probably won’t be long before Agassi hangs up the racquet, it is worth contemplating whether or not Agassi is one of tennis’s all-time greats.
Some of you might be now be screaming, John McEnroe-like, “YOU CAN”T BE SERIOUS! Of course he’s one of the all-time greats.” But bear with me for a few paragraphs.
Let’s start with the five men tennis players who played only in the Open Era (since 1968) that no serious tennis fan would dispute are truly great: Bjorn Borg, Jimmy Connors, Ivan Lendl, John McEnroe, and Pete Sampras. Now, let’s see how Agassi fares against those five.
The first place to start is tournament wins. Borg had 62, Connors 109, Lendl 94, McEnroe 77, and Sampras 64. At 59 (it might actually be 60 now—I think that page is a bit out of date) Agassi is certainly very close to, if not within, the range of greatness. So let’s give him the benefit of the doubt, and say his numbers on this statistic would qualify for greatness.
The next aspect to look at is number of wins at the Grand Slam tournaments (for non-tennis fans, those are the Australian Open, French Open, U.S. Open, and Wimbledon.) Agassi’s 8 Grand-Slam titles surpass McEnroe’s 7, equal Connors’ and Lendl’s 8 each, and are only exceeded by Borg’s 11 and Sampras’s 14. He also seems to be in the “greatness range” on this measure too.
But here is where the comparison begins to falter. Half of Agassi’s Grand Slams are Australian Open titles. Of the five greats, the players with the next most Australian titles are Lendl and Sampras, with two each. Connors has one, and McEnroe and Borg have none. This matters because the Australian Open has been the “Garbage Can” Slam since Australia’s tennis heyday waned in the early 1970s. Without lots of top Australian players, the Australian Open lost some prestige as top players from other countries decided not to play in it. As best as I can determine, both Connors and Borg stopped playing in it during the mid 1970s, and McEnroe didn’t show up until about 1983. That means that for about seven to eight years the top two-to-three tennis players in the world didn’t play in it. The Australian Open has made something of a comeback in recent years, yet it is not uncommon for a lot of top players to skip it each year. Winning isn’t quite the challenge as winning the other three where most of the top players show up. Thus, Agassi’s Slam record just isn’t as prestigious as the other five great players.