All-around Andre

By Mike Szwaja

The other day I came home from class and my roommate said, “Hey man, I just watched the Top 25 Moments in Reality TV on VH1. It was pretty cool.” Lists about almost anything seem to be pretty cool these days. They’re everywhere.

Even Fox Sports Net is throwing lists at us in “The Sports List,” a new show in which host Summer Sanders presents different top 10 lists.

ESPN is list-happy too. The network is in the middle of its 25th anniversary celebration, and viewers are getting top 25 lists for just about everything having to do with sports – top 25 headlines of the last 25 years, top 25 performances of the last 25 years, top 25 athletes of the last 25 years.

That last one bothers me in a certain respect. What does an athlete have to do to be crowned the best? Is it the athlete who most dominated his/her sport? Is it the athlete who most exemplifies the perfect combination of strength, speed and endurance? My point is, naming the best athlete of all-time, or the last 25 years, or whatever, can be a hazy proposition.

In fact, naming that one athlete is impossible. Different things make different athletes special. Barry Bonds, Wayne Gretzky, Michael Jordan and Emmitt Smith are all considered great athletes, but it can be argued that they all had their faults, which didn’t necessarily deal with their physical abilities. What can make an athlete extra special is the way he carries himself as a person. More specifically, someone who can be dominating, entertaining and charismatic at the same time is an extra special athlete.

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The first person who comes to mind under these criteria is Andre Agassi, and while Agassi hasn’t been nearly as dominating as the aforementioned athletes, he has done a little bit of everything.

Agassi has traditionally been overlooked when we name the best athletes of our time, which is sad but true. He dominated a game of power with a game that lacked power, made a name for himself in a sport not considered a major one in the United States and turned himself into a role model.

It was difficult to watch Agassi lose his quarterfinal U.S. Open match against Roger Federer on Wednesday and Thursday because I knew it might have been his last chance to win another Open. But at the same time, it was fun, as it has always been, to watch him compete.

There was Agassi, 34, hanging with Federer, the world’s best player at age 23, for five sets before graciously accepting defeat. Over the last two weeks, we saw the same Agassi that won him eight majors. Only five men have won more.

We saw the blistering return game unmatched by anyone else to ever step on a tennis court.

We saw the supreme level of fitness that Agassi brings with him, which makes wearing his opponents down one of his trademarks and allows him to compete into his 30s.

We saw the workman-like approach that shows just how much he loves and appreciates the game. If you’re an Agassi fan, you know what I’m talking about. He’ll hit a great shot, admire it for a second, then break into this short-stepped, almost military-like walk back to the baseline to prepare for the next shot.

When he put it all together, he was dominating – so dominating that he’s one of only five men to win the career grand slam – something not even Pete Sampras accomplished.

As if the way he played the game wasn’t enthralling enough, Agassi’s image made watching him even more entertaining. When he won his first major – Wimbledon in 1992, Martina Navratilova was in the announcer’s booth. Navratilova described the longhaired Agassi’s win by jokingly saying, “He looks … like someone who’s here to do the floors rather than someone here to win Wimbledon.”

Agassi was the Michael Jordan of tennis when it came to wardrobe. Gone were the headbands, short shorts, high white socks and muscle-tight cotton shirts. Agassi made bandanas, baggy shorts, short black socks and loose-fitting polyester shirts cool. Agassi was the rebel of the tennis world, and it was fun to watch.

He was a rebel in appearance, but image wasn’t really everything for Agassi, who prided himself on respecting the game and his opponents. It’s ironic to think that Agassi, a guy who lives in Las Vegas, never faced any legal problems – no outrageous outbursts, no gambling addiction, no bout with drugs, no legal problems, etc. Never were parents forced to worry about their children admiring him.

So when we consider the ultimate athletes of our time, taking into consideration how dominating, entertaining and charismatic an athlete can be, Andre Agassi has to be near the top.

I want to know who your ultimate athlete is. Use my criterion and send in your ultimate athlete. I’ll print some of the best answers with my thoughts next week.

Mike Szwaja is a senior in communications. He can be reached at [email protected].