Andre Agassi, that rugged individualist, has never been one to bow to convention or ceremony, but this was ridiculous. Last week at Wimbledon, Agassi removed his shirt on Centre Court to reveal a belly that flopped over his waist and a nearly hairless torso that nicely set off his long hair and stubbled beard.
Agassi arrived at Wimbledon to defend his singles title looking hopelessly unfit and shaved in all the wrong places. He had played, by his own estimation, exactly one hour of tennis in the last month. He was suffering from tendinitis in his right wrist, which, he said, had almost kept him from entering the tournament. He had, judging by his double chin, also been hitting the hoagies.
However, as he has done so often, Agassi defied predictions of his early demise. Inspired by teen squeals and standing ovations, he dropped only two sets in defeating Bernd Karbacher of Germany, Jo�o Cunha-Silva of Portugal and Patrick Rafter of Australia before taking on ninth-seeded Richard Krajicek of Holland on Monday in the round of 16.
Krajicek, who beat Agassi 6-2, 7-5 when they last met, three months ago, possesses one of the fastest serves in the game, but Agassi, known for his huge returns, stunned everyone, including himself, by winning in straight sets, 7-5, 7-6, 7-6. The tiebreaker scores were 9-7 and 10-8. Apart from the small brace on his wrist, Agassi showed no ill effects from cither his injury or the long layoff. He had just five break points against Krajicek's serve and won three of them. Agassi was to meet Pete Sampras in the quarterfinals on Wednesday, and he had a good chance of making it into the semis because Sampras had been struggling somewhat with tendinitis in his right shoulder.
There was no denying the powerful chemistry between Agassi and the fans at Wimbledon. Set him on the hallowed ground of Centre Court, and he is suddenly James Brown at the Apollo Theatre. Or Bjorn Borg at Centre Court in the mid-1970s.
"We feed off each other," said Agassi of the Wimbledon crowds. "They love to have me, and I love to be here."
That was good news for the London tabloids, which treated Agassi's performance as one part heroic comeback and one part farce. Between his first- and second-round matches, the Daily Star reported that Agassi had removed much of his body hair, and it published before-and-after photos. Agassi was unabashed by the exposure. When he changed his shirt during his second-round victory over Cunha-Silva, he bared his upper body to the wolf-whistling crowd. At a postmatch press conference Agassi had this exchange with a reporter:
Q: Did you remove your body hair?
A: I guess you could say that, yeah.
Q: Could you tell us why?