Andre Agassi, who turned 50 on Wednesday, has gone down in the history of the sport as a tennis great with eight Grand Slam titles and the distinction of being the first man to complete the Career Golden Slam – winning all four Majors and an Olympics gold in singles.
There were a lot of things that set the American apart from his contemporaries, in tennis or otherwise. For one, his style of baseline play and return depth was unlike the serve and volley style preferred when he started out. For another, he admitted to hating the sport forced on him by his father and was blatantly irreverent about it.
But perhaps the most striking aspect of peak Agassi was not his punishing returns on the court but his ludicrous sense of style that made him a hot commodity off it. Canon’s famous slogan ‘Image is Everything’ was coined for Agassi and was the perfect summation of his personality in the early days. It would be almost impossible to talk about the American’s tennis achievements without talking about the style that made him stand out even before he won Majors.
The eight-time Grand Slam champion from Las Vegas had the air of a rockstar on the tennis court, even when he wasn’t always getting the results because of his appearance. A flamboyant character, Agassi wore his heart on his outrageous patterned sleeves. The neon tights under fancy shorts, the bright colours and bold designs, even the incongruous denim shorts were in a way an extension of his personality.
Deeply conscious of how he looked, he dressed himself in flashy designs and even wore a hairpiece, which he later revealed was to hide his thinning receding hairline in his early 20s. He served looks, as today’s social media parlance goes, from the famous blonde mullet which was actually a wig to long hair with the headband, the shaved head and the bandanna and French beard, all the time with a fancy earring.
Nike even started a whole new collection called the Challenge Court selection, which had signature Agassi’s looks: from the acid wash jeans to the eye-catching tops. With colour-coordinated shoes and a headband, of course.
In fact, this obsession with his personal appearance have actually cost him Grand Slam titles. In his first ever Major final at the 1990 French Open, he virtually lost because he didn’t move enough as his hairpiece had come undone before and was held together by pins. He then boycotted Wimbledon because of the strict dress code policy, which he didn’t want to follow.
Here’s Agassi at the 1990 French Open, with the memorable iconic ‘Hot Lava’ coloured tights and the Air Tech Challenge 2 tennis shoes that became a street style staple. He lost that year’s final but kept the people and press talking.
At one point, criticised for the outlandish wardrobe by the organisers, Agassi famously called them bozos saying, “I think you should have freedom to express what you feel. Wearing colours is what tennis needs. It adds a little something. Without colours, I’d still be me, but I’d be more boring.”
The acid–wash denim shorts were an unusual choice for a sport that requires one to be as mobile as tennis, but Agassi made it work when paired with his standout hairdo and bright underpants.
Nike kept working on Agassi’s looks in the early 90s, which made for eye-popping tennis photos.
Despite boycotting it initially, Wimbledon was the first Grand Slam Agassi won. Here he is as the defending champion with a relatively lurid shirt for All England Club, long before the even stricter all-white rule was imposed.
Several of Agassi’s tennis kits could actually be considered street wear for daily use, such was their universal style.
In 1995, Agassi gave up his dependence on his hairpiece and embraced baldness. At the age of 25, he shaved his head after his then wife, model and actor Brooke Shields suggested it. The mullet was gone but the new-pirate look was no less standout for the American showman.
There is a rather touching story behind this earring, which Agassi himself designed. He made a matching set of earring and necklace for himself and Gil Reyes, his trainer and the person he considers his father figure. The three hoops inside the pyramid stand for the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost.
Later in career, especially once he began his relationship with now wife and tennis great Steffi Graf, Agassi’s on-court style became mellow.
In 2005, Agassi ended his long-standing and memorable deal with Nike and signed with Adidas, with whom he stayed till the end of his career in 2006. He would return to Nike in 2013, long after his retirement from the game.
Agassi’s final tournament was the 2006 US Open, where his Adidas kit had some of the old flair.
Agassi briefly returned to top-flight tennis as a coach for a few years, first working with Novak Djokovic and Grigor Dimitrov. Both were, however, short-lived.
He is now seen wearing a necklace made of rope and block letters by his son when he was four. which says, “Daddy rocks”.