After a three-year absence from his adoring fans at the All England Club, Andre Agassi returned to the place where he won his first Grand Slam title.
In 1992, the young Agassi was an enigma. He had been one of the brightest young stars in American tennis history, but his nonchalance on the court and his image-first attitude confounded those who had put so much faith in the brash long-haired kid from Las Vegas.
He returned to the site of his first of eight Slams today balding, aging, beloved and humble. His fourteenth appearance in London acts as his final act on the European stage, a place where the locals have come to love him as one of their own. They wildly showered him their undying affection
"It just sort of added to my nerves, to be quite honest," the 36-year old Agassi said. "You expect to be overwhelmed with the whole situation anyhow, regardless of just how warmly you're embraced out there. But then to feel that kind of support, it just meant the world to me.
"I wanted to do them proud. So I got a little nervous about trying too hard early, over-hit a lot. Took me awhile to settle down."
Indeed Agassi did seem a bit rattled as he dropped the first set to little-known Boris Pashanski. But after quieting his nerves, the man who has more Slams than any other player on tour quickly dispatched the outmatched Pashanski (6-2, 6-4, 6-3).
Although he is an American, it seemed fitting that Agassi would announce the end of his career earlier in the week in England, where his rise to greatness really began officially. After beating Goran Ivanisevic in 1992, the Brits took the cocky Yankee under their wings, making him feel like one of their own.
"It's something that's meant a lot to me over the years, being here, to compete," Agassi said. "This is where it all started for me, my dreams. It really started here.
"I've been embraced so warmly from my early years, and that has meant the world to me. This championship has allowed me to grow into the player and the person that I am today, and I have so many people to thank for that."
Many expected Agassi to hang up his sneakers after making a surprise, historic run at the U.S. Open last year. But Agassi felt, if he regulated his playing schedule, that he could conserve his energy and save up for one last run at his two favorite Slams. But regardless of his enthusiasm, time has seemingly caught up with the former bad boy, and he has struggled to many poor showings on tour this year. His early exits have sent him sliding down the ATP Tour rankings, leaving him with even tougher early round matches and earlier exits. But the kid from Vegas refuses to give in and says he wants to play out his career with the gusto for which he has become known.
"I'm not out there trying to extract more from this tournament," Agassi said. "I'm out here giving it everything I've got. That's my mentality. I'm just going to do it until the end.
"I don't know if the end will be the day after tomorrow, or much later. I need to see that through."
He knows the road will eventually end, a road that has seen him compete in more Slams than any other man in the Open era (60), but until the final point of the final match, Agassi will bash on regardless. It seems only fitting that, as the sun sets on a hall of fame career, he would come back to say goodbye at a place that embraced some warmly those 14 years ago, when his star was just beginning to rise.