London: As a wild-haired, rebellious teenager, Andre Agassi hated the place but now Wimbledon has captured a special spot in his heart.
Back in 1987, the talented baseliner believed he did not possess the tools to make an impact on the slick surface of the All England Club and duly packed his grasscourt shoes away after a first-round thrashing.
He described the outing as “a short experience, probably an hour and seven minutes on Court No. 2 against Henri Leconte and swore I’d never be back”.
Sure enough, the Las Vegan showman kept his word and boycotted the event for three years.
At the time, when image meant everything to him, Agassi even blamed his absence on Wimbledon’s all-white dress rule and declared he did not own any suitable attire for the championships.
“As I got older, I became aware of what place Wimbledon has in the sport of tennis. To miss out on that was my loss.”
To his own astonishment, he landed his first Grand Slam title on the hallowed turf in 1992 by defeating favourite Goran Ivanisevic in a five-set tussle.
Eleven years on and at the age of 33, the American is preparing his 13th assault on the title.
But ask him about his first triumph and he can ramble on endlessly about the finer points of the final as if it was just moments ago.
“I wouldn’t say I remember every point... Goran served 38 aces that day, I spent a lot of time walking back and forth between deuce court to the ad court,” said Agassi.
“When I got to match point it sort of hit me, I knew I had to make one good shot to become champion. I got the chills all through my body and I was telling myself, ‘Just hit the ball’.
“I did not want to look back at possibly my only chance ever to win the title and not feel I didn’t take my chance. When I won, I still can’t really recall much. I was just in shock.”
Not satisfied with increasing his Grand Slam haul to eight titles by lifting the Australian Open again in January, Agassi this week reclaimed the world No. 1 ranking too. “For me, I still have more to pull out of myself...the desire is still there.
“Some days are easier than others. Those are my challenges as when you’ve played over a thousand matches, you’ve seen it all.
With no Pete Sampras or Pat Rafter in the draw, this could well turn out be Agassi’s year.
“Wimbledon has it’s own magic and it will be incredible to win it again. It feels like it was yesterday, yet it feels like a lifetime has happened.”