Agassi Bids Tennis a Tearful Goodbye

09/04/2006 at 11:55 AM EDT

Agassi Bids Tennis a Tearful Goodbye
Agassi at the U.S. Open
Ann Heisenfelt/AP
Andre Agassi said farewell to tennis at the U.S. Open on Sunday, retiring – as he'd said he would – after his 21st consecutive tournament resulted in a loss to German qualifier Benjamin Becker.

Collapsing in his courtside chair, the tearful 36-year-old looked up through his fingers to see 20,000 people standing and cheering for him in Arthur Ashe Stadium in a tribute that lasted a solid four minutes, the Associated Press reports.

Also applauding: Agassi's wife, Steffi Graf, herself a tennis champ, and their two children, Jaden, 4, and Jaz, 2.

Despite pain from sciatica caused by a degenerative back condition, Agassi walked to center court to bow and wave to his fans. He told the crowd, "The scoreboard said I lost today, but what the scoreboard doesn't say is what I have found. Over the last 21 years, I have found loyalty. You have pulled for me on the court and also in life. I have found inspiration. You have willed me to succeed, sometimes even in my lowest moments, and I've found generosity. You have given me your shoulders to stand on to reach for my dreams, dreams I could never have reached without you."

He later told the Associated Press, "I was sitting there realizing that I was saying goodbye to everybody out there, and they were saying goodbye to me. It's saying goodbye. It's a necessary evil. But we were getting through it together. That felt amazing."

Becker, who beat Agassi in the third round of tournament, told the AP, "He's definitely one of a kind."

Said top-ranked Roger Federer, "We all dream about a career like he had."

Andy Roddick, who will face Becker in the fourth round Monday, told the AP, "Selfishly, I'll miss him. I'll miss him as a friend, as kind of a mentor. He was unbelievable to me, with how accessible he was when I was younger. He would call me before matches and give me strategy advice before I was playing people when I was 17, 18 years old.

"I don't know many people who will take time out of their day for some little punk, trying to give them strategy."

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