Andre Agassi

updated 12/26/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/26/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

He is still every inch the consummate showman. The bleached mane still billows behind him as he lunges for a shot. He still tosses his shirts to the crowd, still drops to his knees when he wins a tournament. "Andre is a Las Vegas man," says journeyman player and Agassi buddy Tony Smith. "He's a Hollywood celebrity in the tennis world."

To be sure. But in 1994, Agassi, 24, added substance to style. The man who once said, "Image is everything"—and often played as if he believed it—returned after wrist surgery last December to dispatch Germany's Michael Stich in a stunning straight-set final at the U.S. Open. How did Agassi, the once-cocky teenager who smashed rackets and skipped practice at Nick Bollettieri's tennis academy, find the focus to win the Open? Some believe the difference is Brooke Shields. "Love colors your life," says Smith. "Brooke is definitely the catalyst for his success." But Andre's brother Phillip credits Agassi's five-month hibernation. "It was a blessing in disguise," says Phillip. "He realized how much he wanted to play tennis." Indeed, minutes before his Open final began, Agassi was heard to say, "I can be the best player in the world." No one said the transformation had to include humility.

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