The Open Era in tennis refers to a period that began in 1968, when Grand Slam tournaments allowed professional players to compete alongside amateurs. I think of it as the phenomenal two week stretch in late August, when my TV viewing focuses almost exclusively on watching tennis at the US Open. Matches air from morning well past midnight, taking place just a few miles from midtown Manhattan.
The US Open, the fourth and final tennis Grand Slam of the year and the only one played in the United States, takes place at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, Queens.
As far as players and their personalities go, my favorite segment of the Open Era so far was the late 1980s and early 1990s, a period marked by the rise of neon uniforms, larger than life personalities, made-for-reality TV relationships, and mullets. In this description, I am talking specifically about one player who stands out from the era: Andre Agassi. Learning a few weeks ago that he was coming back to Arthur Ashe Stadium after ten years away, I ran to dust off my old Canon Eos Rebel camera. Really. I will explain.
One of only five male singles players to achieve a Career Grand Slam, and one of only two to achieve a Golden Slam (a Career Grand Slam plus Olympic Gold), Andre Agassi is huge part of my Open Era through the late 1980s,1990s and even into the 2000s.
Agassi earned more than $30 million in prize money in his 20+ year career, which is sixth only to Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray, and Pete Sampras. Not only did Agassi earn a fortune by winning tournaments throughout his career, he earned even more from sponsorships: an estimated $25 million per year when he was an active player. He represented Nike, Canon cameras, Schick, Longines, and Genworth, to name a few.
I don’t think I am alone in continuing to associate Andre, fifteen plus years later, with Canon cameras. Through the many years of the campaign, viewers were treated to his flamboyant mullets, increasingly brighter clothes, wild swings of the racquet, and in the last few seconds of the spot, a few words from Andre about about cameras, tennis, and image. Image is everything, he said.
Those words went viral. So much faster, so much more powerfully than Andre expected. Agassi was just 19 at the first commercial shoot for the Canon Rebel camera. The director told him to get out of a white Lamborghini, lower his sunglasses, and say those words. He did what he was told, and within months, thanks to the spots airing over and over and his success in tennis tournaments, fans were yelling those words back at him at every turn.
Two weeks ago, at the start of the US Open, the headline on Adweek.com “Why Coffeemaker Lavazza has 150 Andre Agassi Clones Roaming the Streets of New York” caused me to stop everything and investigate what neighborhood I would need to go to in order to see this spectacle. A flash mob of 150 Agassi clones took to NYC, between Union Square and the High Line. Interestingly, the clypd offices are between Union Square and the High Line. Disappointingly, I was not able to find the clones, nor Andre. A few days later when I went to the US Open, I did get some Lavazza coffee though.
Lavazza is using Andre as spokesperson thanks to his on-court success and off-court charisma. He remains the face and image of tennis, worldwide, even though we are ten years past his retirement. His tennis accomplishments, coupled with his outlandish mullet, bright clothes, marriage to Brooke Shields and relationship with Barbra Streisand, have had him on our radar for decades.