Only tennis is colorful in Agassi's return

June 28, 1991|By Pat Calabria | Pat Calabria,Newsday

WIMBLEDON, England -- Andre Agassi may never be humble or modest, but he knows how to put on a show, even while conforming to the ancient rules of the All England Club. With his big forehand and giant ego, Agassi returned to Wimbledon yesterday to produce a major upset. He wore white.

No, Agassi did not boldly violate the dress code that has governed The Championships almost as long as there's been an England. In his first appearance since an opening-round loss as a rookie in 1987, he was dressed completely in an ivory-colored outfit that did not challenge the regulations or, for that matter, the imagination.

"It was Andre's idea," said Ian Hamilton of Nike, which designs Agassi's tennis wear. "Frankly, he didn't want to come here and get off on the wrong foot."

The bonus was that Agassi not only won the first set of his brief Wimbledon career, he recorded his first victory as well. Never mind that his match was abandoned due to rain with Grant Connell serving at 6-4, 1-6, 1-1. Agassi won over 13,107 skeptical fans with his unlikely combination of conservative clothing and daring play.

He displayed far more flair on the grass of Centre Court, in fact, than he showed in the classic attire that lacked even a stripe of color. Agassi's only concession to the '90s was the pair of Lycra tights that peeked out from underneath his white denim shorts.

His performance was equally surprising, considering he had never been showcased in the stadium before and had not volleyed since he wore his hair above the ears. But Agassi swatted lobs, plunked drop shots and strayed from the safety of the baseline. He even liked it.

"I'm going to surprise you," he had promised on the eve of the tournament. "I'm ready for the challenge."

Whether Wimbledon was quite ready for Agassi was another matter entirely. The club braced for his arrival, but he wandered on court without even a wave, turned to the Dutchess of Kent in the Royal Box and respectfully bowed, as all the players are required to do.

Of course, Agassi couldn't go on without a few theatrics. The nature of his wardrobe sparked immediate speculation in February, when he first announced his intention to play here. So he entered in a white sweatsuit, which he kept on during the warmup, teasing the crowd and an army of photographers.

When he finally sat in his courtside chair and stripped off the wrapping, the mannerly British spectators appeared stunned. They were expecting Elvis Presley. Instead, they got Andy Williams.

"Now," Hamilton said, "I think we see how boring all-white is."

Hamilton revealed that Agassi had chosen to model white even before Wimbledon rejected several colorful alternatives. All players must submit their clothes for approval.

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