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Andre Agassi's Battle With Back Pain

After fighting painful, chronic back pain for years, tennis great Andre Agassi retires from the court and prepares to serve up the next chapter of his life.
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Born to Win continued...

That image was complex, though. For the cameras, Agassi was all flash. But there was another side to him. In 1994, he founded the Andre Agassi Charitable Foundation, which has raised more than $60 million for recreational and educational programs for at-risk children in southern Nevada. The foundation continues to support both the Andre Agassi Boys & Girls Club and the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy, both in Las Vegas.

The same year, an injured wrist drastically reduced his ability to compete, and he played only 24 matches that season, less than a third of what he played in previous ones. His ranking plummeted to 141 in 1997. He found himself competing in Challenger Series tournaments, a circuit for pro players who couldn't make the top 50.

From that low point came a new focus on the game. Agassi discarded his flashy getup and donned conservative tennis whites. (He started shaving his head in 1995.) He worked out until his body was in the best shape it had ever been. He rethought and reworked his game. And he began the climb back to No. 1.

In 1998, he rocketed from 141 to 6. No player had gone from so low to so high so quickly. By 2003, he had won eight Grand Slam titles. He is one of only five players to win all four Grand Slam singles events.

Agassi's home life changed direction as well. His first marriage, to actress Brooke Shields, ended in divorce in 1999. Two and a half years later, Agassi married retired tennis great Steffi Graf. They have two children: 5-year-old Jaden and a daughter, Jaz Elle, 3.

Playing Through Pain

By the time of his last Grand Slam victory -- the 2003 Australian Open -- Agassi's back had been hurting for months.

"I thought it was my hip," says Agassi, who says his only mistake in caring for his back was not getting it diagnosed sooner.

Would an earlier diagnosis have made any difference? Probably not, says Alan S. Hilibrand, MD, associate professor of orthopaedic surgery and neurosurgery and director of orthopaedic medical education at Jefferson Medical College and the Rothman Institute in Philadelphia.

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