Agassi to play Team Tennis in July

Andre Agassi's present-day version of the ATP World Tour had more do with his career as A Tireless Philanthropist than anything on the tennis circuit.

Agassi keeps busy in retirement running a prep school, working on his foundation, and dabbling in various business ventures. The closest he comes to whacking balls around on the tennis court is with his kids or wife, Steffi Graf.

The eight-time Grand Slam champion is about to change all that.

Agassi is making a return to competitive tennis with a stint this summer with the Philadelphia Freedoms of World Team Tennis. He'll be playing two matches with the Freedoms in July before moving on to additional tournaments this year.

The Freedoms' makeshift home courts on the parking lots of a suburban Philadelphia mall are a stark departure from the red clay of Roland Garros, but it's a start for the 39-year-old Agassi as he grips the racket and swings again.

"It's been a few years since I've sort of been connected with the game in any direct kind of way, and that's been a little unsettling for me," Agassi said on Wednesday. "I took time away when I retired to try to figure out how I can best engage with the game and do it in a way that made the most sense, or where I could possibly have some more impact.

"And that has not been so easy, with all of my responsibilities, to sort of figure out."

Agassi won eight major singles championships and was one of only five men to complete a career Grand Slam when he retired after the 2006 U.S. Open, though Roger Federer has since become the sixth. Agassi has devoted himself to humanitarian causes the past three years, opening a tuition-free charter school for children and a Boys & Girls Club that promotes athletics and education.

His career earnings and endorsement money allowed him to enjoy the kind of lifestyle where he could extend the time and resources needed to his charitable causes. Agassi has an admitted soft spot for children and recently spoke at the commencement for the inaugural graduating class of the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy in Las Vegas. He said all 34 graduates of the public charter school will attend a two- or four-year college.

Retirement did more than give Agassi a sense of an almost normal life. It gave him a platform to advocate change and awareness in the educational system.

"I never necessarily cared about how many people saw what I did," he said. "I just cared about what it is I did, and that's what I'm doing now. My foundation takes up most of my time. My family obviously is my first priority."

Agassi, bothered by back pain in his final U.S. Open, wants to make tennis a priority again.

"Tennis was a bit of a missing piece," he said. "It's a sport that I've played my whole life and there are people that I've known my whole life, and there's things that still can be done in it. To connect back to tennis wasn't sort of a reaction; it's more of a proactive desire."

Agassi plays for the Freedoms on July 10 against the Boston Lobster and again on July 17 at Newport Beach. He's participating in the 30-and-over Outback Champions Series event at Surprise, Ariz., in October. That tour is reserved for players who have reached at least one final at a Grand Slam tournament, been ranked in the top five or played singles on a Davis Cup title-winning team.

Agassi meets all three criteria.

That's not all for Agassi in the first set of his comeback.

Agassi and Graf played in a series of exhibition matches last month under the new retractable roof at the Centre Court at the All England Club. And when Federer completed his career Grand Slam by winning the French Open earlier this month, Agassi was on hand to present him with the trophy.

Both players are among the mix of the all-time greats, but Agassi said there was no way to crown the true great of the sport. He does not think Grand Slams are the only measuring stick

"I'm not sure what the criteria should be of how you measure the greatest of all time, but we should at least acknowledge that using a quantity of Slams is not [or] has never been the benchmark," he said.

Agassi's best tennis days are behind him like his rocker-like, long blond hair, but his contributions to the sport are ready to move again like an overhand smash.

"I just feel really motivated to be good to a game that has been good to me," he said.