Several years back, in 1997, when Andre Agassi was an on inexorable tailspin that first ushered him out of the top 100 and then sent him plummeting to as low as No. 141 in the world, he took the unprecedented decision of playing on the Challenger circuit.
Here was a former world No. 1, not long back the best tennis player in the world, burying his ego and rubbing shoulders with men he might never have even heard of. Agassi's decision was based on cold logic – not only did he need the points to begin the arduous climb back up the rankings, but he also needed confidence. On the ATP circuit, he was being systematically taken apart by journeymen players; the enjoyment had gone out of his game, as it inevitably will when you court one defeat after another.
Agassi's presence lifted the profile of the Challenger circuit, otherwise studiedly ignored by everyone else not directly connected with the ATP's second-tier competition. All of a sudden, those outside of the top 100 were in focus. Many of them wouldn't have even dreamt of a tilt at Agassi, as good a counter-puncher as there has been in the history of tennis; as they raised their game, they also pulled Agassi's game up a few levels too. It wasn't long before Agassi started winning matches, then titles. Having rediscovered his mojo, Agassi returned to the ATP Tour and, remarkably, wended his way back to the top of the world rankings.