Perspective and Agassi

Before the post, some housekeeping: It’s been a while. Wow, looks like almost three weeks since either of us wrote a blog. Yikes. Well, here’s one, a genuine rambler about Andre Agassi that might or might not make sense. Anyways, let’s hope this starts a hot streak for more posts…

I finished reading the Andre Agassi autobiography a week or so ago.

Everyone knows about this book. We know because of the crystal meth. The passage has been repeated so many times.

Agassi does the drug more than once. He gives it up but not before he tests positive, lies to the ATP and gets released because the ATP believes his painfully bogus excuse.

And for about two weeks everyone cared. Katie Couric interviewed him on “60 Minutes.” Jim Rome talked about it on his TV show. People wrote columns. Sports Illustrated featured that segment in an issue. Ryan Seacrest* even had him on his radio show.

*I’ve now mentioned Ryan Seacrest in consecutive posts. Feel free to make fun of me as much as you please.

Once the meth passage broke, others weighed in. Andy Roddick stood up for Agassi, as did a few other players. Most didn’t. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal expressed dismay, mainly because they said it tainted tennis.*

*This is completely ridiculous, especially for Nadal. Hard-core tennis fans will know that earlier this summer, he stood up for his friend, French tennis player Richard Gasquet, who tested positive for cocaine, another recreational drug. Yet, when Agassi, who did it 10 years earlier and confessed when he really had no need to do so, reveals himself to have done a recreational drug, Nadal expresses anger.

It’s unfortunate that his drug use has caused such a stir because that news has shrouded the importance of his biography. In it, he does what few public figures have done. He gives a clear image of one of the more complex athletes in recent history.

We finally meet the real Andre Agassi.
***
There’s a book, a wonderful book, called “Hard Courts.” John Feinstein wrote it, and in it, he details the 1990 season on the professional tennis tour. No one has written this complete of a book about tennis since.

He writes about a young kid with Greek ancestry named Pete Sampras who surprises everyone at that year’s U.S. Open.

He writes about John McEnroe, who threw maybe his most infamous temper tantrum at the 1990 Australian Open and had to forfeit his match.

He writes about Aaron Krickstein, a young Monica Seles, Peter Graf, the Davis Cup, a very young Jennifer Capriati, and of course, Andre Agassi.

At this point, Agassi was already the villain. He had refused to play at Wimbledon for a couple of years. Clothes, the media would say. Agassi wouldn’t play there because he didn’t want to trade his raggedy jean shorts and tropical t-shirts for Wimbledon white.

Feinstein also mentions his entourage. He talks about Phil Agassi, Gil Reyes and Nick Bolletieri and how they let Agassi get away with everything, how they coddled Agassi.

Feinstein’s view is clear. Other writers at the time were too. Mike Lupica, who Agassi singles out in his book, wrote several negative columns about him.

Agassi was a punk, they all said. He hurt the game because he didn’t care about tennis. He cared about winning fans with publicity stunts, strange fashion and long hair. He threw a Davis Cup match. And don’t even get them started on that “Image Is Everything” commercial.

In his book, Agassi explains. His brother was one of his best friends. They lived off three baked potatoes a day when he started his tennis career. Reyes transformed his body and mentored him in his personal life.
They were familiar. That’s why Agassi wanted them to stick close.

He didn’t throw Davis Cup matches. He tried harder in them.

He chose those strange looking jean shorts for Nike because John McEnroe turned them down, and he thought they looked cool. He didn’t think they would cause a stir.

His hair was long, because he didn’t know who he was yet. The hair was a coping mechanism.

Agassi notes he never told the media any of this because, well, he was immature and didn’t expect anyone to believe it.

But what if he did tell the truth?

If Agassi told us back then that he surrounded himself with his brother, his best friend and Gil Reyes because he was scared and immature; if he told us that he didn’t play Wimbledon because he hadn’t figured out the grass court game yet and wanted to save himself for the other majors; if he told us yeah, he did once throw a match but never would have done that at the Davis Cup; if he told us he shot the “Image” commercial in one quick take because he wanted to spend time with his girlfriend and didn’t think about the message, how would everything have changed?

We already had him penciled in as the rebel, the racket-carrying prima donna.

That was what we knew.
***
The 2006 U.S. Open rolled around, and this was the last go-round for Andre Agassi.

NBC aired a montage of his early, rebel years. The Who’s “Teenage Wasteland” played in the background. Then the background music changed and Agassi was bald and winning Grand Slams and earning admiration from crowds.

Yes, Agassi had transformed.

Writers, maybe the same ones who accused him of throwing matches, adored him for his apparent love for the game and the gentleman way he now carried himself off of it.

I recall watching the entire five sets of his second-round night match against Marcos Baghdatis. He easily won the first two sets, then lost the next two. By the end, both men could barely walk. And Agassi won.

He would play one more match, a loss against Benjamin Becker, and afterwards, Agassi blew kisses to the crowd and gave a speech. That had never been done before.

The loser, especially a loser in the U.S. Open’s third round, didn’t speak to the crowd. But we all loved Agassi.

Everyone loved Agassi. James Blake wore a retro, pink and black shirt with a bandana in his first round match out of respect for Agassi. Baghdatis admitted to emulating Agassi’s game when he grew up.

After that match against Becker, after the ovation and speech, all the men in the locker room, except for Jimmy Connors, stopped what they were doing and congratulated him.

In his book, Agassi details this. He also details how on the morning before his match against Baghdatis he thought about how he wanted everything to end and how he hated tennis.

No one knew any of that though. The 2006 U.S. Open was about Agassi because he had said all the right things.

But what if he told the truth?

If Agassi told us he hated tennis, that he couldn’t wait for it to end, that he lied about his love for the sport and how he wanted his son to love it as much as he did, how would everything have changed?

We loved Andre Agassi and thought of him as a hero, a legend, a person who had really changed.

That was what we knew.

***

It’s all out there, now. Everything. That’s why he called the book “Open.”

Who is Andre Agassi?

We finally know.

He hated tennis, hated how his father forced him to play it. He did throw a match once.

And yes, he tried meth when his career and personal life teetered toward disaster and lied about it. But he also donated lots of time and money to save a prematurely born child of one of his friends.

He wasn’t the devil wearing Nike of the early 90s or the saint of 2006.

In reality, he’s always been human.

And we finally figured that out.

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3 thoughts on “Perspective and Agassi

  1. lynn says:

    I’m coming here late because I am just reading the book. I remember when Andre ‘burst’ on the scene and what a CRUSH I had on him. The long haired bad boy…despite being 20 years my junior. I watched his career with great interest and I remember those last two matches – and his speech after he lost. Who knew, who SUSPECTED that he hated the game so much? Andre, well, he’s a class act. And that he IS one, despite all the stuff that went on with him, is to his credit. Men’s tennis is nowhere near as exciting as it was when he played. But you know, after reading the book, I am so happy for him. Because he doesn’t have to do what he hates any more – and his charity work, it’s obvious, is something he LOVES. At least Tennis made that possible for him.

    • Mark Dent says:

      All very true. I think one of my favorite parts of the books was when Andre told the story of how he was helping one of his good childhood buddies whose wife was having trouble as she was giving birth. Brooke didn’t understand why he was doing so much, and Andre couldn’t believe she would even question his actions. And he says how it dawned on him the only way for him to be truly happy was to help others. Maybe it’s trite but I think Andre is genuine – and it’s certainly refreshing to hear.

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