Posted on Tue, Mar. 29, 2005
JEFFREY BOAN / EL NUEVO HERALD
VICTORY: Andre Agassi defeated Amaud Clement in straight sets Monday at the NASDAQ-100 Open.
20 QUESTIONS WITH ANDRE AGASSI
Agassi has learned a lot about himself
DAN LE BATARD
1). Were you an insecure superstar?
``I don't know about the superstar part. I can attest to the insecurity, which I still fight pretty much by the day. Being objective about yourself is a very hard thing to do. But when you are on the world stage, you can't help but hear the truth quite often, and in a pretty harsh way. That's been a curse and a great blessing because I deal well with honesty and try to evolve from it.''
2). The character trait you most admire in others?
``Empathy -- the ability to look at any given situation through the lens of someone else. Understand the full capacity of that emotion. It holds you accountable and leaves you fulfilled.''
3). You were around Steffi Graf for a long time before you began a relationship. How did you figure out you loved her?
``[Laughter] Same way anyone else does, I guess: I had the opportunity to understand how and who she was. I've marveled at her from a distance, like so many. For a lot of reasons. The looks are something I always responded most to when I didn't know her. . . . [Such a caveman . . .] Hey, an honest question deserves honest answer. But then you notice the pillars in her life that are a testament to who a person is. The saying is so true: You are what you do. I've always respected how she goes about her work, business, relationships. Companies. Coaches. People she has been so loyal to. The people in her life. Then I basically stalked her. Then I got to know her. And it has been a joy since.''
4). Three athletes anywhere you most respect?
``Wow. That's not an easy one. Alonzo Mourning has impressed me a lot through his foundation and what he cares about. His heart and commitment, pretty amazing. And seeing what people can do when they are 40 is pretty darned inspiring. Jerry Rice or Karl Malone. That hits the spot for me.''
5). During the last 15 years of growth from child star to introspective adult, what are you most embarrassed by?
``[Laughter] Probably my mullet. My hair. Sometimes it is better to not have any options anymore. [He is bald now.] Early on, I'm rather embarrassed about not understanding the world stage and that things you say and do in a casual sense get perceived in a grand sense and you can get boxed in. I've tried to make sure that everything I say and do now has some sort of reflection on who I am. It's a discipline.''
6). You look back at photos of yourself with that hair and think what?
``Boy, I would like to burn those. The hardest part is after games, when you are signing autographs and there are loyal fans who have been with you since the beginning. And they are pulling out pictures taken of you when you started. [Laughter] I mean, I want to be there for you and sign it, but I'm having a hard time signing that for you.''
7). You got much better older. What is the difference between the second half of your career and the first?
``I grew up. I started choosing my battles and realizing I could only expect a commitment from myself to be the person I aspire to be. That's not an easy thing. Still isn't. The effort and the journey is something people can respect and identify with, I hope.''
8). What are you proudest of professionally?
``I've taken a sport I've had a rough time with, and I've allowed it to make me better as a person. Tennis has been so good to me. Taught me a lot about myself. I've allowed it to become quite a friend. To play it at a time in my life when I'm old enough to appreciate and embrace the opportunity is probably my greatest joy.''
9). What do you love and hate most about tennis?
``Here's what I love about it: I love that tennis is a one-on-one sport only about problem solving. There are so many parallels between those lines and life. It taught me how to dig deep and take that next step even if you question it. That helped me in other parts of my life when I thought I was on the ropes. Get back to the fundamentals and know the most important point is the next one. And, to be quite honest, the hardest part is the grind -- putting yourself in position to do it every day. The traveling. The commitment. Takes its toll. But that's what makes the good times special.''
10). Where do you place yourself among the greatest male tennis player of all time?
``It's hard to argue with stats. Rod Laver, what he accomplished, every slam in the same year twice. And Pete Sampras, most slams ever. Hard to argue with that. Where do I put myself? I don't know. I was privileged to be on the other end of the court with Pete. I expected to win every time and, most of the time, I didn't. Thirty-five times, he beat me 19. You sort of marvel at everyone else. If you aren't watching the ball and moving your feet, it's a useless conversation. So I put my effort there.''
11). You are forever linked with Sampras. You like him? Respect him? Describe that relationship.
``I respect him tremendously. We've done battle. What surprises most people is how little I knew him off the court. He was a very single-minded man, and we only dealt with each other across that net. Hard not to respect someone like him. Liking him? He was always easy to get along with. [Laughter] But I think both of us would say that both of our greatest nightmares would be to wake up and have the other one's life.''
12). You have been trying to convince Steffi to play doubles with you. Why won't she?
``I'm the good guy in that part. I try to talk her into it. She's convinced we have a very happy life together. She doesn't want to risk that, I don't think. It just might be the only real argument we get into will be over something trivial, so she chooses to avoid that.''
13). You have built an inner-city school in Las Vegas. Why?
``It's the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy. It gives the highest standard of education to children who wouldn't normally have that. When you see a child who has no hope or opportunity or the ability to even dream, and to watch them take ownership of their future, it is probably the greatest feeling you can have in your experiences with people.''
14). What is the most moved you have been by something that project has produced?
``We have certain rules at our school. Parents have to sign contracts that they are going to volunteer and sign off on homework because we want to include the home environment. One young man called and said he understood the rules. But he said he had only one parent, his father, and that his father would not live up to this standard, but he didn't want it to cost him his chance. The child was the parent. His father was too irresponsible. One of the most touching stories I've ever heard.''
15). What is the greatest thing about your hometown of Las Vegas?
``Its soul and culture. I've done press conferences defending the city. And the one thing you don't ever hear in the recording is the chuckles when I defend it. It's the fastest-growing city the last 30 years running. It is a city that believed something, dreamed it, then did it. And it's a mentality instilled in everyone there.''
16). You have won $29 million in career prize money alone. What's the dumbest money you have spent?
``[Laughter] Brutal question. As a teenager, on the vehicles getting you from one destination to another. So much energy put into the car you rode in. At any given time, I'd have half a dozen cars on the expensive side. Learned real quick, it's not the ride to get somewhere -- it's where it is you are going. I have the minivan now. Greatest car in the world. Doors open on the keychain. Awesome with grocery bags and two children hanging on you.''
17). How has being a dad changed you most?
``Taught me to do more listening than talking. The more you know me, the more you know that's a skill I have to work on. You can't teach unless you are willing to learn. There's no space greater than a child's life. Learned how to learn. Be receptive to who they are. Discover that before going to what I believe.
18). When you were young, didn't you go to the mailbox and find checks for $1.4 million that you weren't even expecting?
``I don't know where any of this money has come from. It's a yellow, fuzzy tennis ball. I've learned real quickly to keep my eyes focused on that.''
19). Five adjectives you would use to describe yourself to a stranger?
``I was never good in English class. I don't even think I know what an adjective is, honestly. I just always hope to come across as somebody willing to take that step every day to become more of who I want to be. That's what it is about. It's about not accepting yourself not getting a day better. And being patient enough to understand you can't get more than one day better in one day. That's what I try to live by.''
20). How much longer you going to do this? When will you know to walk away?
'The simple answer is `I don't know' and 'I don't know.' As long as I'm healthy and able to be out there playing my best tennis with the real expectation of finding a way to win, I've got to believe I'll keep pushing myself to do it. When the day comes that I don't feel my best tennis could get the job done, that would be my signal. If you had asked me six years ago where I'd be today, I could never have imagined this. I feel like I burn out every day. That's the given. Everyone gets tired of punching the clock and struggles. But it is what I do. I have to look for ways to fuel those batteries. And I don't have to look far anymore. Beautiful family and friends. Those batteries get recharged.''