Amid titles and trophies, family ranks No. 1 in Agassi's life
by JOE HAWK
The things in life that most of us crave -- fame, fortune, being the best in our chosen field -- hometown tennis star Andre Agassi has had in abundance for much of the past 15 years.
Ironically, it is the things you and I have in abundance but often take for granted -- family, normalcy, stepping into a noisy, busy house after a hard day's work -- that Agassi has long craved.
Funny world, isn't it?
We want to be him. He just wants to be us.
Agassi is the first to admit he has grown up a lot over the past four years. His love-love match with retired tennis great Stephanie Graf, to whom he has been married for 2 1/2 years, is the primary reason.
From the wild-maned tennis lion we first met at age 16 to the sex symbol that had girls swooning from London to Paris to Melbourne, from the corporate pitchman who told us "Image is everything," to the wildly gifted player who occasionally courted a petulant image, Agassi aged before our eyes.
It was in private, however, where Agassi, two months shy of 34 years old, finally grew up.
First, wife. Then, family.
"It puts everything in perspective. There's nothing more important than the time you get to spend with your family," Agassi said Monday, his handshake firm, his smile warm and genuine, as he went through a series of interviews at the new 24 Hour Fitness Agassi Super-Sport Club in Summerlin.
The lifelong Las Vegas resident is in partnership with 24 Hour Fitness chief executive officer Mark Mastrov on the lush, upscale workout facility located in Village Center Circle.
"Everybody can identify with coming home from a hard day's work and getting a chance to look at your babies, even if they're sleeping," Agassi continued. "It's an incredible thing, and tennis has given me the opportunity to spend the rest of my life raising my children."
Raising the champion's trophy at center court? Exciting, sure. But nowhere near as fulfilling to Agassi as playfully raising his young son, Jaden, above his head or gently lifting his infant daughter, Jaz, from her crib.
Familiar with those days of 2 a.m. feedings, changing diapers and the tantrums of the Terrible Twos?
The mere mention of those everyday duties of a new parent evokes a giddy laugh from the man who has won 58 singles titles and eight grand slam championships, has been ranked No. 1 in the world on several occasions and has earned, on the tennis court alone, $28.5 million.
"Unless you pay the price with your child, I don't think you're in a good enough position to embrace the reward," Agassi said. "There's a lot to parenting that's not easy, but there are a lot of victories each day -- and a lot of rewards."
Agassi's family travels with him to "about 85 percent" of his tournaments. He wouldn't mind it being more.
"For a day it's great, because I finally get my sleep," he said jokingly of traveling alone. "I'm going, `Man, this is awesome!' But a day later, I'm going, `Boy, this feels a bit empty. This feels a bit meaningless right now.'
"I have to remind myself what I'm doing and why I'm doing it."
What Agassi is doing is playing tennis at a high level, a remarkably high level for a player of his age.
He ended 2003 ranked No. 4 by the Association of Tennis Professionals. With a semifinal loss to Russia's Marat Safin in the Australian Open last month, followed by a semifinal loss to American Mardy Fish at the Siebel Open in San Jose, Calif., this month, Agassi's world ranking has slipped to No. 5.
Not to fear, he explained. He'll be back in action in March, with renewed vigor, at the Franklin Templeton Classic in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Which is to say, there are no thoughts of retirement in Agassi's mind.
"There's not a time frame. My motivation is strictly based on the challenge to be the best any given week, especially the (weeks of the majors)," he said. "As long as I'm out there with the best players in the world having to play their best tennis to beat me, I'm doing everything I've always done.
"I feel an obligation and responsibility to give it everything I've got for the sake of all of those who have supported me, for the sake of the sport that has given so much to me, for the sake of thousands of kids here in the inner city who are reaping the benefits of so much hard work on the tennis court. That's my motivation."
But Agassi knows there will come a time, in the not-too-distant future, when pulling his racket from the bag will be solely for the simple joy of hitting the ball around with his wife and children.
When that time comes, he will go quietly but not necessarily gently, into tennis' good night.
"You don't want to hand the torch off to anybody. It needs to get taken from you," Agassi said when asked about the growing success of American sensation Andy Roddick, an Andre-in-the-making.
"There's such a part of me that looks forward to the day that it is taken because I'll know I can unclench my fist and say, `Fight's over.'
"Until then, I keep working."
Working and living a life not too unlike our own.
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