The Tennis Week Interview: Mike Agassi
The Agassi Story Cover By Richard Pagliaro
Tennis Week: What was the inspiration for writing this book?
Mike Agassi: The idea came when I was thinking I dont know anything about my grandparents. I thought I should leave some sort of biography for my children and grandchildren. The opportunity was right and I was all for it.
Tennis Week:Have your children read the book? What do they think about it?
Mike Agassi: My daughter, Tami, has read the book and she loved it. Andre, I dont know (if hes read it), but I know Steffi has read it. Andre has been too busy. My wife has read it. Theyve liked it.
Tennis Week:Reading the book, I was struck by how tough your childhood was and how you literally had to fight your way out of that place. How do you think your circumstances and environment shaped the man you became?
Mike Agassi: Let me explain something to you: you take a man from the free world and you put him in jail and after two months he will get used to living in jail. Thats the type of life he lives and he will get used to that life. I was born to that life. It was OK with me, it didnt bother me. That is my life! I didnt know any other life. I can see my friend come to school in a car, but I had to walk four miles to school. When you dont have something in life, it doesnt bother you.
Tennis Week: But doesnt that also influence the way you raise your children because as a parent you dont want your children to grow up the same way?
Mike Agassi: Everybody wants to give a better life to their children. We had so much food on the table that anytime we had five or six kids come over to play tennis with my kids I would feed all of them and take them to the movies afterward and theyd be happy and come over and play with my kids again.
Tennis Week: How did your life and experience as a boxer influence your approach to teaching tennis? There are some similarities between the sports and Ive heard people say Andres forehand is based on your right uppercut?
Mike Agassi: The guy with the funny pants, Bud Collins, said that. I studied Bjorn Borg, the way he hit the ball with topspin and an open stance. He hit like this (Mike Agassi stands up and simulates the Borg forehand), you follow me?
Tennis Week: Right.
Mike Agassi: That stayed with me. And I worked with the kids ≈ not because of the boxing ≈ but because I studied and what I taught my kids was shorter backswing, the faster contact you have the more solid contact you have hitting the ball.
Tennis Week: I have an old instructional tape Andre did with Nick Bollettieri and on the tape, Bollettieri says that you set up the ball machine and told Andre "Hit the hell out of the ball ≈ dont worry where it goes ≈ just hit the hell out of the ball." Is that what you stressed when Andre was a kid?
Mike Agassi: That is a story he says. What he left out is its hard to hit hard. You have 200 fighters, for example, and you have maybe six who have a knockout punch. Why cant the other 194 do it? Its hard, thats why. Hitting hard, that is an art. It is a talent. I got the idea from the whip you see a jockey use on a horse ≈ when you get the speed going from the end of that handle the tip will be even faster. To hit the ball hard you have to get the racquet head speed going. To know how to hit hard is not (saying) "Son, go out there and hit as hard as you can." The fighter throws the punch like this (Mike Agassi throws a straight punch) then its like 80 pounds (of force), but if he hits the punch like this (Mike Agassi throws another punch but twists his wrist at the end) and twists his wrist at the end then you get 110 pound punch that can knock the guy out.
Tennis Week: Right. Look at Larry Holmes jab, Ive seen him nearly knock guys backwards with a jab because his jab was so sharp.
Mike Agassi: Yes, sure, sure. Boom, boom, boom (simulates a jab).
Tennis Week: The last time I interviewed Michael Chang, he said if you saw Andre play tennis at 10 years old, even if you knew nothing about tennis, you would immediately say "This kid has a God-given gift." When did you realize that my son is very, very talented or when did you know that my son has the potential to be the best player in the world?
Mike Agassi: Let me explain it to you this way: if you have a child who is born with a great medical mind; lets say your child could grow up to be a doctor who could find a cure for AIDS, lets assume. If the kids parents didnt send him to school, that guy would be as dumb as the guy you could find cleaning a backyard. Thats wrong. The kid had the talent, correct. But somebody brought the talent out. I worked on eye-hand coordination before he was 2 years old, when he was 11 months old, with my technique. My technique was when he was in the crib, I had a tennis racquet and a tennis ball and the head doesnt move, but the eyes move. Thats teaching eye-hand coordination because the eye is going after the object as it moves.
Tennis Week: Youre training his eyes to follow the object.
Mike Agassi: Yes. He would sit in the high chair with a ping-pong paddle in his hand. I had a balloon. I would blow the balloon and he would hit the balloon. If you hit the balloon late, then the sound is not so good. But if you hit the balloon in the right place, good sound! good sound! He was learning from the sound and the eyes following the balloon. I studied a lot of physics. I would tell him good sound and he would learn, as a baby, how to hit it to get that sound. Those are the things that you wont learn from a pro. Those are the things that you wont learn in your home. Those are things you learn from someone who loves the game, who studies the game, who learns the game through a different magnifying glass.
Tennis Week: Was there any particular player you studied who you used as a model for Andre?
Mike Agassi: I watched all the pros. From every great pro, I tried to pick one thing that was right and put it all together in combination. My first two kids (Phillip and Rita) were guinea pigs for the success of Andre. Because teaching them I learned an awful lot. Teaching them, I learned you dont have to push the kid. The other two, they were pretty much under pressure because Dad is watching the matches, seeing the mistakes and were going to talk about it. The bottom line is to win the point. If you win the point with hard hitting, if you win the point with your angles, if you win the point with the drop shot, the main thing is you won the point. But you have to learn to do all those things to win the point.
Tennis Week: In the book, you write that when you were coaching Andre you stressed taking the ball early on the rise, coming forward and actually concluding some points at net with the volley. You suggest in the book that when he went to Florida, he kind of lost that part of his game?
Mike Agassi: Thats a little bit wrong. We talk about serve-and-volley like bread-and-butter, you know what I mean?
Tennis Week: Right, that they go together.
Mike Agassi: Yes, that they go together. Serve and then use the serve to go to net. Here, we have a great server like (Taylor) Dent. If I was working with Dent, he wouldnt go to the net after every serve. He hits the serve so hard the ball comes back even faster. If he had a coach who could convince him to do it (mix it up), it would work better. I once talked to (U.S. Davis Cup captain) Patrick McEnroe about the young Americans coming up ≈ Dent, Fish, Blake, Ginepri ≈ and if I had to pick any one of them to teach I would pick Dent. People say Dent? But he doesnt have a service return. That, I can teach him very easily. You can learn to return if you know where the ball is coming. He doesnt have to spend the energy leaning left and moving right. If he knows the ball is coming to his forehand he can play the forehand. I can teach that. Everybody says Andre see the ball this big, like its a soccer ball. Andre sees the ball as the same size you and everyone else sees the ball. When the ball is coming the object is to put the racquet in the line of the ball to hit the ball solid. To hit a solid shot with speed, that takes practice, practice and practice.
Tennis Week: Andre is credited with revolutionizing the game in the sense that he took a style that was typically played behind the baseline and brought it inside the baseline by taking the ball so early. Connors took it early as well, but Andre took the return game to the next level and made it an offensive weapon. Were these concepts you had in your mind as you taught your son or was it a case of you seeing "my son has this gift and I will teach him this game that best fits his ability?"
Mike Agassi: OK. OK. Ive always told my kids, "if you are going to do something, do it right." I used to write beautiful Persian script. The way that we learned was that they had a dotted line with beautiful writing and we would trace that writing over and over and over. And we did so much that we learned how to write beautifully. To learn how to hit a shot properly, you have to hit that shot 50,000 times. A tennis teacher doesnt have that kind of arm to hit that many balls. So what I did was, I bought a robot, a ball machine. The ball machine did the job that I was supposed to do and I was next to Andre saying "you meet the ball here". When you see where the ball is going to bounce, go to the bounce. Everyone says I taught my son to stand in the center of the court. No! I taught him to go to the bounce. The bounce is over there and as the ball is coming up off the ground you go down and get it quickly (take it early). Today, everybody does that.
Tennis Week: So many players have said Andre influenced their style. Is there any one particular player who reminds you of Andre? Coria, for instance, can take it early, has a good return game and has a bit of the eye-hand Andre has though obviously he doesnt hit as hard.
Mike Agassi: You know Coria is very fast. If you are fast and you are there quickly to the ball as he is its by far easier to return than if you are there late. You can hit the biggest ball, but if you are not there its an ace. The biggest problem for players is that they are not there in position. The drop shot is the easiest shot to hit if you are there. If you hit a drop shot and I am there to get it, you are dead. Coria is very fast and puts himself in position to get to the ball.
Tennis Week: So is there anyone who reminds you of Andre or do you see him as unique?
Mike Agassi: No, no, no player is unique. If you are inside the court and you hit the ball on the rise you have to be an open-stance player. If you are side stance, you cant be in the court and hit it on the rise because the follow through is too long. The open stance you hit the ball and follow through like a fighter ≈ a shorter finish.
Tennis Week: Andre has often said he was pretty unhappy when he first left home and got to Bollettieris Academy. Were you ever concerned he might quit?
Mike Agassi: You are always concerned that the kid goes to school and he may not finish that school. If you dont like the subject, if there is one subject you dont like then you dont want to go to that class. Then it wont take long to hate the school and not go to school. But if you love the subject, you still stick with it and get the degree. The bottom line is he loves the game.
Tennis Week: Andre has said he felt when he won the Olympics it was very meaningful and special for you since you fought in the Olympics. Andre has won more than 800 matches, but of all his victories which won is most special to you?
Mike Agassi: When he won the gold medal I was so proud I almost felt I myself won the gold, but I was more proud when he won Wimbledon. Because in 1958, the United States played Australia in Davis Cup. They were in Chicago dining in the Ambassador West hotel. I was the waiter waiting on them. Barry McKay was on that team. Eventually I started talking to the players and I shook Barry McKays hand and I said: "Someday, my son is going to play on Davis Cup and someday my son is going to win all four Grand Slams."
Tennis Week: And that was before any of your kids was born.
Mike Agassi: That was before I was even married. I told him that and I meant it and Barry McKay looked at me and put his hand on me and said: "Good luck." I just told him just now (during the interview in front of the Heineken bar, Mike Agassi spotted McKay on a nearby bench and spoke to him) that story and he remembered. Thats a true story and its a fantastic story.
Tennis Week: What is your relationship like with Andre and your children now?
Mike Agassi: We all get along fine.
Tennis Week: In the book, you wrote that when Andre was with Brooke you did not speak for a while.
Mike Agassi: It was a little bit that way. He got married and I didnt see him for 14 months.
Tennis Week: According to the book, Andre brought Brooke home to meet you and you told her "I hope you two arent planning to get married." You said you knew it couldnt work. Why?
Mike Agassi: No, listen. When he brought her home the first thing he told me was: "Dad, I want you to meet my girlfriend, Brooke Shields. The first real girlfriend I ever had. You know I always played tennis and any girl I thought was my girlfriend wasnt, but this time this girl is my girlfriend." I said "Thats beautiful, but son (and I told this to Brooke Shields that day too), whatever you two do, please dont get married."
Tennis Week: You said it right to her face? Its tough, but I have to respect the candor.
Mike Agassi: I said to them here is the reason: "Marilyn Monroe married Joe DiMaggio and it did not work. All the movie stars they marry each other and it lasts a year. Its not going to work. Oil and water do not mix." Brooke Shields said: "What happens if we love each other?" I said "Everyone loves each other." If you keep that love for 15, 25 years then you are together. She said: "We havent decided to get married yet, but I am going to be the most wonderful wife for your son." I said, if thats what he wants, that what he wants, but I wont recommend it.
Tennis Week: Andre and Steffi seem like such a great couple and in the book it sounds like you really love Steffi?
Mike Agassi: You see, I didnt see Andre for like 14, 15 months. He invite me to go to his house in Malibu for either Thanksgiving or Easter, whatever it was, and I refused. I said, "I havent seen you and I dont care if I see you anymore."
Tennis Week: Why did you say that? How could you say that?
Mike Agassi: Because they didnt come around anymore. They were too busy. They were too busy. They didnt come over to my home, but he came next door, did his exercise, but my house was too far away. He never made a phone call. And we didnt see each other. That was the situation. But when Steffi moved to his house the first time she came to the gym with Andre and I was on the tennis court, she walked down and hugged me and kissed me and spoke to me. And I liked her as a tennis player, I liked her as a human being. I knew she was a lady and a good person. I said "Im very happy to meet you, I have my wife over there." Steffi said: "Ive seen her already." She had already greeted my wife.
Tennis Week: Years ago, I met Alex Haley, who wrote Roots, after a speech and he gave me advice Ill never forget. He said, "When you leave here go home and call your grandparents and learn about their lives because thats your history and their experiences contributed to your character and if you dont talk to them now your family history will be lost forever." Unfortunately, my grand parents were gone by then, but I would have done it had they been alive. What would you like your grandchildren to know about you and your life?
Mike Agassi: Its all in the book. I wrote this book, my biography, to leave it for my grandchildren. Im sorry that I was not able to learn that from my grandparents and great grandparents because your family means so much.
Tennis Week: Its your heritage.
Mike Agassi: Yes.
Tennis Week: For me, the saddest part of your book was the day you left Iran. It was a November day in 1952. Before you left to get the plane to America, you went home to say good-bye to your family. At that moment, you knew youd never see your father again. Thats very sad.
Mike Agassi: When I left it was the saddest day of my life. I knew I would never see my father again. My father was a very shy person. He never hugged or kissed any of the kids. But he hugged me and kissed me and┘ (wipes tears from his eyes with handkerchief) please dont cry.
Tennis Week: Thats so sad. To look your father in the eye and know you would never see him again. Its so sad.
Mike Agassi: Yeah. It was the saddest moment of my life. I was positive I was going to see my mother again. I brought her over to this country and she passed away here. I give her a little (bit of) good life. She was so fascinated with the bathroom (Mike Agassis childhood home had no electricity or running water and his family shared a single toilet with neighbors) that she took a bath three or four times a day. Because over there you go to a public bath once a week. So everyday she would take baths.
Tennis Week: Did you ever consider coaching other players?
Mike Agassi: I thought about it, but then I thought if I did coach another player they are going to fight against my son. I had a chance to work with some pros and develop some good people. But my love, as always, is for my son. I did not want to jeopardize anything with my son. My heart is always with my son.
Tennis Week: Yesterday, we were talking and I asked you to go into the stadium and watch Andres match. You said: "Ill watch it from here (in front of the Tennis Week booth looking at the scoreboard)". Is that because its too nerve-wracking to watch him?
Mike Agassi: No. Listen, they say the success of life is not money, but its money. Do you understand?
Tennis Week: No.
Mike Agassi: When Howard Hughes spoke on radio, the whole country was listening. Heres a guy with millions of dollars and everyone was listening. When Howard Hughes talked, people listened. I have watched and seen Andres success and Im proud of him. He is set for life, his children are set for life, his grandchildren are set for life. The job is done. If he is losing, I dont want him to lose. And if he is losing, you know he is better than that person. He is better than that person. Losing doesnt make the other guy better than you. When (Gilles Muller) beat Andre (in Washington) it doesnt make him better than Andre. Haas beat Andre in L.A. tournament, the next tournament lost in straight sets to Andre. It doesnt bother me, even though he is my son and of course you want to see him win.
Tennis Week: When was the last match that you actually watched Andre play?
Mike Agassi: In L.A. I watched it. I wasnt there, I was in Las Vegas, but I watched. I watched him in Cincinnati. He beat top players.
Tennis Week: I thought he played as well as Ive seen him play in some time in Cincinnati.
Mike Agassi: Yes, yes. He played well. He beat top, top players.
Tennis Week: He played well in Australia.
Mike Agassi: Yes, he did. He made two mistakes in Australia in the Safin loss.
Tennis Week: Giants outfielder Barry Bonds supposedly used to talk to his father, Bobby Bonds, about his swing. Does Andre ever say to you "Dad, what do you think about my game?"
Mike Agassi: Do you know any son in the world that wants advice from their parents?
Tennis Week: No.
Mike Agassi: Hes no different.
Tennis Week: What do you see for Andres future. Would you like him to keep playing? Do you think he will keep playing?
Mike Agassi: Andre has a great future. It doesnt mean you have to play tennis to have a great future. You dont have to play tennis to have a great future. They have two children to raise and they will raise them as good as he was raised himself. More power to him in whatever he does.
Tennis Week: Do you think he appreciates the way you raised him?
Mike Agassi: He has talked that "Without my dad, I wouldnt be where I am." Andre has said that. Its nice to hear, but I dont expect to hear it. I dont want him to say it. Every parent tries to do their best for their kids except some who go the wrong way themselves. I dont understand how a person gets married, has a child and then leaves the children and goes. I still dont understand. You see these guys have a child and leave, no child support, no alimony, nothing. The guy left. Then the kid, with no support no love, ends up on the street smoking marijuana doing drugs. Its bad. Parents should support their kids. I believe that very strongly.
Tennis Week: Andre has contributed so much with his charity work and his school. Do you see him pursuing that even more after tennis?
Mike Agassi: I think he will continue doing that. I hope he does not go into politics. Its very easy for a famous person to be elected in this country, even if you are a dummy.
Tennis Week: True, but hes a smart guy.
Mike Agassi: We have a lot of stupid people in the Senate who are very famous. You have to be smart enough to start thinking about everybody and not for me and me alone if you are in politics. Some of them think because I have money I will vote this way so they dont take my money away, screw the poor man. I talked to Andre and he told me "No dad, I wont go into politics" even though they have approached him. They have approached him, but he wont do it.
Tennis Week: Do you still hit every day?
Mike Agassi: Every day. I live tennis. I play every day. I use the ball machine a lot because it doesnt talk back (smiles).
Tennis Week: In the ESPN Sports Century biography of Andre, they told a story where Andre took second place in a big junior tournament and you supposedly took his trophy and threw it in the trash as you and Andre were leaving the tournament saying something to the effect that "second place is not enough in this family". Ive always wondered: is that a true story?
Mike Agassi: I am so happy you asked me that. Im so happy you asked me that question.
Tennis Week: I dont mean it to be disrespectful, I just always wondered if it was true?
Mike Agassi: No, no, its not disrespectful. I am so happy you asked me that. Heres what happened: Andre was playing Jim Courier. Andre hit the ball, the ball lands in, Jim Courier doesnt say anything and the umpire calls it out. Andre loses the game. Anything Andre hit was out. Anything Jim Courier hit was in. It was four-love, Jim Courier was ahead, so I stepped on the court and said, "Andre, you lost the game, lets go." The head of the USTA junior event came down and he removed the umpire. I was embarrassed to take Andre out, but everything he hit was called out. So Andre went back and he lost, 6-4, 6-4 and he was crying. They were giving trophy and he didnt want the trophy. So I said "Out of respect pick up the trophy and theres a big creek there, throw it in the creek, something like that." Andre said, "OK." So he went and got the trophy, brought it back and he said, "Dad, I cannot do it, you do it.". I said, "Thats what you want me to do?" Whoop, I threw it in the creek. They asked me why I did that and I said I didnt want to wake up in the morning and see that losing trophy. Ten minutes later, I see Jim Courier and his mother and the chair umpire sitting there laughing and talking together. I told that to Jim Courier and reminded him of that. First, we tried to give that trophy to a couple of kids, but that didnt want it. So I said "whoop" and threw it in the creek. Everybody saw it.
Tennis Week: Nick Bollettieri was quoted on that biography saying you could be a very, very tough and demanding tennis parent. What do you think about that?
Mike Agassi: Nick Bollettieri was trying to be the sole coach, advisor, king┘but he was on the phone with me five times a week saying: "What do I do? What do I do? You stay away. Im doing it." After a year and half I go there and find a kid who is not going forward and finishing at the net game, hes playing 15 feet behind the baseline. I said "Whats that?" And he said, "Well, what do you want, hes winning."
Tennis Week: How do you see tennis evolving in the next five to 10 years? Will there be another player who comes along with an Agassi-like impact on the game?
Mike Agassi: If they keep letting it go like this, tennis is going to be no good. No one will be watching. Its serve, serve, serve. They have to shorten the service box. Right now they have to bring it in closer to make so that a 140 mph serve doesnt go in then you bring out the true talent in the game rather than having a one-shot game. You bring in a guy whos eight-feet tall and can serve 160 mph and it goes to a tiebreaker hes going to win every tiebreaker.
Tennis Week: Of all the rivals Andres had, is Pete Sampras the toughest?
Mike Agassi: Andre lost a crucial match to Sampras in a stupid way to Sampras. Remember when Sampras was sick (prior to the Miami final)? Andre gave him a break and let him wait and (it was like) "Come back and beat me." When somebody is sick, you cant play your game. Ill give you an example that happened here, when Sampras was sick and playing Corretja. He was sick on the court and walking around like a dead body then walking to the other side of the court and hitting an ace. How about Olympics. The guy was so tired he would lay down in his chair, but he came back and won.
Tennis Week: What do you think about Federer?
Mike Agassi: I think hes one of the best players weve ever had. Hes bringing another dimension to the game of tennis. The guy is fantastic. The guy is proving something I always said: a person doesnt have to have a coach to be a great player. You can study the players yourself a lot better than the coach would do. Once you put your trust in the coachs hand, its like putting your trust in your stockbroker, you know what I mean? That was the problem with the coaches Andre has had, I told them they didnt switch Andre to a mid-size racquet. Ive said it so many times and I still say it: using a mid-size racquet would help his serve. Its simple physics.
Tennis Week: Do you like Gilbert and Cahill as coaches?
Mike Agassi: They were both good players, but I told both of them: "Andre doesnt need someone to tell him how to play. Andre doesnt need someone to go to watch how Federer plays. Andre wants to win so let Andre go see it himself. But Andre needs someone to work with him on his serve and with his weakness." What is his weakness?
Tennis Week: His net game.
Mike Agassi: His net game. I said to (Cahill): "Gilbert didnt do it (improve Agassis serve and net game) and you are not doing it." He said: "What do you want me to do? Pack and go to Australia?" I said: "Listen, I didnt hire you." I said: "You do this, stay. If you dont do this, go."
Tennis Week: After winning Cincinnati, Andre credited Cahill with believing in him so strongly, in fact, that he said Cahill believed more in Andre than Andre believed in himself at one point. I thought Cahills strength was as a net player and that, as well as his work ethic, tactical skills and positive attitude, were the main reasons Andre hired him in the first place?
Mike Agassi: All these things you say are true. But to have somebody to play net is not because you are a good net player that he is going to learn. What you have to do is learn the net. What is the road to learn the net?
Tennis Week: Well, youve got to work on your volley and your transition game to get to the net in the first place.
Mike Agassi: I tell you what you have to do like I told them: what you have to do is get two great players on one side, not one, but two and he has to volley against two players. Not one, because volleying against one its easier to make a point, but you have to work volleying against two players on the other side of the net.
Tennis Week: Tennis parents often get a reputation as being too drive and too disruptive yet there are several success stories of parent-coaches, including Chris Everts dad, Jimmy Connors mother, yourself, Richard Williams. What do you think of tennis parents in general and some of those names in particular?
Mike Agassi: The parents are the reason the kids have success. Maybe they didnt do it themselves, but like Tommy Haas, they sent them some place where the kid could learn and did everything they could to support that kid and his dream. What do I think of Richard Williams? I think he is the greatest tennis coach in the whole world. He took two kids, feed them, raise them, teach them to walk, teach them to talk, educate them, teach them tennis and took them both to No. 1 in the world. In my lifetime, we will never see one family have two kids become No. 1 in the world. And I give Richard Williams another credit: he did not let anyone come between him and his kids like I did. Do you know how many times Nick Bollettieri was sitting next to Venus and Serena Williams mother and father talking to them to try to bring them to the Nick Bollettieri Academy? I knew what he was talking about because he talked like that to me. He wants to get some names and some talent. If it wasnt for Jimmy Connors mother, Jimmy would be working somewhere for $8 an hour right now. Chris Everts dad was a great, great coach and without him who knows she might be working somewhere as a secretary right now for some boss she doesnt like. Without your parents, you would never have graduated from school and doing the job you are doing right now. The doctor who takes care of my heart wouldnt be a doctor without his parents. Now, there is so much divorce in this country the kids dont get the love and support they need and they grow up thinking it is OK to get divorced because their parents got divorced.
Tennis Week: Do you think Andre can win here at the Open? Does he have another Australian Open title in him?
Mike Agassi: Thats what we are hoping for. Thats what we are hoping for.
Tennis Week: Do you think Andre himself knows right now when he wants to stop playing? Do you think he has an approximate retirement time set in his head?
Mike Agassi: Ill answer you with an example: do you think Muhammad Ali knew when to quit?
Tennis Week: No, he didnt.
Mike Agassi: No, he didnt know when to quit and now he is punch drunk because when you are sitting outside, you think "Oh, I could do this or I could do that and knock the guy out." Then he goes in the ring and he finds himself two steps behind. So thats an example, he sits outside and watches these guys play and he thinks about what he can do.
Tennis Week: But the difference is Andre still beats the best players. He beat three former No. 1 players ≈ Moya, Roddick and Hewitt ≈ in succession to win Cincinnati and he looked impressive doing it. I mean, he is beating the best guys on his best days, lets be honest.
Mike Agassi: No doubt. No doubt. He had the right coaching, the right way of hitting, the right thinking. To beat Andre, Andre has to play bad and the other guy has to play good. And that always happens. Anybody who comes to the tennis court is ready for Andre. It is very important for them to get Andre. They get excited.
Tennis Week: For his fans, Andres presence, his charisma, his ability to connect with his fans and make them feel part of his experience, is part of what separates him from other players. Do you see another player out there with that ability to connect with fans the way he has over the course of his career?
Mike Agassi: You know to make somebody to become this way you have to start in childhood. Andre was 12 years old and he went to Australia to play United States vs. Australia junior event. The gave Andre the microphone and he spoke for almost a half an hour to that crowd and he was good. When he was in sixth grade, we thought he was gonna be a preacher because he had memorized the whole bible and anytime they would talk about the bible, he was there and could talk about it. Thats the time to start to make somebody a somebody, when they are a child.
Tennis Week: Would you ever consider doing an instructional book or video?
Mike Agassi: After Andre is done playing, and if I find someone smart enough, who doesnt tell me what to do, but who allows me to teach what I am saying, then I would. But you cannot do an instruction book or video without having a great player demonstrate the teaching. So then its possible.
Tennis Week: Do you ever look back on your life and just think about where you started and what you went through to get to where you are at this point? Does it surprise you how things turned out? You told me when you met Barry McKay in 58 you told him "My son will play Davis Cup and win Wimbledon and every major." But I mean, was that really the plan all along or was it more a dream that came true?
Mike Agassi: Yes, that was the plan all along. I studied physics, chemistry and took practically post-graduate courses. Ill tell you something right now: if I live again, I wouldnt make tennis my life.
Tennis Week: What would you do?
Mike Agassi: Baseball, golf. They dont have to be 12 months a year in condition. Not only do you have an offseason in those sports, its that my way is much easier to make a person the greatest golfer in the world or greatest baseball player in the world. But I wouldnt make him a pitcher ≈ it destroys your arm ≈ I would make him designated hitter. No one tells Bonds what to do, they give him respect to do what he wants because hes such a great hitter and thats what theyd do (with my son). Its so much easier than making a great tennis player if they go the road that I taught: to hit 500 balls a day with different pitching machine and change it to make a fastball, sink ball. Baseball is like tennis that way: you bring the bat in the line of the ball to hit the ball solidly. That becomes second nature after you hit 15 million balls. Dont become a switch hitter, hit one way like Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, DiMaggio. These people who switch hit are guinea pigs for the rest of the team.
Tennis Week: Last question: who do you consider the greatest tennis player and where do you rank Andre among the greats of the game?
Mike Agassi: In 1997, I had 12 players at the MGM Hotel in Las Vegas by the tennis court. It was Bjorn Borg, Roscoe Tanner, Gottfried, Kramer and that was the question to ask. One of them said Don Budge, one of them said Tilden. But I told them the greatest player ever, so far, was Peter Sampras. And they laughed at me, some of them laughed, and I told them then "You sit and watch. He is the only person who has the serve, that has a volley, has the greatest forehand and hes gonna develop the great backhand too." Today, I would say the best is Federer. If Roddick wants to be great, he shouldnt keep going after his fast serving record. The fast serve, if it doesnt go in, doesnt get you anywhere. But Sampras would hit the serve 130 miles an hour in the corner and it goes in and if you do that youre going to win 85 or 90 percent of the points on your serve when you can serve that big.
Tennis Week: Listen, I really appreciate you taking this time to sit and talk to me. I enjoyed the book and really felt I learned a lot about you and your family. From what Ive read and learned talking to you, its been a fascinating life.
Mike Agassi: Thank you. I enjoyed this too and I tried to put my life in this book.
Andre Agassi forever