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Old 12-23-2007, 11:02 PM   #66
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An Article of 2006, did you post it here?
Illustrated!

COVER STORY: SEPTEMBER 2006


INSIDE TENNIS: So how are you feeling about saying goodbye?
ANDRE AGASSI: Well, I'm looking forward to this summer. I feel every bit as good about my decision as the days have passed. But, obviously, there's a certain sadness to it and bittersweet feelings. You sort of want it to last forever, but you know it can't.
IT: Arguably, no other athlete has changed so markedly over the years. When all is said and done, what are the two or three keys about transformation, about changing yourself? Is it about listening to yourself? Facing fears? The willingness to change?
AA: For me, it's always been about the process - the battle, not the destination. Whether it's trying to figure out my tennis or something else, it's about everyday actuality and appreciating that life happens in between your plans. That's where the joy is for me.
IT: You've told us that tennis is such a great teacher. Does it teach you patience, discipline, a willingness to go to plan B?
AA: You're out there by yourself and have to figure a way to get the most out of yourself regardless of how good you are. Some days you're at 100 percent and produce your best. Other days, you can't, but you have to realize that getting 100 percent out of an 80 percent day is a major accomplishment. It's about always trying to find a way of getting the most out of yourself. It's discipline, problem solving, perseverance, patience.

IT: Was your best fighting result on court in '99 in the French Open final, when you were down two sets to Andrei Medvedev?
AA: For sure, because I was paralyzed out there. I was nervous. Seeing how I started and how I finished, it was probably the greatest example of problem solving because I was fighting myself first. Then, once I started to loosen up, I still had to deal with him and being two sets to love down.
IT: That win was even more important than your first Grand Slam - Wimbledon '92 - after seven years of futility in the majors.
AA: There was just so much more on the line, from where I was personally at the time, coming off a difficult time in my life [his divorce with Brooke Shields]. Plus, clay was never my best surface. It was the last of the four Grand Slams that I won. It was the pressure and what was on the line for me personally and professionally which brought out the worst and the best of me all in one match.
IT: And as a kid you were more than feisty. What do you think that young teenage persona would think of Andre Agassi the family man, the community man, the reflective guy who talks with such insight?
AA: All those qualities were in that teenager. So I hope he would've recognized a lot of it. I'm not sure if that's the case, but I always cared about a lot of things. I just never knew how to communicate, never understood or really accepted responsibility for myself, and that's a growing process. I don't know if any of us would recognize ourselves when we were 17 or 18 years old.
IT: I sure wouldn't have. Where do you think you picked up the stand-up quality of accountability, where you take responsibility for all your actions in word and deed?



AA: It's been a hard evolution. I always had a certain level of desire to face the truth. I just grew into a lot more than my little world.
IT: Always a desire to face the truth? So what about facing the truth this spring when you were struggling with your body and knew the end was near?
AA: This year was the toughest part of this whole process. The decision to retire wasn't as difficult or emotional a decision as I anticipated. But the process to get there was uncomfortable and frustrating. It's so easy to question yourself at 36, to second guess, to be unsure. And at the same time, you're pulling a lot of people along with you, your family and coaches and years of hard work, so you just don't want to get out there and feel ordinary. So it was a real struggle this year, missing Australia, plus that two good days/two bad days rhythm that I had for months. But the time off and skipping the clay allowed me to get my arms around it. I managed to hold it off as long as I could. I held off on more injections until after Wimbledon, and it became pretty clear how I wanted everything to go from there.
IT: So you're happy?
AA: Yes, absolutely. Parts of it were tough. I don't feel like there's any real heavy drama to this process outside of the emotion of feeling very connected to a lot of people that I won't be around as much. That's why it's good I live in Vegas. It gives people a reason to say, "I'll go to Vegas. Hey, Andre is there." They'll [come to] say hello. [The time] after the U.S. Open and early this year was very difficult on me. I tore all the ligaments in my ankle and couldn't compete, move or train the way I wanted... I got behind the eight ball. The process of fighting to still have a competitive year was quite frustrating. I was in torment because you never like being ordinary out there. You're not used to it. You're not comfortable. But I don't regret any decisions I've made. I know it's the right time for me. There's just too much to do out there.
IT: You've said that when you're operating on your instincts, you don't trust yourself. Why's that? Do you think you didn't have a chance in terms of your life as a young kid and then going off to Nick's academy, then finding yourself - plunk - right on the circuit that you just didn't have the chance to work with your instincts?
AA: I'm the kind of guy who feels something and then has to understand it down the road. I'm not one of those who thinks something and then puts it into practice and ends up feeling connected to it. I'm very reactive. My heart leads my head in many cases. Experience has taught me that I can't always trust what I feel. That's one of the things I love and hate about myself. It has its good points and its difficult ones. It's been a lot of tough lessons, but it's been very fulfilling.
IT: And then there's your concern over order on the court. The ball boy has to be exactly here, the balls have to be exactly there, etc. Is that because you want your world to be set so you can go out there and perform or ...
AA: Strangely, I'm highly sensitive to what's around me in many cases and in some cases, I'm clueless. When it comes to the parameters of the playing arena, I'm just very aware of where everybody is, and I just prefer to keep the focus.
IT: I want to talk about generations. Your family story is just incredible. Your great-grandfather comes from Armenia to make furniture. Your grandfather goes from Russia on foot with a donkey over the mountains to Tehran. Your father leaves Tehran and ends up in Chicago with a few bucks in his pocket. Then you break through and now you have this incredible family.
AA: I only hear the stories as you hear them. I know my father's history, but for me, they are just stories, too. It's amazing when I hear it. [But what touches me] is what his life was like in America. Then I'm amazed. I have two kids now, and my parents had two kids and a dog and got in a car in Chicago and drove to the West to figure out where my dad could play tennis twelve months a year, not knowing whether he was going to work. So he set up shop in a little desert town called Vegas and took care of two courts at the Tropicana to teach lessons on one and have his kids play on the other. He held down two jobs for most of our lives to raise four children. I marvel at that. I know what it takes just to raise the two we have with a lot of resources.
IT: You sound like you are at peace with your father, a man who was very difficult for you.
AA: We've been through our moments. As I took his passions upon my shoulders, it created a lot of confusion and conflict inside me. At the same time, I realize as I've gotten older, just how honest he's always been with what he cares about.
IT: What a sense of purpose and work ethic.
AA: Yeah, he's driven. He still works every day. The man has a fire in his belly that I admire.
IT: If you had the choice again, would you go to Nick's academy? Or maybe scratch it?
AA: Life was going to have a lot of trials and tribulations for me, whatever road I ended up choosing. No, I needed to go for this career, and tennis has been a great friend. It's been a great relationship. I've learned a lot and grown a lot and have a lot as a result of it. It's been 20 years of me practicing for tomorrow. I've learned a lot to prepare myself now for the rest of my life. Hopefully, God willing, my life will be a lot more than the 20 years in tennis.
IT: All of us make mistakes in our lives. You just make it in the public square. If the gods from the rewrite desk said, "Hey, you can go back and change any of your decisions," whether it was skipping the Wimbys and the Australian Opens, or winning that 22-point rally against Pete [on set point in the '95 U.S. Open final], or passing on doing the "image is everything" ad campaign, what would you choose?
AA: If I could avoid the mistake while maintaining the lessons learned, I would rewrite all of them. But if I had to give up what I learned as a result of them, it's impossible. It's been a tough road, but it's been well worth it. So if I didn't have to give up what I've learned, I would go back and rewrite every moment that I made somebody feel less than they deserve.
IT: And the entertainer George Lopez said, "This guy has gone from 'image is everything' to 'humanity is everything.'"
AA: That comment speaks volumes. It meant a lot to me to hear it.
IT: Your trainer and friend Gil Reyes says the character of any athlete can be judged not so much when he retires but in ten years or so afterwards, when you can see what he's given back. What's your vision of the future?
AA: Giving back is something I've valued since I was a teen, something I committed to in my own mind as early as 15. The question was how and when. I didn't know what success, what resources I'd have. But I knew it mattered. For me, it starts with children and ends with children. That's a responsibility that falls on everybody's shoulders. They're our future, so I started my foundation 13 years ago. Now I have dreams of my school becoming the model for how education can be in our country. Our academy is taking kids one year to two years behind in education, and we're bringing them up to grade level inside a year. We're nationally recognized for our achievements. So we're not just throwing money at a problem; we're proving you can change a child's life by teaching them that there aren't shortcuts, by creating a culture. My hope would be to connect the dots and create a road map on how this can be duplicated all across our country. That would make me feel good.
IT: You also heard plenty of kudos at Wimbledon. The event is so much more than a tennis tournament. It's about tradition, culture, and how to treat people. What are the things you've learned from going to Wimbledon?
AA: This was a place that first taught me to respect the sport, to appreciate the opportunity and privilege to play a game for a living. People work five days a week to play on the weekend. We get to call it a job. I learned that at Wimbledon - missing it for a few years, coming back, being embraced, seeing the respect for tennis and the respect for the competitors, the appreciation. The fans are here rain or shine. They sit through some tough conditions just to see a few minutes of play. Whether they're queuing up outside or sitting with their umbrellas on Centre Court, it's quite a love. That's what separates Wimbledon from every other event.
IT: Is there anything more touching in sports than that incredible spectator queue that goes on for a mile or so, for 36 hours or more?
AA: No. It's real humbling to be driving in and see these people living there for days to, hopefully, get in to see a little bit of tennis - most likely on the back courts. It really makes you appreciate.
IT: And what of the U.S. Open, with all its razzmatazz?
AA: New York has taught me how to be a better player and to be a better person. It's the toughest environment in our sport. It's challenged me to be more of myself. As a result, I've grown in places I wouldn't have grown in otherwise. In turn, they've become my biggest supporters. That relationship means the world to me.
IT: It must be some charge to go out in front of a full house at Ashe at night and sense that 44,000 eyeballs are on you.
AA: Oh, yeah. I've had many moments, but I can almost guarantee you, none will be more [incredible] than this year coming up.
IT: How would you assess your U.S. Open years in '94 and '99? These were your two triumphs, and then there was your fabulous run last year.
AA: A lot of ups and downs. I've had some real disappointing moments there [four losses to Sampras], some great triumphs, great single-match memories that stand out, the feeling of playing there at night.
IT: And one or two matches that pop out?
AA: Well, last year's against Blake [in the quarters]. There's nothing like what I felt out there that night. Playing Connors at night there when I was a teenager.
IT: Plus, there were all your matches with Sampras.


AA: It was amazing to have that rivalry. He gave me things that I aspired to. In many cases, he taught me what I wanted to be. And in many cases, he taught me what I didn't want to be. It was a rivalry that existed on so many layers, the way we played the game, the way we went about our sport... If we woke up as the other one, we'd both be living in a nightmare.
IT: He would just not want...
AA: Any part of my life, nor me his. It was that way when we were going to play on Sunday or if we weren't. We just were complete opposites, which lent itself to even a more special rivalry.
IT: He had a famous crack, "All I would want from his life was his plane." What of his would you like?
AA: His serve.
IT: Probably, Pete and Federer are the two best players you've ever faced. It they're playing against each other in the U.S. Open deep into the last set, who emerges?
AA: I've been privileged to play them both. It's a pleasure to watch Roger when you're in the thick of it with him, which speaks volumes for just what he's able to do on the court, because you're not in the mindset of giving somebody unnecessary credit when you're competing against him. But what Roger brings to the court, I've never seen before.
IT: Andre, let's briefly run through the different strokes and tell me the toughest ones you've faced. Is Federer's forehand...
AA: It's arguably the best that's ever been in the game.
IT: Sampras' serve?
AA: There are others with better serves, but he defended his serve well and that makes a difference. When you talk about a serve versus a hold game, you're talking about two entirely different things. Wayne Arthurs has one of the most beautiful serves you'll ever see. If you gave Pete Wayne Arthurs' serve, he would have been that much nastier.
IT: Best backhand: Connors, Guga Kuerten or...
AA: The first person that comes to mind, in terms of the high end of what their backhand is capable of, is [Marat] Safin. The guy can cane the ball and hurt you off returns, off stretch balls. And [David] Nalbandian's backhand is one of the most controlled shots that I've seen off the double-handed wing. As far as one-handers, one of the most beautiful to watch was Guga or Tommy Hass, who has a beautiful one-hander.
IT: And the volley - Edberg?
AA: Just the fundamentals on volleys? Yeah, Edberg. He's the one you felt like would miss the least volleys. But then you got a guy like [Patrick] Rafter who was such an athlete. The way he could cover the net presented a whole different kind of problem.
IT: And quickness? It used to be Chang. Now it's Nadal or Hewitt.
AA: No, no. Hewitt's not in Nadal's league as far as speed goes. I would put Nadal up there. You could argue Federer, or you could argue [German] Bjorn Phau. That might shock you, but he's lightning.
IT: Mental toughness - Connors, McEnroe or maybe...
AA: You give value to somebody who's done it for years, but I've never seen anybody treat every point as importantly as Nadal. He treats every point like that's the point he wants to win. He doesn't care what he has to put himself through. I've seen him be down 6-0, 3-0 against Roddick at the U.S. Open that one year, and win a game and fist pump and mean it.
IT: Few others have seen more changes in tennis. What adjustments did you have to make since the early days of Connors, McEnroe and Lendl?
AA: The fitness level has only increased over the years. Connors was 5-foot-9. Now you've got guys routinely that are 6-foot-3 and above. It's rare that you play somebody under that. The physicality has changed dramatically. Compare Nadal at 20 to me at 20. It's a sport that has started to figure out that the stronger and more physical you are, the more capable you are as an athlete. I was onto that earlier than most, building my strength and the base that was the foundation of my game. As a result, I served bigger and was able to handle pace better so as the game got faster, I could just shorten my swing. I got smarter with my shots. I've had to get more aggressive. It used to be where I could just run people around until they fell to the ground. But guys are just too strong now. It's a different game than in the past.
IT: So how would Andre of today handle Andre the 20-year-old? Would it be a pretty fast match?
AA: I want to hope so, but if I can't rotate or lunge, or if I have some of the ailments I've had the last few years and you stick me on the wrong day, it could be a pain for Andre - whichever one you're talking about. It depends what day I'm having. It's been a lot of that for me. But I want to believe that I've gotten better over the years. This year is a bit of an exception. I haven't found my best, that's for sure.
IT: Years from now, when Jaden's kid comes up to you and says, "Hey, gramps, what did you contribute most to that game of tennis?" what would you...
AA: When I first came onto the scene, I was the first person to hit
the ball big off both wings, [to] take the ball early and give it a good ride if I was in position off both sides. I would love to feel like I was part of that evolution of the game, that I helped the game and those around me get better.
IT: Let's switch and talk about women's tennis. When you look at Stephanie's game...it's still hard for me to call her Stephanie...
AA: Sure. You don't have to. Her mom calls her Steffi.
IT: Okay. Steffi had so many weapons. Do you see anyone on the circuit now who could take her down?
AA: A sport goes through periods where it changes a lot, where athletes get stronger and better. I haven't necessarily seen that over the last seven years in the women's game. The Williams sisters had a real opportunity to raise the athleticism and the standard of the game. But, it just seems that everyone's been plagued with injury. And Steff has a game that, to this day, is tough for people to handle. Her backhand was a low slice, and she had that big forehand, and she moved really well.
IT: Underrated serve, tough competitor.
AA: Yeah, she moved really well. That's key. You had to be able to sort of get in on her backhand. That was the most you could hope for.
IT: You've had exceptional relationships and marriages with incredible women: obviously Barbra Streisand, Brooke Shields and Steffi. You've experienced some of the more compelling women of our...
AA: Not just women - people. Barbra is one of the most fascinating people you'd ever meet.
IT: Because of her intensity, her mind?
AA: Talk about somebody who strives for perfection, who holds a stronger light on herself than others do. It's admirable in so many ways, and it's also a curse. It's the simple things in life, though. It's not how you think; it's how you choose to live. Sometimes the most profound moments come from the simplest of actions. That's the beauty of my life now. I get to live with [that quality] every day. I'm with someone who speaks volumes with how she chooses to live every moment. It's a beautiful thing.
IT: You've quipped that you feel no more pressure than when you're cutting your daughter's fingernails? The heck with center court or a final-set tiebreaker.
AA: It's some of the most pressure when your child is trying to cough up a piece of fruit that they didn't quite swallow. Getting that piece out of their throat is as much pressure as I've ever felt.
IT: So, in the end, this tennis career of yours has been a great ride, hasn't it?
AA: It's been an amazing, amazing ride.
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