Agassi comes full circle, from brat to brilliance
By Stephanie Myles, Postmedia News March 6, 2012
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Pat Cash (left to right) Ivan Lendl, Michael Chang and Andre Agassi are present with Montreal canadiens jerseys during the Masters Rendez-Vouz tennis event in Montreal Friday March 2, 2012.
Photograph by: Allen McInnis , THE GAZETTE
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MONTREAL — The former punk is now the perfect man.
Adoring husband, devoted father, philanthropist and philosopher king, Andre Agassi’s evolution over the years has been as astonishing and comprehensive as the evolution of his hairline.
The man rarely seems to put a foot wrong.
He answers every question — no matter how many times he has heard it — thoroughly, thoughtfully and respectfully.
He believes if someone asks, it’s because the answer is important to them. So you have to value it. And if you care about the question, you’re going to give a good answer.
That philosophy comes from his longtime trainer and surrogate father, Gil Reyes, who calls it the “give a (bleep)” factor.
The dedication to maximizing everything he does is inspired by wife Steffi Graf.
“That’s a luxury that I get to have every day, get to watch somebody (Graf) live their values, do actions that reflect their priorities. It’s humbling, and it’s inspiring,” he said on a conference call last week before the Montreal Rendez-Vous exhibition at the Bell Centre.
But perhaps the most impressive thing the 41-year-old from Las Vegas has done is to smooth many of the feathers he ruffled in the tennis world with the publication of his autobiography, Open. Written in present tense, as if he were experiencing it all over again, Agassi spares almost no one.
One of those he ridiculed was Michael Chang, whom he defeated 7-6, 6-2 in last Friday’s match.
Agassi wrote that he was “sickened” when Chang won the 1989 French Open, incredulous that “Chang, of all people” could have won a major title before he did.
He also said it felt “ludicrous and insulting” that his countryman, a strong Christian, thought God was taking his side against Agassi.
“I beat Chang and savour every blasphemous stroke,” he wrote.
What’s intriguing is that Agassi has never said he apologized to Chang, only that they did talk about it at length, and he explained the reasons behind it.
“Every time I saw somebody who showed resolve, or showed clarity or showed single-mindedness like Pete (Sampras) or Michael, it really was a mirror to me. That’s what I expressed in my book,” Agassi said on the conference call. “Michael, from the outside, always represented the very thing I strove to have in my life, that sense of clarity. ... So now, it’s a whole different deal with Michael.”
Agassi answered the same question during the pre-match news conference Friday. This time, though, Chang was sitting two feet away.
He looked straight ahead during most of Agassi’s answer, nodded once or twice in a rather benign way, offered no rebuttal or opinion. He knew there was no way to match the eloquence. And Chang doesn’t have it in him to get a few clever zingers in.
On the court later that night, that same dynamic ruled. Agassi is the noisy one, the flashy one. Chang absorbs it with calm, and just does his thing. It’s not a whole different deal at all; really, it’s the same deal it has always been between the two.
The previous day, before conducting a kids’ clinic at a Montreal tennis club, Chang opened up about it.
“I spoke to him, a little bit, about (the book). My sense was that he wasn’t really positive about a whole lot of things. He was pretty harsh on me, on Pete, even hard on some family members, (coach Nick) Bollettieri. I don’t know if that was purposeful or not,” he said.
“It’s a little bit odd because I think Andre knows where I’m coming from, and I certainly wouldn’t force Christianity down anyone’s throat. The strange thing is that we used to have Bible study together early on in our careers,” Chang added. “If he were to say that now, it wouldn’t really make that much sense, because a lot more athletes are more vocal now (about their faith), certainly much more so than when I was playing.”
There was one little moment during the news conference when the original Agassi, the hypersensitive, thin-skinned one, briefly surfaced.
Ivan Lendl, an established veteran when the young, tortured Agassi first came on Tour, took a few good-natured jibes at him. You could see the smile freeze on Agassi’s face, just a little. He retorted just once, and there was plenty of vinegar behind it.
No doubt the interplay brought back memories of their time on the ATP Tour, when Lendl was the top dog with the cutting, sarcastic tongue and Agassi was the easy target. Can’t you just picture Lendl mocking Agassi’s flashy clothes, or his hair, or his entourage? And a fuming teenage Agassi having absolutely no riposte?
But it was just a flash, a fleeting moment. Then it was back to the new, improved Agassi. Still, it’s good to know he’s still human, because the man he has become seems almost too good to be true.
That’s not a bad thing; it’s a tremendous thing. He’s living every moment of his second life to erase the first, desperately unhappy one.
“The first half of my career, I was an underachiever. I hated the way that felt, and I hit some pretty deep lows,” Agassi said. “When I turned that around, I always swore I’d be the best I could at anything I set my mind to. . . . It doesn’t remove the years of discontent, but you can add good memories.”
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