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Écrit par Jerome   


March 25, 2004


THE MODERATOR: Questions for Andre.

Q. Can you believe it's been 18 years?

ANDRE AGASSI: No, it's hard to believe. Goes by fast.

Q. Do you remember the first one?

ANDRE AGASSI: First year I played here? Yeah, I played first round, Thomas Muster, out on an outside court. He was up two sets to love. I came back, won the next two sets, and I lost my serve at 4-5 in the fifth.

Q. So you do remember it?

ANDRE AGASSI: (Smiling). Hard to forget that one.

Q. Is there another tournament you play every year?

ANDRE AGASSI: I believe the US Open. I don't know. This is the guy to ask something like that (pointing to Greg Sharko).

Q. What is it about this tournament? You always do well here.

ANDRE AGASSI: Well, not always. I've had a few shockers early. I've always enjoyed the conditions here. The court, I think, is a real good court for my style of game especially. You can hit through the court or you can work the ball, so it gives me options with my game. The wind is always something I've succeeded in, whenever there is breezy conditions, as well as hot conditions. So it's always been a good place to bring out the best in my game.

Q. As one of the 32 seeded players, you don't have to play the first round. For a lot of us fans, they don't see a lot of great matches on Wednesday and Thursday. They may be great matches, but before the match starts, you're not looking at a lot of recognizable names. How do you feel about this tournament going to 112 players and the seeds having to play that first round and give fans here some exciting first-round matches?

ANDRE AGASSI: Well, I think if you're only here to see the top names, there's a lot you still need to discover about tennis and tennis championships. To be honest, if I'm a fan, I don't step on Stadium Court until, earliest, quarterfinals. There's just so much hard work and competitiveness and great tennis going on on so many courts. Listen, I enjoy being here as long as possible, so if I have to play an extra match, I'm definitely not going to complain about it. I don't think it would be accurate to say that the fans are missing out. I just think there's a lot that the tournament offers, even the players that are ranked towards the end of the field.

Q. The women's tour suffers from a lack of the Williamses, but does the whole game suffer from the lack of the Williamses?

ANDRE AGASSI: I view tennis as an entire package and what it offers somebody's life. I believe the women's game is crucial for that. It's important. Excluding injury, they're the best in the game. I mean, when they're healthy and playing, it seems like they're the ones to beat. So I think it affects everybody.

Q. Looking into the future of tennis, how important do you see someone like Andy Roddick, not just as a player but also as a figurehead?

ANDRE AGASSI: I think the American market is an important one. Coming off a few great generations of American players, Connors and McEnroe, and the group that sort of I came through with Chang and Courier and Pete, there is a lot of years of successful American players. I think the game is better served for having somebody in that position. I think Andy is a great one to look at. He pours his heart into what he does out there on the court, always giving his best, and I've always seen him take time for kids, for fans sort of off the court. So I think the game is better served for having him around, no question.

Q. Andre, you played six times against Federer, I think. You won the three first, you lost the last three. You say you used to exploit his weaknesses on the backhand. He doesn't have that anymore. What other tactical options do you still have in order to do better next time?

ANDRE AGASSI: Well, in that particular match last week, you know, it's two points away. When you're playing the best in the world, it boils down to just such a little bit. I think a lot of that also, too, is playing matches. For me, it's a bit of a Catch-22 because I need to make sure I don't play too much so I stay fresh physically and mentally, but then you get into the close matches with the best players and that might be the difference in the match, that you haven't quite played as many matches. So it's tough for me. From a tactical standpoint, I felt very comfortable out there and look forward to the next opportunity. But his backhand is still not the same shot that his forehand is. I wouldn't by any means call it a weakness. Sometimes you're just forced to choose your poison. Great players make you do that.

Q. What would be the ideal to beat him, not your game but style of game against Federer?

ANDRE AGASSI: Well, you need the ability to play strong to his backhand side. I mean, you need that ability. If you play too far back in the court, he can come forward and then he can keep you from doing it. If you play up but you just kind of move the ball around, he moves too quick. You need the strength to make him beat you with his worst shot. But that's the part of tennis that's like chess. Everybody has their weaknesses, and how they get around it is what separates a lot of them. But he's deservedly so on top right now.

Q. The weather here hasn't been looking great today. How does that affect you in preparation?

ANDRE AGASSI: Well, it brings me out here with no practice, so I'll have to sort of wait around and wait for the opportunity to get a court and get some work in. But days like this are much tougher on those that are playing because it's unpredictable and you're trying to keep yourself ready, but you don't want to sort of burn useless energy. So it's a good day not to be having to play a match.

Q. You said from the fans' point of view, stay away from Stadium Court until the finals. Are there players in your wanderings-through this early that as a fan you would want to go out and see, perhaps people you've never heard of?

ANDRE AGASSI: Well, it's hard to say who people have heard of or not. I didn't say you should stay away from Stadium Court; I said I would because I would be so interested in all of the matches that are going on in the back court. Sometimes you get to watch two at a time, and that's a lot of fun. On changeovers, you just turn around and look the other direction. But I've always enjoyed watching a guy like Arazi play, watching a guy like Fabrice Santoro play, a guy like Andrew Ilie play. These are special players that play the game in a way that it's a lot of fun to watch. I just think there's a bunch of them for their own reasons. The more you learn about the game, the more you can appreciate something in everybody's game.

Q. Andre, Patrick McEnroe has put together a very young and very good Davis Cup group, a group of Davis Cup candidates, let's say, to select from. We all know you've stepped away from that particular phase of tennis. How much interest do you still have in watching US Davis Cup play and following what those players are doing?

ANDRE AGASSI: Well, tremendous, tremendous interest. I've had a number of conversations with Patrick in reference to where or how or what we play the next tie on and so forth. So I make myself available to help any way I can because I do care a lot about it. I care about not just the success of the United States Davis Cup team, but also the guys specifically. It's a bunch of great guys. I came along in a generation where me, Chang, Courier, Pete, we're fighting for No. 1 in the world, we're fighting for the biggest titles in the world week after week. I think the unfortunate part of our generation was I think that got in the way of us having the fellowship that we really could have shared, the enjoyment we could have shared. When I look at these group of guys, James and Mardy and Andy and Robby and Taylor, you look at these guys and you just go, "These are guys that share a lot off the court as well as on the court," and, you know, that's something that I respect and admire. So I pull for them hard.

Q. When you say you've indicated that you'd be "willing to help out in any way you can," does that mean making yourself available to play?

ANDRE AGASSI: No. No, it doesn't. I mean, that's -- I'm not at a stage right now where I feel - I haven't been for a few years - where I feel like I can just spend the energy I have, as little of it that exists at times for me during the year, to play Davis Cup. It takes a lot out, and I think it ultimately hurts the longevity of what it is I'm trying to do. I'm trying to give as much to the game that I can for as long as possible. I just don't want to burn the candle at both ends. It's not something that makes sense for me. I'm certainly not, at this stage, going to arbitrarily decide that I'm going to jump in and take one of these guys' spots that have worked so hard and have rightfully put themselves in a winning position.

Q. When would they feel that it won't be burnable anymore?

ANDRE AGASSI: Yeah, well, I played 12 years - 12 years - and I don't know. I mean, I felt it when I made the decision. But I think they've got some time ahead of them.

Q. Can you see yourself as a Davis Cup captain some day in your life?

ANDRE AGASSI: I don't know. I haven't really... I love the fabric of tennis, you know, the fundamentals of it, the talking about it, the interaction with it. Coaching is something that is to the heart of what it is I enjoy. I enjoy learning about the game, learning about players. So I would never say that I wouldn't be excited to do it, because it would be a tremendous, tremendous honor.

Q. Andy is up there in the Top 5 now. The rest of them are pushing to get into the Top 10. You and Pete were already there. There was that built-in competitiveness to be No. 1, which maybe made it difficult for you guys to be as close as you might have wanted to be. But can you foresee changes in the relationships between this young group of people if let's say Fish gets into the Top 10 and they're both competing now to be Top 5 or Top 1?

ANDRE AGASSI: Yeah, it's different when you're playing Top 10 or you got four guys playing for No. 1 in the world, you know. That's what it was with me, Michael, Jim and Pete. It was four guys playing for No. 1. But we all came up sort of separately. I grew up with Michael and some of the southern California tournaments and I sort of spent some time with Jim at the academy. I didn't know Pete all that well growing up. We all sort of sprinted to the top on our own path. I think that didn't lend for a lot of understanding between each other along the way. But I think with this group of guys, it's different. I think they've counted on each other, they help each other. So they're sort of accomplishing these things together in a sense. I think that would stand the test of time and competition.

Q. Were you encouraged by the way the first meeting of the task force went the other day?

ANDRE AGASSI: I'm encouraged because I think sort of the problem needs to be -- the problem and the goal needs to be properly defined, and I think the meeting shed a lot of light on the exact animal that we're dealing with and some potential solutions as to how we solve it. So I was, I was pleased with the way it went.

Q. There was a lot of input, very enthusiastic input from the players. They weren't just listening to the specialists telling them; they were wanting to know this, wanting to know that. It seemed a very sort of lively, interesting debate.

ANDRE AGASSI: No question about it. I think, if anything, it speaks to how serious the players are in reference to protecting the integrity of our sport, but also protecting the innocence of our peers. Our sport goes to such lengths to avoid the possibility of drug cheating. To go to these lengths and then to have the situations we've had, where cross-contaminations and minimal amounts of elements are found in somebody that aren't even performance-enhancing, and for our sport to sort of be defaced on the covers of magazines or newspapers, is really frustrating. I believe the players have a right to feel the passion they do towards this. It's something we're all learning about. We all come from different parts of the world, and we play a sport that physically demands as much athleticism as you'll find in any sport. We need power, we need speed, we need stamina, we need concentration. We play in 100-degree weather, we play three-out-of-five sets. Nothing is being found that's performance-enhancing, but things are being found through cross-contaminations that put somebody over the threshold of what's allowed, but still without the advantage of the performance enhancement of it. It doesn't make sense. This particular drug that has shown up in minute amounts is the frustrating part about it. Because, to be quite honest, if you're cheating, you would never take something like that, especially at those levels. It's easily detectable and it has its recognizable footprint. It wouldn't serve anybody to do that. So it's frustrating for the players.

Q. What are the options or solutions?

ANDRE AGASSI: Well, we're looking into a number of them now. I think the possibility of having an avenue to have basic supplement replacements, basic vitamins that has been sort of first-party, second-party, third-party tested and ran through to minimize the chance of any sort of contamination or anything sort of willfully put in there. If you walk into a GNC, General Nutrition Center, any place that sells supplements, and you just were to randomly pick something off the shelf, you have close to a 20 percent chance of there being something in there that we, as players, aren't allowed to take. Much of it, rightfully so. But in any of those products, any of those 20 percent that you pick, you might have contamination willfully, meaning the manufacturer actually puts additional stuff in that they don't list on the label, or it would be a cross-contamination because the product is made in the same place that other sort of "illegal" drugs would be made. But at the end of the day, if you know nothing and you go in there and you just read the label and you go, "Well, okay, I know none of this is on the label but I'm going to take it to see if it helps me with my basic nutrition, basic health, basic supplement replacement," you have a 1/20th percent chance of being found with a positive test. That's a very strict system we have in place designed to protect the integrity of our sport, but we're having to have an education on it so that the players understand the exact risks that are out there so these things don't happen.

Q. Not all of them are supplements. Take the case of Graydon Oliver, he walks into Walgreen's to pick up something to help him sleep, it's over-the-counter, tests positive for something. He's just trying to sleep better at night. You can't expect players to carry around a chemistry set with them every time they have a meal. At what point does the basic ATP philosophy of, "You're responsible for what goes into your body," where do we modify that?

ANDRE AGASSI: Well, that's the million dollar question. I mean, because what you're basically saying is, "How do we solve this issue?" We need to adhere to a drug code. I mean, I think that is crucial for our sport, that we are clear in our intentions of keeping our sport clean, which I believe we're going above and beyond even to the point of shooting ourselves in the foot. I don't think the solution is to critique what we're tested for; I think the solution is in the education process and also creating an avenue where we have access to basic vitamins that have been run through the tests so there's no sort of unnecessary risk that's taken. But sort of calling out a problem is a lot easier than solving it. It's easy to look at this, especially from the outside, which I've been for the most part trying to get up to speed on everything, it's easy from the outside to say, "Well, these are the problems." The question is: How do we solve it? I think that's what we're committed to doing.

Q. Do you believe that there are drugs that do enhance performance?

ANDRE AGASSI: Certainly, there are drugs that enhance physical abilities and capabilities whether it's through strength training or whether it's through...

Q. (Inaudible)?

ANDRE AGASSI: Possibly endurance. I don't know a lot about it. I know recovery is very crucial in any sport, whether it's injury or just... So while there are drugs out there that have been abused and that create a distinct advantage, I don't believe that in tennis we've ever seen it be implemented as a form of cheating. I think the cases that we've recently come across that leave us so sort of confused and frustrated is the very essence of what it is you're pointing out, which is, "Are you doing this to create an advantage for yourself?" And the clear answer is no. The drug itself that's been determined to be in minute amounts in many of these cases, isn't even enough to give some sort of strategic advantage. And it's the same footprint that's going, "Well, where does something like this come from?" It hasn't shown up in years and it hasn't shown up but a few times in any other sports. I believe you can use drugs to cheat, but I believe our system, we test so often - I got tested almost 20 times last year; I believe Federer was tested the most, like 23 times; Andy was tested 20 times - we test so often, so extensively, that we have absolutely removed the possibility of somebody strategically taking performance-enhancing drugs without being caught. That's not possible. You're talking about a sport that's year-round. You're not even talking about an off-season where somebody could use drugs and then get away from them in order to be better served for it when the season starts. You're talking about we're tested all year long, plus three out-of-competition testings I had last year. We have done everything to remove the possibility of somebody strategically trying to create an advantage for themselves and I believe we've done so successfully. Which is why I think so many of us are so frustrated with sort of the latest trend of topic.

Q. Before all this came up, because everybody suspects the baseball players, have you suspected any tennis players enhancing themselves?

ANDRE AGASSI: I've been on the other side of the net over 1,000 times with somebody, and I can honestly say if there was ever a question, I was convinced and assured that they would be caught. So the question itself is something I never even allowed room for because of our testing. I mean, you can't. I don't know how you do it. I don't even know how it's possible, as often as we're tested, as randomly as we're tested, as out-of-competition we're tested, how extensively we're tested, through IOC, WADA, all the highest standards of testing apply. I don't even understand how it's even possible to pull it off in a short period of time, let alone a system for working it. So I personally have never gone down the path of questioning any of it, nor do I feel like it's even possible to pull off. I mean, you're talking about young guys. You're talking about we got guys coming on the tour, 16, 17 years old. It takes a lifetime to learn about these things. We're not -- it's not like we're -- tennis is on the forefront of science, you know. We come from all parts of the world, all ages. To organize what would be required to somehow cheat is, in my opinion, nearly an impossibility.

Q. Is it unrealistic, Andre, when people say, "Why don't the players just stick to water? Why do they take supplements?"

ANDRE AGASSI: The problem you have with that is you need supplements; you need it. There's a good chance you exercise less frequently and less intensely than we do. So our product suffers, is the bottom line, if we don't give our body the basic needs that we're asking from it. I believe that's not good for the game. Our product suffers. I don't think it's good for the players or it's good for the game to see people cramping up out there on the court, because you're talking about some great athletes. You're talking about the world starting to understand that tennis is as great of an arena to show you athleticism as any. Players are starting to understand that the stronger you are, the more capable you are. It's a great sport and a great product, and I believe if you sort of deny the player essential vitamins and supplements and then ask him to go out there and expend themselves day after day, week after week, continent to continent, you're tearing away at the product itself. That's, unfortunately, not a solution for us. I mean, until we move to 8-game pro set, water isn't enough.

Q. How many supplements do you take? When you take a new supplement, how long does it take you to assure yourself that what you're taking is not going to lead to a problem?

ANDRE AGASSI: Well, this is the problem we're in. To this day, I can consider it lucky that anything that I have taken as far as electrolytes or vitamins hasn't manifested itself in any cross-contamination. So I think that's the scary part, is during this interim, until we figure out what we're going to do, you can't take anything. I mean, unless you're willing to risk it.

Q. You stopped taking?

ANDRE AGASSI: I don't take that risk, no.

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