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Écrit par Jerome   
18-09-2006
By Richard Evans

It was one afternoon in Pancho Gonzalez’s Pro Shop at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. We were in the middle of the Alan King Classic, the first big tennis tournament to mix the sport with showbiz and lavish prize money and for an ambitious father with a talented kid it was too big an opportunity to miss.

“Jimmy, this guy’s got a four year old he wants you to hit with,” growled the great Gonzalez. “No, I’m serious, go see if he can play.”

Jimmy Connors was still young enough in those days to do Gonzalez’s bidding – in fact there were very few pros on the tour who would have wanted to cross the man they called Gorgo and so off he went to hit balls with this tiny little chap who clutched the racket in both hands and whacked it was amazing power.

Andre Agassi really was four years old and it really was where it all started for this amazing personality who has grown, from uncertain beginnings, into an icon of world sport. To be honest, it took me a while to become a believer. During his first years on the tour, Andre was too brash, too Day-Glow; too Las Vegas and too suspicious of those around him for me to see anything in him other than a superbly gifted striker of a tennis ball.

But, as the years passed and the way he handled himself in front of the media began to evolve, I started to see behind the mask. There was an honesty and a vulnerability there which became appealing. It soon became apparent that, even after winning his first Wimbledon in 1992, Agassi was one of the least self-confident champions I had ever known.

I think the first time I really flat-out admired him as a person came with the great fall of 1997 when he plunged to 141 in the world, having been No 1 less than two years before. Some players would have given up; very few would have chosen the humiliation of playing a Challenger in their own back yard as the place to begin the mountainous climb back to the top. But Agassi played that tournament in Las Vegas and lost to a German whose name escapes me in the final. I think many players would have chosen Bolivia or Timbucktoo to go through that ordeal but Andre fronted up and, in 1999, finished the year back at No 1. Of all his fantastic achievements, I think that ranks amongst the greatest.

More recently, I have got to know him a person and the admiration has only increased. It is now clear that he has grown into a world citizen with a very sincere understanding of his position and the responsibility he feels it brings. When asked why he spent so much time and energy in raising millions of dollars for his charter school in Las Vegas, his reply is simple. “If you are in my position, how could you not want to try and help improve children’s lives?”

It is a question that does require an answer. When I visited Agassi Prep in one of the poorest sections of his glittering city last year, I was stunned by what the Agassi Foundation has a achieved. The school stands as a monument to one man’s determination to make a difference in people’s lives as well as to many people’s hard work in ensuring that the dreams are realized. Amongst numerous giant photos of Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa and Muhammad Ali that adorn the school walls, there is just one of Agassi himself. It sits below a quote from Winston Churchill which says, “Never give up. Never, never, never, never…….”

- Richard Evans, one of the world's leading tennis authorities, is the author of 15 books on tennis, rugby and cricket.
 
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