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Écrit par Jerome   
25-09-2006

Article d'InsideTennis de septembre 2005 : http://www.insidetennis.com/0905_first_serve.html

 

Andre Agassi

From Lance Armstrong on the Champs Elysees, to giddy girls up in Row X, to the adorable kid streaking across center court to get a big hug from his triumphant Daddy—this was elder Andre Agassi’s unadulterated summer of love. How sweet it was. After all, at least for one fleeting season, Roger Federer was chilling in Europe, a serve ‘n’ volleyer named Pete was but a chapter or two in some dusty record book and, most of all, the debilitating pain that hobbled and humbled him at Roland Garros was in remission.

To partake in the love-in, I joined with other reporters as the most beloved guy to emerge out of tennis shared his wit and vision as he spoke of pain, empathy, transformation and Jeremy Bates.

You have so many insights, such a vision for children, such a passion for giving. But let’s face it, 20 years ago, you weren’t exactly known for such things. What turned you around?
Don’t forget that I remember you from 20 years ago, too.
Well, at least I never lost to [Brit] Jeremy Bates.
True enough. That was a comical answer, but if you look at any of our lives 20 years ago, you would hope we are a lot different. I don’t know if I can point to any given turning point, I can just say I’ve always tried to live up to the values I have for myself. My values have changed in many respects, but I still fall short. I still keep striving.
What did you miss most about tennis when you were away?
Not being in a position to challenge yourself. It’s like a car going uphill without brakes. You’re either going forward or you’re going backwards. When I’m home watching, I’m going backwards.
How many injections are you willing to take until you get to where you say, “I don’t want to do this anymore”?
I don’t know what’s going to go into my decision about how long I can do this, but I can tell you one thing: I don’t want to be on the court unless I’m at least engaged and letting my game fly and feeling good. Because if there’s one thing I learned in Paris, it’s that limping around in front of the world is not a comfortable thing to do.
On the Champs Elysees, just after winning the Tour de France, Lance Armstrong said you were one of the athletes he most admired.
That’s as much of a compliment as any athlete could ever hope to hear coming from someone like Lance. In my opinion, what he’s accomplished is the greatest accomplishment in the history of sports.
Because ...
Physically, to win seven Tours de France anytime in your career, let alone in a row, let alone after fighting testicular, lung and brain cancer and having just a 30 percent chance of recovery. He would be great if he had just beaten cancer. But to watch him persevere and establish himself as the greatest in the history of his sport is a testament to what humans are really capable of. It’s beyond an inspiration to me. Of the people that inspire me, Lance comes in first, second and third.
Is it odd putting on your new adidas gear?
It’s a different experience, to say the least. ...[But] there’s no more fighting in my house [with Steffi, who has long worn adidas] about what shoes my kids are going to wear. That has a practical impact on my life.
Why the switch, after all these years with Nike?
It’s always disappointing when any chapter in your life comes to a close. We came to terms with everything, but we didn’t quite work out the terms for the foundation. As I’ve gotten older, it’s become more of what I’m committed to. It’s been a major component in every deal I’ve structured over the past 10 years. It’s been great with Nike—no question. I don’t fault them. They have a business to run and they run it quite well, but I’m in a fortunate enough position to not have to worry about me. But I do have to worry about the kids who I’m responsible for. Adidas came to the school, saw what I was doing and shared my vision and passion. That was good enough for me. ... They’ll provide a platform to make sure we continue looking out for the people we’re responsible for.
But Nike’s commercials were so memorable and helped popularize the game, and yours were some of the best: “Wake ‘em up at the country club,” playing catch with the Queen, “urban tennis” with Pete.
Ahh, now you’re really taking me down memory lane. For sure, playing in the streets with Pete was one of the greatest experiences I’ve had. Commercials aren’t usually as fun as they appear, but that one was.
Who won the commercial?
I won every time I played Pete, but nobody knows it.
If Federer played Pete, who would win?
That’s the stuff you’re supposed to write and I’m supposed to read about.
Andy Roddick is handling his role really well and, obviously, he’s a fantastic player. But it was a year between his winning hard-court tournaments and you could argue that the gap between him and Roger is widening.
The biggest crime that Andy’s committed is coming up at Roger’s time. Let’s call it like it is: Roger has established himself as the best player in the world right now. It’s been that way for a while. Nothing suggests that’s going to change for a while. If it weren’t for Roger, Andy already would have at least another U.S. Open and two more Wimbledons.
But you came around when there was a guy named Pete.
It cost me a title or two, but added a lot to my career too. When you have a rivalry, it also gives a lot. It’s not so much a function of changing your game, but a function of the level you push for every time you’re on the court. When you’ve got a guy on the other side of the net who says, ‘To be better than me, you’re going to have to be great,’ is quite a standard.
So you’re glad Pete was there during your career?
No, no. [Laughs]. Yes. Nobody’s guaranteed that feeling in sports. You could have the greatest career in the history of sports and be missing that piece that I got to enjoy, and that’s saying something.
Pete was playing a charity golf event the other day. Are you eager to do that?
If I had five hours in my day right now, I would choose to play golf. But I don’t.
And what about Steffi making a comeback?
No...she doesn’t want to play any more.
She won’t pull a ‘Martina’?
If Steffi wants to do that, I’m thinking I’m doing about a hundred things wrong. I’m not doing enough diapers, not enough dishes. I’ve got to make home a nicer place.
You do so much extra stuff like playing tonight’s charity match and give so much back to tennis, yet you’re still fighting injuries. Do you sometimes think that you should minimize your time on court?
Going out there and playing against Jon Lovitz—if I can’t handle that at this stage, I think I’ve got a few other things to be concerned about.


Steffi Graf, Jaden Gil Agassi
Are the simple joys of tennis still there for you?
The things I get joy from are more now. But the other side is also more difficult. The things that aren’t enjoyable are tougher. I do enjoy challenging myself, digging deeper. It could be practicing, it could be in a match. To me, tennis is about problem solving, figuring out what to do to beat the guy you’re playing. It’s about figuring out a way to get more out of yourself, whatever you can bring that day. That’s a challenge that leaves you pretty fulfilled if you pour yourself into it.
It’s amazing, you were the childhood idol to many of today’s pros.
There are a few times during a tournament where you realize how much older you are than everybody. I think, ‘Show some respect and don’t play a good match today. Look how much I’ve given to you. Give something to me.’ I’ve seen guys who have that admiration, respect, having grown up watching me, and it results in a very nervous experience. They don’t play to their level. Other times when they feel that sense of urgency, they play one of their best matches.
Could you see yourself playing next year?
My plan has always been to play hard as long as I can. I don’t know what my reasons not to play would be, to be honest. But I’m not going to assess any of that until the end of the year, and then I’ll have to make the decision based on all the lives that are affected, starting with my family. It’s one thing for me to pay a price to play, which is difficult, but that price pales in comparison with the price my family has to make, and that would be a heavy consideration.
Injuries, tendons, muscles—you’re always aware of the state they’re in and you know you can negotiate it to some degree. You know your healing process and what you’re aggravation level is. I’m nervous. It’s very frustrating because it can go from not so good to incapacitating, like in Paris [where] I literally couldn’t move. It was hurting me to sit down; it was hurting me to stand; it was hurting to walk. I was helpless, just helpless. I don’t like that feeling, and I’ve committed to not being on the court like that. So if I’m not feeling good and not able to be out there, just letting it fly and having a good competitive go and hopefully adding something to somebody’s life who’s watching, then it’ll be tough for me to decide not to do this, but I need to be healthy.
Does the fact that you help the game so much factor into your decision to keep on playing?
Here’s what I know. The longer and harder I work, the better off I am, the better off I feel, the better off the children effected by my foundation are and hopefully the better off the game is as well.
Your foundation gala raises so much money. Each year at the end of that evening you must get an incredible high. How does that feel in comparison with...
That evening is exciting and exhausting. But you have to remember that it pales in comparison to when you go to the school and see the children taking pride in themselves, respecting others and getting up to grade level after being two years behind. When you see that you know nothing compares to it. It’s unparalled emotionally when you see the children.
When athletes are asked what one characteristic they admire most, they usually say passion, or commitment or intensity. But awhile back, you said empathy was the quality you admired most.
What I hope to instill in my children, if I could pass on one thing, it would be to teach them to be able to look at life through the lens of others. That’s what’s it’s about. If more people did that, there’d be a lot less pain in the world. It’s looking at any situation through a lens of how it affects others. There’s something nice about people who don’t have to look out for themselves because the person next to them is doing that. It’s a great feeling. If you have somebody in your life that you can do that with, then you’re a lucky man. If the world could exist like that, it would be a special place.

 

 
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