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Écrit par Jerome   
25-09-2006

Article d'InsideTennis d'août 2006 : http://www.insidetennis.com/0806_first_serve.html

 
Andre Agassi, The Grand Slam Adventure box
Each Slam is an adventure. One time it could be the emergence of a new star (think Boris Becker) or a new venue (Ashe Stadium). Sometimes it will be the astonishing run of a supposedly washed-up warhorse like Connors or a memorable match (Rafter vs. Ivanisevic on People's Monday or Blake vs. Agassi at last year's U.S. Open). Maybe it's a memorable side journey, like going to Omaha Beach or watching Mac and Borg play an exo at 'ol Buckingham Palace.

Other times, it's nailing down a planned interview (Yannick Noah at the '04 French Open) or managing a celebrity interview (Clinton, McCartney, Streisand, Carson). And sometimes, it's just a spontaneous free-form conversation with great tennis talkers like Connors at last year's Wimbledon or this year when I ran into super-coach Nick Bolletieri and we sat down on my favorite Wimbledon bench to talk. The chat began with an exchange on Brad Gilbert (who wouldn't you know it, just happened to walk by and joined in), and then focused on the life and times of Bolletieri's marquee student — Andre Agassi.
INSIDE TENNIS: What a surprise Nick, you're wearing sunglasses. I liked your comment about my friend Mr. Brad Gilbert...
NICK BOLLETIERI: His chance to coach Andy Murray is a big opportunity. He's accomplished so much as a player, a coach. He's a great family man and commentator. But if he accepts this job, it will be something that will be remembered more than what he did on court. Legacies go on for a long time.
IT: But Murray's only 19. He hasn't grown into his body. He is going to be far more of a project than when Brad worked with Agassi or Roddick.
NB: It's going to be a project, but one that if he wants to be what I wanted to be — the best of the best — that's what he's got to do, to take this chance because he can affect, not just a young player, but a whole country.
IT: But isn't there a travel issue? Isn't Kim going...
NB: His wife is a great lady. But she's got to say, "Brad, we have a great family. It will pose a little inconvenience, maybe a lot of inconvenience, but I can't hold you back. I hope..."
IT: Speak of the devil, guess who's walking by. This is funny. Hey BG, BG, get over here. Sit the heck down.
NB: Hey Brad, you won't believe this. We were just talking about you. Bill was asking...
BRAD GILBERT: Can you believe that guy Rob Kendrick [who nearly beat Rafael Nadal]? Can you believe he was No. 272? When I was playing, No. 272 was the doorman.
IT: Tell him what we were...
NB: I just told Bill that if you take the job, would your wife understand?
BG: I got to talk to the wife yet. She's the boss.
NB: Somehow I hope that Mrs. G says, "Brad, this could be something that helps the whole family." But it's not easy. It cost me seven marriages. I'm on my eighth.
BG: So what does that mean? I got to talk to the boss.
IT: Plus, Andy is a project.
BG: But I got to convince my wife and the kids, then I'll worry about the project.
IT: Hey Brad, Nadal's giving us some kind of show, on grass no less?
BG: He just played three-and-a-half hours. Now he could take a shower and play hours more. He's got such a fighting spirit.
NB: Easy. Did you see him run out on court?
BG: Greatest thing in tennis. Nadal's starting the match. He's bouncing up and down, then he does "the Sammy Sosa." He sprints out. It's intimidating.
NB: When he played Federer, Roger was thinking, that son of a bitch.
BG: But Nadal's put in the hard yards. He's given himself the right to be in that position. You win a lot of matches because you intimidate guys. Guys know you can't get him late.
NB: But the good thing is that if Andre is going to bow out, it's better that it's against someone like Nadal.
BRAD GILBERT: Oh, s—, I got to go to studio because they just called me to come. [Lisa] Raymond's up 5-2 over "V."
NB: Bye, Brad. Call me.
IT: Look Nick, tell me about Andre. What was his most special...
NB: Most people don't even know that one of the special qualities is that he loves young children. He always signed. He always said hello. My two children loved him. Andre is very soft inside. People may think that he came on strong with his dressing, but he's very laid-back. He does not want to be in all the limelight. IT: Some still think of him in terms of all his neon clothes and the "image is everything"...
NB: Right, that's why being with Stephanie and having two kids has been fantastic for him.
IT: Tell me the truth. No one — not just in tennis, but in all of sports — has transformed himself more than Double-A. He came from the days of having all those Jack Daniel's whiskey bottles in his dorm room at your academy and saying he was going to crush the Paraguayans like the insects they were to being a thoughtful sage who...


Andrea Agassi and Nick Bolletieribox
NB: You know who had the biggest impact?
IT: I can guess. Gil Reyes.
NB: I sincerely hope you print that. Mr. Agassi did a lot. Mama Agassi. Phillip [his brother], Nick, [Darren] Cahill, Brad, my boy.
IT: What did Gil bring? People just dismiss him as...
NB: Softness, talking about life. Andre, sit back a little bit. Andre's career would have come to a halt without Gil. After the marriage to Brooke Shields, Andre was in an element that people might think he enjoyed. But Andre wasn't that comfortable in that setting.
IT: The glitter, the Hollywood fast lane?
NB: I don't think so.
IT: That was a tough marriage, too.
NB: Brooke was on the road. She was looking to find herself too.
IT: While Gil brought a big-picture view on life. He knew what was important.
NB: No question.
IT: Andre and Stephanie — the greatest romance in sports?
NB: I can't answer that. But Andre had to marry somebody that he couldn't compete with. And he ain't never going to match her record [22 majors], okay? And then you top it with children, his foundation and the career. Let's face it, nobody in the history of the game had a career like that, nobody.
IT: So with Stephanie, it's a little like that old ad, when Stephanie talks Andre listens.
NB: He listens because she's not competing with him. He couldn't be in an atmosphere where he has to compete with someone who is trying to be bigger or smarter than him. That's not Andre.
IT: Talk about Andre's eyes. They're so sharp, the most intense in tennis.
NB: Everybody says his hands, his eyes. But wait a minute, it's how his eyes and brain work together simultaneously. You actually have two sets of eyes. Andre has those great eyes to see the ball, but then his brain reacted instantaneously. That's what made him so great. Most people see and then a fraction of a second later they react.
IT: Sort of like a fast twitch response.
NB: No question. It was there all the time.
IT: So years ago, when the wide-eyed young Andre gets off that bus and arrives at your academy, what was your first take on this raw kid with the mullet, blasting those delicious groundies?
NB: It was, "Holy s—, this kid's different." Maybe Andre reacted early on, acting out because he didn't feel he was going to be special. Sometimes when you have a little insecurity, you react to try to draw attention. But when I first saw him, I quit what I was doing and called his father and said, "Take your money back. This kid is just special." We had such a group then. We'll never have another era like that.
IT: All the big federations seem to have trouble developing elite players while little old Nick B has done it so often.
NB: You know, I went out and had people believe in me. We paid for that talent. We brought them all in. We serviced them. We took care of their parents. To have a winning combination, you got to have a lot of players. Courier said, "What did Nick do? He gave us the balls, the rackets, the scholarships, and we went in the back. We fought like sons of bitches."
IT: Did you spot Andre's intensity early on?
NB: He would break rackets. Then there was the time when we were about to go to Andre's first tournament. We were indoors on court three and [Andre's brother] Phillip and I were laughing. But Andre thought we were laughing at him. So he whipped around and said, "F— you, I ain't going to the tournament." I swear to God. Then he just walked out. He thought we were laughing at him. That shows you his intensity. But we did get him to go to the tournament, and of course, he won. Only a few people know that story. It's a great story. Plus, he always got pissed at me when I got on the phone. He'd look over and say, "Nick's on the phone." I had to do some business, too, you know. I probably was talking on his behalf.
Bill, I got to tell you, as a coach I'm blessed. I don't think there's a coach that's had the lifetime I have. I come here to Wimbledon, everybody's nice to me. I got a media badge, Jesus Christ. But I've always tried to be good to the game, to be nice to people, to speak the truth. I tried to learn a lot about people. Andre once asked me, "Have you ever listened to anybody? Why don't you try listening?" As he walked out the door, he said, Nick, would you have this guy we had, Dr. Gerber, lay off cutting my hair. He was 15 and going home for vacation. I said, "I'm going to listen to you, Andre."
IT: And if someone said to you, when he first came to the academy, this guy's going to become the game's most charismatic and beloved figure and will put more fannies in tennis stadiums than anyone?
NB: Andre had that mystique, that bounce, those glaring eyes. He was different. His dad first told me, Nick, you got a champion coming. Nick, I need you. This kid could be a champion. Now, Mike may not want to admit all that, but that's okay. I know what I did with Andre. There's no question what Mike did. I know he called me to take his son, and that's all that really counts.
IT: Agassi's dad lived with his clan in Iran — nine people in a small space, one toilet down below. He got to Chicago with 13 bucks. Eventually, he put a ball over Andre's crib and had all those ball machines blast balls at him. I'm asking, in these tough times for American tennis, do we need a kind of hunger, a ferocity that can be kind of tough to find amidst all our wonderful affluence?
NB: First of all, we need characters. You're not going to make it with a square ass. We need coaching; we need some more charisma. We don't need to break rules, but we have to have more action in matches and create excitement. We need both the Williams playing, and we need a [new] young American like Rob Hendrick. This kid can play. But they got to be characters, not just tennis players. You need somebody that people are going to watch practice, like they do with Agassi or Anna Kournikova. The USTA is doing good things, but you've got to go dig out those goddamn characters, man, and you got to pay for 'em. We need excitement.
IT: Britain's federation is offering Gilbert big money to coach Murray.
NB: Look, back in the '80s, when we had all those people at the academy, we subsidized everybody.
IT: It's an investment you make, a kind of a loss leader. It's an entrepreneurial spirit, an instinct. Then you get a critical mass going, and then eventually it happens.
NB: Absolutely. If you get enough of them together, your chances increase.
IT: And the secret to your health? Vaidisova said you're up every morning at 5:00.
NB: I just like being a happy guy, the excitement. Whether or not I'm ever a millionaire, I don't give a s—-.
IT: But isn't tennis great? For starters, it reinvents itself time and again.
NB: What I love is that no matter how limited your background, if you work, surround yourself with the right people and have some luck, you can do it. Look, where I came from, I knew nothing. But I made up my mind to be a top coach, to do something for the game.
IT: So is it true that as a kid in Pelham, New York, you cut down the flowers in front of some lady's home and then knocked on her door and had the moxie to sell her her own flowers?
NB: They were lilacs.
IT: So Nick, wrap it up with one last thought on you and your most famous pupil, the singular Andre Agassi.
NB: Somewhere along the line I hope from the bottom of my heart that Andre feels a little something about me as I do him.

 
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