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07-12-2006
Andre Agassi: Life after tennis
Agassi busy in retirement but enjoys his mixtureof business and pleasure

BY JOHN PACKETT
TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER
Thursday, December 7, 2006

Ah, the sunset years. When he walked off the Arthur Ashe Stadium court after losing in the third round of the U.S. Open in September, Andre Agassi started his "retirement" earlier than most people.

At 36, it was time for a little R&R from the grueling travel and training regimen of the professional tennis tour and the chance to spend more time with his family.

"Is that what they call this, retirement?" Agassi said with a laugh in a telephone interview from his home in Las Vegas. "Because I don't think this is really retirement.

"I still maintain quite a few outlets from my focus and daily dramas, and that has allowed me to feel like I have the best of both worlds."

Although he hasn't been on the court much since his final match with Benjamin Becker at the Open, Agassi has been working on various projects, including resorts in Idaho, Costa Rica and Hawaii, as well as a furniture line debuting in January.

That doesn't include the work he does with the Andre Agassi Charitable Foundation, which has raised more than $50 million to assist at-risk youth in Las Vegas. That has helped finance the college preparatory academy named after him that opened in 2001 for youngsters in his hometown.

"We've been very busy," Agassi said. "But it's been on my terms, which is different than tennis used to be because tennis was always about not just working when everybody realized you were working but sometimes you were working when people realized you didn't have to be.

" Like putting your feet up on the couch when the rest becomes necessary and the kids want to run around. But you've just trained or just competed and you need the rest. Now I don't have those physical parameters to work with, so I can put my energy in for a few hours and then get back to my family for a few hours."

Agassi likes spending as much time as possible with his wife, former star Steffi Graf, and their two children, Jaden, 5, and Jaz, 3.

"I was very fortunate in that my family always traveled with me," he said. "I didn't miss out on very much at all. But now I get to enjoy them without dealing with the pressure and the stress and the physical demands of tennis that don't always leave you in a position to appreciate what's around you."

The eight-time Grand Slam champion and former No. 1 player in the world will be in town tomorrow, along with Graf, Lindsay Davenport and James Blake, for the second annual Genworth Children's Advantage Classic at the Siegel Center.

The event, which begins at 7:30 p.m. and features a mixed doubles match between Agassi-Graf and Blake-Davenport and a men's singles with Agassi and Blake, benefits at-risk youth in the Richmond area.

Agassi had been struggling with back problems for a while before he decided to make the Open his last hurrah.

"I promised everybody I would tell them when I knew it was time and that's what I did," he said. "Just before Wimbledon, I thought it would be a good environment to communicate where I knew I was, and it was very clear to me that I was going to say good-bye in New York.

"My body had listened to me for a lot of years and it was time for me to start listening to my body."

Despite a lot of pain in his back, Agassi thrilled the fans at Flushing Meadow one more time with wins over Andrei Pavel and Marcos Baghdatis before the loss to Becker. When it was over, he received a standing ovation for nearly 10 minutes.

"There wasn't an accomplishment I had on the court that meant more to me than that moment," he said. "That moment was 21 years in the making. It doesn't happen in one week of success. It doesn't happen in any given title. It happens with a lifetime journey.

"It will never get better than that. You could promise me I'd go down and win the next tournament and I'd say, 'No thank you.' I choose what I had there."

Agassi said he hasn't spent any time wondering what his legacy will be in the game he loves so much or his contributions to the sport.

"If there's a legacy to be had, I'm still alive and there's still things I hope to see for the game and help the game with," he said. "One's contributions to life are never over with until it's over. My hope is to continually do my best to make a difference in a positive way for not only the sport but all those who love it."

Might he become more closely involved in the game one day as a coach or administrator?

"I don't know exactly how that fit is going to happen," Agassi said. "I can tell you right now that me and my wife are focused on increasing the experience of tennis and health and fitness in people's lives. We're doing that through a few of our projects.

"That being said, my direct involvement with tennis is one that needs to find its own place. I can't force that time because it'll happen in its own way. I'm available as needed and that's important to me. I believe in the future and growth of this game, and I want to figure out a way to help communicate how much this sport can add to somebody's life."

Agassi said he enjoys playing in charitable events such as the Genworth exhibition but isn't sure how he's going to do on the court.

"I haven't hit a tennis ball in months, so we'll see what that means," he said with a chuckle. "If anybody is donating their money to this charity for the evening and expecting to see me play great tennis, I'm looking forward to disappointing them."
 
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