Updated: January 19, 2017 8:47:36 am
It was a know-all-tell-all like none other. Andre Agassi penned down an autobiography that ignored the prevailing trends of privacy most would have maintained in their memoirs. The former world number 1 though provided every possible insight into his past. More so, about how much he detested the sport that he was forced to play, by a father who relentlessly, often mercilessly, searched for the American Dream through Andre, his youngest child. It’s a work of literature that is still revered for its brutal, candid nature. Yet, back at the Agassi household, father Mike’s reaction to the book remained largely unknown.
Agassi too was wary of this particular reaction. Speaking at a promotional event in Mumbai, Agassi recalled how he called up his father once to soothe the misinterpretations he knew were doing the rounds. “He said, ‘If I could go back in time, I would only change one thing,’” Agassi explained of the incident, at his racounteuring best. He had been driving when he decided to call his father and pulled over upon the parent’s unexpected reaction, said tennis’ most read story-teller, adding a pause for effect, before continuing, “He said, ‘I wouldn’t have let you play tennis.”I would have made you play baseball or golf. You can play longer and earn more money!” Agassi added with a laugh. “There’s no changing my father.”
In the book, the eight-time Grand Slam champion had described how his early days were dominated by his father’s insistence on having Andre pursue a career in tennis – no other ideas were ever entertained. Steadily, Agassi developed a strong dislike for the game, yet was forced to come to terms with it. It’s an aspect that continues to nag him to this day. “It’s difficult to say that it was the right thing for me because the greatest frustration is never knowing what else I would have wanted to do,” he asserts.
Still, he finds in himself an appreciation for what his father had forced upon him. Agassi grew up in a modest setting, and he found himself, as a junior player, unintentionally working up a revenue for the family based on Mike gambling on Agassi’s matches. “My journey started with my father betting on me at Las Vegas. My family didn’t have much, but we always had what we needed. And he would risk it all the time and bet on me. There is the pressure and anxiety of it. But the other part feels the pride of it: Your father believes in you.”
He would live up to those dreams as well. Agassi is one of only the four players to have won a Golden Slam. Still, he drew some flak. After winning his first Grand Slam, at Wimbledon 1992 – a five-set affair against Goran Ivanisevic – he remembers calling up his father. “You had no business losing the fourth set,” he describes his father’s reaction. “He finds faults in a lot of things, I think that’s his purpose in life. Now there’s no more tennis, so he tells me how to be a better father, which is also an interesting journey,“ he added, with a guffaw.
Looking at the sport’s golden generation, Agassi spoke of his ungrudging envy for Roger Federer. “It almost pisses me off that he just makes it look so easy,” he said. “You’re looking at arguably the greatest ever because of what he could do on every surface. He has a Plan A, B, C, D. And he never usually got to Plan C or D. Occasionally he’d get to Plan B.”
In his own days, Agassi had long-standing on-court feuds with fellow American rival Pete Sampras, who till Federer, was considered the greatest in the game. “Is Federer better than Pete? Yes. But he’s also dealing with two other guys that you can argue are at the top of the history of our sport, (Novak) Djokovic and (Rafael) Nadal. It’s a great generation of tennis. One that takes decades (to happen) and makes it into one generation that everybody should be grateful to be able to watch.”
His 20 years on tour career filled with heights of achievement was also tarnished by steep falls. But that was followed by a resurgence that won him greater appreciation. His biggest moment, however, he asserts came off the court. “The day my wife said yes. She was the hardest to win over. When Steffi Graf says yes, you’ve arrived.” The crowd at a packed ballroom couldn’t stop applauding that.
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