By Blair Henley | Friday, February 21, 2014
Andre Agassi took home the Powershares Series Camden Wealth Advisors Cup in Houston Thursday, but not before sitting down with Tennis Now to discuss his kids, life after retirement and his place in history.
Photo credit: AP
At 43 years old, Andre Agassi has transcended the game that made him famous. Beyond his on-court achievements, which include a career Grand Slam, a gold medal and a Davis Cup title, he has impacted the lives of countless children through his education initiatives. His Bilt by Agassi & Reyes fitness equipment can be found in gyms across the country, and in 2013 he launched Box Buddies to promote healthy food choices for children.
In Houston for the PowerShares Series Camden Wealth Advisors Cup along with Andy Roddick, James Blake and Jim Courier, Agassi looked comfortable and relaxed as he signed autographs for fans and posed for countless photographs. A far cry from the rebellious 20-something who admittedly hated stepping on the tennis court, Agassi is now family man with a focus on using his fame (and fortune) for good. He spoke to Tennis Now before eventually taking home the Houston title with wins over Courier and Blake.
Often when expectations are taken out of the equation, whether it’s in sport or elsewhere, things become more enjoyable, more fun. Has that been the case for you since your retirement? Do you enjoy playing these “legends” matches?
I do, but for different reasons. First of all, these are memories that I never really got to have, being out here and enjoying it at the same time. Being able to take it in, especially with the Houston crowd which has endeared itself to me over the years, it means the world to come share it and have it make sense in the balance of your life. You’re not away for a week or 10 days; you’re just away for a day. It’s nice.
Do you train for a match like this? Do you have hitting partners at home in Las Vegas?
There are a number of athletes that come through Vegas from the training perspective. There are a few college kids now that are there. It’s amazing, the older you get, the more people you can find to play (laughing).
Often when tennis players retire from the game, they stay directly connected with the sport. Some move into coaching or administration. Some become analysts or commentators. Your various business efforts have really diverged from the tennis path. Has that been a conscious move?
Not really. It’s been very conscious for me to try to stay connected. It’s been pretty natural to morph into the things that I’m doing now and caring about now. It’s been harder and harder to figure out ways to stay involved with the game. Every now and then I get the opportunity, whether it’s through [these matches] or working with sponsors that support the game and the infrastructure of the game. I try to enjoy those moments. I look for ways to stay involved, but it’s not always easy.
It’s interesting that you don’t see a ton of successful tennis players with kids who end up also playing professional tennis. When you look at golf or baseball, for instance, you often see athletes following in their parents or grandparents footsteps. You don’t see that much at all in tennis. Why do you think that is?
I think it speaks to the tennis life, if you go the distance. It’s not easy, it’s lonely, it’s aggressive, it’s eat what you kill kind of stuff. And it’s not an easy way to spend time with your children. Golf is different, right? You go out and play 18 holes. I can’t think of anything better than spending five hours with your kids. Same with baseball. You go out and throw the ball around and spend time on the field. It’s a different deal, but tennis is solo and it’s individual and it’s hard and you kind of don’t want to watch your kids go through it.
Later, Agassi joined a crowd of VIP guests for a question and answer period. Here are some highlights.
Can you tell us a little about your family and how you motivate your children?
I married this lady named Steffi Graf (laughing). The children are getting older now, they are 12 and 10. My son is into baseball. My daughter is completely into hip-hop dance. She’s on two competition teams. She’s my coloring, and she acts like Stef. My son has blue eyes and blonde hair and acts like me. Jaz, my daughter, she works so hard with her dance. My son just wants to be with the baseball team all day. What most people don’t realize, being the children of parents who succeeded in sport, they realize it’s not so glamorous. They see us as people. They see our lives. They see the difficulties in it. It’s not quite as glamorized. They don’t look at sports like maybe other kids who have aspirations do. They have a pretty healthy perspective on it. They are very competitive and pretty gifted, but their mental approach seems to be very healthy.
Do you still have the Dragon, the ball machine your dad made you?
Uh, no. That thing was taken apart in pieces and like turned into the Dragon 2.0. My dad put it on a mechanical conveyor of some sort, so it actually raises really high. It’s even taller and shoots even faster. Back in the day, 110 mph was really fast. Now it can go even faster.
When you look back at the footage of the Rod Laver era, can you put it in perspective if those guys had the equipment that you guys have today? How would your game fit in that era and vice versa?
Every now and then in the sport, someone comes along and brings something new to the game that no one has seen before. As a result, all of their peers have to make adjustments and have to evolve. When Pete came along, no one had ever seen a serve like that. When I stepped into the game, no one had a big forehand and big backhand, and no one stayed inside the baseline and ripped every ball. It forced people to have to make that adjustment. When you look at the next generation – Nadal, Federer, Djokovic – the athleticism and the spin that came to the game really changed the rules of engagement. No longer would my game even apply anymore.
I would step up against a lefty like Nadal like I did for 20 years. I would take some of the court away and take some time away, but when I did that to Nadal, he hit it so high and so short that I had to go so far into the court. If I didn’t commit to coming in, then I was actually behind in the point. So then I said, “Okay, I’ll just come in.” So I came in, and he got the ball at my feet. Then the guy who only came to the net to shake hands, which was my thing, is hitting a volley at his shoelaces on a big point. I’m going, “Well, this sucks.”
At the end of the day, the rules don’t apply anymore because athletes are engaging the sport in a different way. I think in every period of time, the game changes. If you don’t know that game, you’re not talking about the same correlation. It’s not about growing up with racquets or string, it’s the athlete, the ballistic nature of the sport. Somewhere along the line, you are going to have to say the same things about this generation because their games won’t apply when you start getting someone who is 6-foot-10 and can move well.