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Posted: Friday October 30, 2009 2:04PM; Updated: Friday October 30, 2009 2:29PM
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Open: An Autobiography

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After a loss in D.C. in July, I decide to shut down for the summer. Though we were married in April, Brooke is in Los Angeles working and I spend much of the summer in Vegas. Slim is there, and we get high a lot. I like feeling inspired again, even if the inspiration is chemically induced. I stay awake all night, several nights in a row, relishing the silence. No one bothering me. Nothing to do but dance around the house and fold the laundry and think.

Apart from the buzz of getting high, I get an undeniable satisfaction from harming myself and shortening my career. But the physical aftermath is hideous. After two days of being high, of not sleeping, I'm an alien. I have the audacity to wonder why I feel so rotten. I'm an athlete, my body should be able to handle this.

In the fall, I'm walking through New York's LaGuardia Airport when I get a phone call. It's a doctor working with the Association of Tennis Professionals. There is doom in his voice, as if he's going to tell me I'm dying. And that's exactly what he tells me.

It was his job to test my urine sample from a recent tournament. It's my duty, he says, to inform you that you've failed the standard ATP drug test. The urine sample you ­submitted has been found to contain trace amounts of crystal meth.

I fall onto a chair in the baggage claim area.

Mr. Agassi?

Yes. I'm here. So. What now?

Well, there is a process. You'll need to write a letter to the ATP, admitting your guilt or declaring your innocence.

Uh-huh.

Did you know there was a likelihood that this drug was in your system?

Yes. Yes, I knew.

In that case, you'll need to explain in your letter how the drug got there.

And then?

Your letter will be reviewed by a panel.

And then?

If you knowingly ingested the drug -- if you plead ­guilty -- you'll be disciplined.

How?

He reminds me that tennis has three classes of drug violation. ­Performance-enhancing drugs, of course, would constitute a Class 1, he says, which would carry a suspension of two years. However, he adds, crystal meth would seem to be a clear case of Class 2. Recreational drugs.

I say: Meaning?

Three months' suspension.

My name, my career, everything is now on the line. Whatever I've achieved, whatever I've worked for, might soon mean nothing. Part of my discomfort with tennis has always been a nagging sense that it's meaningless. Now I'm about to learn the true meaning of meaninglessness. Serves me right.

Days later I write a letter to the ATP. It's filled with lies interwoven with bits of truth. I acknowledge that the drugs were in my ­system -- but I assert that I never knowingly took them. I say Slim, whom I've since fired, is a known drug user, and that he often spikes his sodas with meth -- which is true. Then I come to the central lie of the letter. I say that recently I drank accidentally from one of Slim's spiked sodas, unwittingly ingesting his drugs. I ask for understanding and leniency and hastily sign it: Sincerely.

I feel ashamed, of course. I promise myself that this lie is the end of it.

The next April, I'm in Rome, lying on my hotel bed, resting after a match. The phone rings. It's my lawyers; they're on speakerphone. Andre? Can you hear us? Andre?

Yes, I hear you. Go ahead.

Well, the ATP has carefully reviewed your heartfelt assertion of innocence. We're pleased to say that your explanation has been accepted. Your failed test is thrown out.

I hang up and stare into space, thinking again and again: New life.

1999

She spreads a towel on the sand and pulls off her jeans. Underneath she's wearing a white one-piece bathing suit. She walks out into the water, up to her knees. She stands with one hand on her hip, the other shielding her eyes from the sun, scanning the horizon.

She asks, You coming in?

I don't know.

I'm wearing white tennis shorts. I didn't think to bring a bathing suit to San Diego, because I'm a desert kid. I don't do well in the water. But I'll swim to China right now if that's what it takes. In just my tennis shorts I walk out to where Stefanie's standing. She laughs at my swimwear and pretends to be shocked that I'm going commando. I tell her I've done it since winning the French Open that way in June, and I'm never going back.

We talk for the first time about tennis. When I tell her I hate it, she turns to me with a look that says, Of course. Doesn't everybody?

I ask about her conditioning. She mentions that she used to train with Germany's Olympic track team.

What's your best race?

Eight hundred meters.

Whoa. That's a gut check. How fast can you run it?

She smiles shyly.

You don't want to tell me?

No answer.

Come on. How fast are you?

She points down the beach, at a red balloon in the distance.

See that red dot down there?

Yeah.

You'd never beat me to that.

Really.

Really.

She smiles. Off she goes. I go tearing after her. It feels as if I've been chasing her all my life, and now, six months after separating from Brooke, I'm literally chasing her. At first it's all I can do to keep pace, but near the finish line I close the gap. She reaches the red balloon two lengths ahead of me. She turns, and her peals of laughter carry back to me like streamers on the wind.

I've never been so happy to lose.

2000

Stefanie tells me her father is coming to Vegas for a visit. Thus, the unavoidable moment has arrived. Our fathers are going to meet. The prospect unnerves us both.

Peter Graf is suave, sophisticated, well-read. He likes to make jokes, lots of jokes, none of which I get because his English is spotty. I want to like him, and I see that he wants me to like him, but I'm uneasy in his presence because I know the history. He's the German Mike Agassi. A former soccer player, a tennis fanatic, he started Stefanie playing before she was out of diapers. Unlike my father, however, Peter never stopped managing her career and her finances, and he spent two years in jail for tax evasion.

I should have expected it: The first thing Peter wants to see in Nevada isn't Hoover Dam or the Strip but my father's ball machine.

My father doesn't do well with people who don't speak perfect English, and he doesn't do well with strangers, so I know we have two strikes on us as we walk through my parents' front door. I'm relieved, however, to see that sport is a universal language, that these two men, both former athletes, know how to use their bodies to communicate, through swings and gestures and grunts. My father takes us to his backyard court and wheels out the dragon. He revs the motor, raises the pedestal high. He's talking nonstop, shouting to be heard above the ­dragon -- blissfully unaware that Peter doesn't understand a word.

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