"My big splurge now is a chicken sandwich," said Agassi. A normal day's menu: bagels and coffee for breakfast, a turkey sandwich with mustard for lunch and pasta for dinner. Though he carefully watches his fat intake, he still has a sweet tooth. On the way to New York he popped fat-free cookies into the oven, and he keeps stacks of low-fat candy—Starburst, Skittles, Red Vines—in the plane's galley.
Agassi's fluctuating weight—he has been as high as 180 pounds and is now closer to 160—and his inconsistent practice and play were among the reasons that Bollettieri ended their 10-year partnership. Bollettieri had begun to lose patience when Agassi solicited help from other sources, such as John McEnroe, but the last straw was Agassi's arrival at Wimbledon as defending champion with his belly flopping over his belt and a brace on his wrist. Surprisingly Agassi made the quarterfinals, but days later Bollettieri severed their relationship. Agassi turned to Pancho Segura, but to no avail. He lost in the first round of the U.S. Open, won a Davis Cup match against the Bahamas in late September and then went home to Las Vegas and stayed there. In December he finally underwent the surgery.
"Nick hurt me," said Agassi. "When things like that happen, it can make you lose hope in people. It can suck the life right out of you." (For his side of the story, Bollettieri, who is writing his memoirs, says, "You'll have to wait for the book.")
Agassi briefly underwent counseling, during which he discovered that he was playing tennis to earn the approval of everybody but himself. He consulted self-help gurus Marianne Williamson and Anthony Robbins and the books of C.S. Lewis. "The longer I was away from the game, the more time I had to think about what I wanted," he said. "I had to ask myself if I wanted to play tennis, and I questioned if it was too late to turn things around."
The answer was that he did want to play, and that realization sent him into a frenzy of work. He started putting in 2½ hours a day at a gym. He lifted weights for about an hour and a half and then used a stair machine for 45 minutes. He began showing up at his office in Las Vegas three or four days a week to return phone calls.
"It wasn't like he put on a suit or anything," said his brother, Phil, who also was aboard the plane. But Andre was getting his life organized. "I think he's finally getting direction," said Phil.
Late last summer, said Agassi, he fell in love with Shields, the model-actress and Princeton graduate, whom he met through a mutual friend in Los Angeles. "She's turned me around," said Agassi. "She's made me feel things I've never felt before and think of things I never thought of." Shields was not at Lipton, but Agassi said she'll accompany him to some tournaments later this year.
One essential that Agassi is still missing is a full-time coach. He recently has been working with veteran player Brad Gilbert, an artful tactician. They have a trial agreement, which worked well at Lipton, although Agassi may find it difficult to work with anyone full-time. "I just can't be told what to do," he said.
Agassi probably will never be a grinder like Courier, and that's not necessarily bad. "Andre's a guy who's never really given everything he's got to the game," Courier says. "He'll give most of what he's got, for a while. Then he'll stop. Then he'll get fat, and something will happen, and he'll come back again. That's just him. He's unique."
The only thing consistent about Agassi is his star quality. Despite his No. 31 ranking he simply swamped the rest of the 96-man field at Lipton. The fans gathered daily at the exit ramp of the tournament's impressive new stadium, straining for a glimpse of him. People peered through chain-link fences and leaned over railings. Reporters watched the spectators who watched for Agassi.