The hardest-working man in show business, that pampered iconoclast to whom all adjectives, good and bad, apply, is back. Elvis is in the building. James Brown is at the Apollo Theatre. Andre Agassi is on his way to center court. Two beefy security guards eye the throng surrounding a door. It opens. A girl screams. A walkie-talkie crackles and warns, "The bird is on the fly."
Here he comes, all fluttering tresses and dangling jewelry. Hair the color of cream soda, chocolate-pie eyes gazing out from under an upturned cap brim. A prancy walk, a jingle of an earring, a promise that he is here to stay. Then he is gone again, leaving only the exhaust from his private jet and this impression: For a sparrow of a guy, he sure is larger than life.
Was it real or was it just our imaginations when Agassi, recently back from five months away from the tour, materialized at the Upton Championships in Key Biscayne, Fla., looking fitter and more determined than ever? All he did was smoke through the draw before losing in the final to top-ranked Pete Sampras and vaporizing on his 10-seat JetStar. Who knows when we'll see him next or what he'll look like. Agassi is just hair and racket; you can pass your hand through the rest of him. Mr. Mirage is fat, he is thin, he is born again, he is Zen, he is dating his hometown sweetheart, he is seeing Barbra Streisand. As Jim Courier said of Agassi last week, with no small amount of amusement, "Which attitude is this? Is this the new attitude, or is this the new attitude?"
It's the new, new, new attitude. Agassi has a new body so sleek and shiny that it could have been bought in a boutique. His legs and chest show off bunches of freshly defined muscles. He has a new low-fat diet and a new training regimen, both of which he assures us are "permanent." He has a new love, Brooke Shields, who, he professes, has "changed my life."
He has a new won-loss record that seems to support that assertion. In the last month Agassi has won 11 of 13 matches and reached two finals. He won at Scottsdale in February, and at the Lipton he dispatched Boris Becker, 1993 U.S. Open finalist Cedric Pioline, Stefan Edberg and Patrick Rafter, the up-and-coming Australian, all in straight sets, before falling in three sets to Sampras.
Afterward Agassi stepped into a white Lincoln and drove to a small Miami airport, where he parked on the tarmac by his favorite toy, the elegant plane with the capital A and a burning tennis ball stenciled on the tail. But luxury no longer consoles Agassi, who at age 23 has experienced a hilariously profound revelation. "Without the cake, the icing sucks," he said, propping his bare feet up on the opposite seat.
Of all of Agassi's fade-ins and fade-outs, this one may be the most astonishing. He played only 13 tournaments in 1993. During his five-month absence he underwent surgery on his right wrist to repair chronic tendinitis. He got so fat that his thighs rubbed together. He got fired by his longtime coach, Nick Bollettieri, who defected to Becker. Agassi fell to No. 24 in the world, the first time since '87 he had finished a year out of the Top 10. "It was a nightmare year," he said.
Curiously, though, with each incarnation Agassi comes back a little smarter—and plays a little better. According to Agassi this last spiral was such a trial that it forced the most serious period of self-appraisal he has ever experienced. The result was a vow to become the one thing he had never been: an honest-to-goodness day-in, day-out professional who just might stick around and win more Grand Slam titles to go with his 1992 Wimbledon trophy. "Looking at my track record, I know it's hard to believe," said Agassi somewhere over Georgia en route to New York City. "For the first time I feel I have purpose. It's the worst thing to feel I could have done more, especially if it's a question of discipline"
There is perhaps no greater measure of Agassi's commitment than his new diet. No more Taco Bell and Junior Mints. No more Big Gulps, Quarter Pounders and McNuggets. It may sound like a small thing, but improving his diet is an unprecedented sacrifice for Agassi. When asked exactly what he has given up, Agassi replied, "Just my whole appetite."
His friends and advisers had pleaded with him for years to lay off the fast food. Agassi, however, seems to have a self-destructive need to resist good advice. "You could hold a hamburger right in front of his face and say, 'Andre, this is bad,' and he'd grab it out of your hand and eat it," says Ian Hamilton, a sports-marketing manager at Nike.