Rita, 34, and Phillip, 32, bore the brunt of Mike's excesses and experimentation. "I was the guinea pig," Rita says. Mike taught Rita savage two-fisted strokes on both sides, the kind Monica Seles would display years later. He urged Andre to open his stances and snap his wrist, creating the whiplike torque that makes his forehand the rival of Sampras's serve as the truest, most powerful blow in the game. Mike would have several ball machines working at once, firing balls at the children while he urged them to hit harder, hit faster. By Mike's count all the children hit 7,000 to 8,000 balls a week—except Andre, who hit about 14,000.
Worse punishment came in the form of Mike's lacerating harangues. Anything less than reaching a tournament final was unacceptable. If you lost, you got yelled at. If you won, sometimes you got yelled at—and don't talk back. "I'd say, 'Shut up,' to him," Rita says, "and whack!"
Mike's idea was that if you hated losing enough, you wouldn't lose. His strategy, however, had side effects. One day she came off the court after losing a match in a national tournament and vomited blood. By the time she was 13 Rita had bleeding ulcers.
Rita gave the game up for good when she was 19. After playing some satellite tournaments and finally winning one in 1981, Rita just put the racket down and walked away. She married Pancho Gonzales, the tennis Hall of Famer, who is 32 years her senior. They had a child and divorced. Rita now teaches tennis to children in Las Vegas. Her sister, Tami, 25, played for Texas A&M and now lives in Seattle, where she's a freelance sports promoter and does some work with Agassi Enterprises. Phillip, who played at UNLV, soon thereafter saw his chief role become that of chaperone to Andre. Phillip does not comment on Mike other than to say, "It was tough on me, too, but I've resolved my own ghosts and skeletons, and they're private. I've become good friends with my dad."
Andre was Mike's most willing—not to mention most talented—subject. When Andre was an infant, Mike hung a mobile with a tennis ball over the crib. As soon as Andre could sit in a high chair and grip a spoon, Mike stuck a Ping-Pong paddle in the boy's fist and strung up a balloon for him to swing at. When Andre was in a walker, Mike put a full-sized racket in his hand. Betty Agassi had to remove all the objects from the counters after Andre belted a salt shaker so hard he cracked a glass door. "Andre had the desire," Mike says. "I don't know if the desire was just to please his parents, but he had it."
By the time Andre was three he could rally with his father. One of Andre's earliest memories is of a crowd of 50-odd awestruck spectators gathering at courtside at the Tropicana as he hit with Bobby Riggs. "I remember being watched," Andre says. "And I remember liking it." He signed his first autograph when he was six, after hitting with Ilie Nastase.
When Andre was 13 Mike sent him to Nick Bollettieri's tennis academy in Bradenton, Fla., which he had heard about from a 60 Minutes segment documenting the grueling competition there. Bollettieri was cultivating a bumper crop of talented young players, including Courier, Aaron Krickstein and David Wheaton. "They were fighting like little sons of bitches all over the outer courts," Bollettieri remembers. For Andre, life at the academy was even more tennis-intensive than life with Mike. "It was a living hell," Andre says.
By the time he turned pro, in 1986 at the age of 16, Agassi was a combination of talent, temperament and trembling insecurities: He had monster strokes and minimal mental endurance. He made one final in that first year and rose to the rank of No. 89, but the next year, when he lost in the first round of a tournament in Washington, D.C., he ran into a nearby park and tearfully gave his rackets to two old men playing checkers, vowing to quit.
"I'd have one good year and fall to pieces the next," Agassi says. In 1988 he was No. 3 in the world; in '89 the lights went out, and he fell to No. 7. Sometimes he burned to win, and sometimes he was burned out.
In 1990 Andre rose back to No. 4 and reached the French and U.S. Open finals. In '91 he fell to No. 10, losing another French Open final and finishing the season with a first-round U.S. Open loss, followed by a lit of self-loathing. Rita tried to comfort him. "Look," she said, "this doesn't have to be a psychotic thing."