The autographing over, Shields and Agassi dash into a chauffeured sedan and travel a few blocks to an Italian bistro, Becco, where they order champagne; their schedules have been so hectic since he returned from Australia that they haven't enjoyed a proper toast. Then, over pumpkin ravioli and a bottle of Chianti, they narrate the story of their romance. It is like dining with nuzzling deer.
They were set up by the wife of saxophonist Kenny G, a mutual friend. After much cajoling by Mrs. G, Shields, bored while making a film on location in Africa, faxed Agassi an introductory note. It had a guarded, flippant tone, echoing her mood. Agassi replied with a long, heartfelt letter about the importance of being vulnerable.
"Then she wrote back a novel," Agassi says.
"I was in Africa, O.K.?" Shields says. "I was motivated."
Agassi and Shields are convinced that they fell in love via fax during months of communicating without meeting face-to-face. When he finally went to Los Angeles and took her to dinner in December 1993, both were instantly smitten. They sat in a restaurant until it was ready to close. Agassi, as is his custom, kept his back to the room to avoid being recognized, his hair a cascade over his collar. "Are you ladies enjoying your meal?" the waitress asked.
Shields describes the frame of mind she was in that night, and it bears a remarkable similarity to Agassi's. "I was tired of images, of trying to be everything to everybody," she says. "I looked at him like I had nothing to lose. I was, like, 'This is it. If you don't like it, see ya.' "
Agassi and Shields are contemplating marriage, although they have no specific plans. Agassi's friends are betting something will happen within the next two years. "Brooke is not the only reason I've come to terms with so many things, but she helps," Agassi says. "If you're raised in a strict home or a liberal one, by an overbearing parent who pushes you or by an easy one, it doesn't make you. It's how you deal with it. We've both decided we'd rather be vulnerable than close ourselves off. That's the bond we have."
In Las Vegas he is not just Andre Agassi, he is Andre Agassi Enterprises. He has a suite of offices in the U.S. Bank Building, right next door to Merrill Lynch. He employs a staff that numbers between 13 and 15 people at any given time. A big chunk of the budget goes into his plane, which costs $740,000 annually to operate. He bleeds money.
To be more cognizant of his business affairs, Agassi makes periodic appearances in the office. He has given himself a yearly allowance of $150,000, feeling that this will help him develop responsibility. It is a rather modest sum given that he has made more than $8 million in prize money and about twice that much in endorsements. All this, plus his new $100 million deal, make his wealth difficult to grasp. "You comprehend it about as well as I do," he says.
Among Agassi's business projects is an investment in a new restaurant chain. Robert Earl, the founder of the Planet Hollywood franchise, has asked to use Agassi's hair to help him, Wayne Gretzky, Ken Griffey Jr., Joe Montana and Shaquille O'Neal launch All Star Cafes. The ponytail will, along with other sports memorabilia, decorate one of the restaurants, though it now sits in a vault inside Planet Hollywood headquarters.