Andre Agassi hurtles through the night and across the Nevada desert looking for heat lightning. He is hunched over the wheel of his Humvee, a vehicle designed for combat on rugged terrain. Her name is Juanita, and she is not to be confused with his Infiniti, Cynthia, or his white and black Porsches, Bridget and Samantha, or his sleek little red Viper, Christina, or his hulking Suburban, known simply as the Big Black Bitch. Of all of Agassi's cars, Juanita is closest to his heart, because she is the one most like him these days: a stripped-down all-weather off-roader impervious to rocks and ruts.
Whenever a storm brews around his hometown of Las Vegas, Agassi likes to haul Juanita to the red steppes and up the rocky dunes of the Mojave Desert, where he parks under the black, sobbing clouds and lets lightning burst all around him. It strikes the sand and boulders while he huddles, thrilled, in Juanita's impenetrable skin. How utterly Agassi: showy, silly and larger than life. "My problem is, I have a tendency to get sort of extreme in my efforts to learn something," he says.
On this night there is no lightning, only rain, so Agassi four-wheels over the dunes, spewing gravel and mud and talking about his lost childhood and his new, adult self-possession. As he describes his life, it sounds like a Vegas floor show, complete with Bobby Berosini and his dancing orangutans, Sigfried and Roy and a naked sleight-of-hand artist. But it includes one genuinely acrobatic feat. Agassi, a guy who had no earthly reason to improve himself—too much money, too much attitude, too many scars—somehow did. "That's the most amazing part," he says, "because for a while it seemed like it would be impossible to ever turn things around."
The hyped twerp with the hair that looked as if it had been poured from a soda fountain has answered every critic and become a 24-year-old of substance and accomplishment. He is the reigning U.S. and Australian Open tennis champion. He is threatening to seize the No. 1 ranking from the most talented and disciplined player in the world, Pete Sampras. Agassi recently signed a new contract with Nike worth a projected $100 million over 10 years. He is in love with actress and former model Brooke Shields. And his old ponytail now sits in a vault.
On a cold night shortly before Christmas, Agassi sat in the kitchen of Shields's mid-town Manhattan brownstone. Over him, holding a pair of scissors, stood Matt Slynn of the Oribe hair salon at Elizabeth Arden. In attendance were Shields; Perry Rogers, Agassi's manager and boyhood buddy; and Wendy Stewart, Agassi's former sweetheart who remains a good friend. A bottle of Cristal champagne sat on the counter. Agassi drained his glass and, still not fortified, opened a bottle of Dom Pérignon. Finally he was ready. Slynn lifted the ponytail and cut it off in one stroke. "Oh, god, that feels weird," Agassi said.
As soon as he appeared without his peroxided mane, rumors began: He did it for money. He did it because Nike wanted him to. He did it as a publicity stunt. It wasn't a haircut. It was a Hair Event.
The real reason Agassi had his hair cut was simply this (drumroll): He was losing it. "It was thinning on top," he says, shrugging. The Agassi who admits to such a thing is clearly a changed man. As his father, Mike, says, "When he got a haircut, his mama knew her baby was gone."
The haircut symbolized Agassi's most spectacular reinvention yet. At the end of 1993 he was overweight, injured and, at No. 24 in the world, out of contention. "I honestly didn't think he would ever really come all the way back," says his brother, Phillip. "But he just decided he was either going to step up to bat or sit his ass on the bench." Last March he hired a new coach, Brad Gilbert, who is renowned for doing more with less. By the end of 1994 Agassi had beaten every player in the Top 10 during a nine-month surge that lifted him to No. 2.
He is a new man, and he wants to be seen as such. He is about to get rid of his Porsches. He no longer likes to be photographed with his private plane, the 10-seat JetStar with the burning tennis ball insignia on its tail. He no longer wears faded denim shorts on the court.
Agassi's body also has a new shape; the former junk-food addict has curbed his appetite. The belly that flopped over his shorts has been replaced by a washboard. He can bench-press nearly 300 pounds, and it shows in the way his clothes hang on him. Before a Grand Slam event Agassi now writes down a war plan, a physical and mental schedule that he keeps. The player who used to be so easily exhausted now gets stronger as tournaments wear on. No more do his coaches and trainers have to cajole him into working out. "He's done every rep," says his personal bodybuilder, Gil Reyes.