The most amazing outcome of any tennis match in history was not Borg over McEnroe. Not Rosewall over Laver. Not even King over Riggs. No, the most astonishing result of any tennis match just burped.
Jaden Gil Agassi, age 11 weeks, is just over 11 pounds, has way more hair than his dad and gets as much sleep at night as Dennis Rodman's neighbors. He's what you get when two tennis legends start love-love and end up tied. Between them, Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf have 29 Grand Slam singles titles and a tax write-off who cries only slightly less than Ilie Nastase.
It's so odd to walk into a modest house in a mixed-class neighborhood of Las Vegas and see that a couple with a net worth about equal to Monte Carlo's has been turned into pretzels by an infant the size of a can of tennis balls. Graf, 32, retired two years ago and now has a job that requires real endurance. "He's not so good at sleeping through the night yet," says Graf, still trim and bouncing Jaden the way she used to bounce waiting for a Monica Seles serve. Agassi paces around the house biting his fingernails, hovering over Jaden, Steffi and his mother-in-law, Heidi, like a Wimbledon ball boy ready to pounce.
"I leave the house, and the only thing I want to do is turn around, go home and stare at him," he says. One night Jaden fell asleep on Agassi's chest. The next morning, when Agassi went to lift weights, his arms and chest immediately cramped. That's what comes of holding a baby tight while you sleep for six hours.
It's a helluva good hitting partner who will give you a present like that. Agassi and Graf still hit balls together. "I can smash it as hard as I want, and it always comes right back to me," Agassi says. They're a team now. At night they lie in bed and talk strategy. Map out their plans. Stay back or charge in? Sometimes they'll even talk tennis. "The only hard part," says Agassi, "is waiting for him to get old enough to play with."
Until then Agassi, 31, will have to be satisfied with baby faces like 20-year-old Lleyton Hewitt, who will try to keep him from winning his third straight Australian Open, starting on Jan. 14. "I've got some time left, and I want to make the most of it," says Agassi, who expects to play for two or three more years. After that it'll be up to Jaden, who the German press is predicting will "always be the finest athlete around." Can you sign a shoe deal if you don't wear shoes yet?
It's cool that Agassi has a new future, because he has given more kids futures than anybody I know. Last September his Grand Slam for Children benefit handed over $4.27 million to Las Vegas youngsters. That made it one of the largest sports fund-raisers in the world. Four point two seven. And every penny goes to the kids, which means Agassi himself is in for about $1 million in overhead costs, not to mention the countless hours.
Lots of jock charity events are freeloading boondoggles that throw the caviar at the celebrities and leave the crackers for the charity. Barry Bonds ran one in 1999 that raised $60,000, with $45,000 used to pay an executive to do some work for an inner-city organization. The executive that year? Barry's mother, Patricia. The $14 million that Agassi has raised for Vegas kids over the past six years has helped to build a 30,000-square-foot Boys and Girls Club and a state-of-the-art charter school (Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy), and also has funded a year-round tennis program at the Boys and Girls Club. One of his girls won an age-group national doubles title.
What's more, he doesn't give time only to his own charity projects. Since his sister and mother were diagnosed with breast cancer in early 2000, he has worked like a dervish in the fight against the disease. Recently he boarded a commercial red-eye from Vegas to Baltimore to appear at Pam Shriver's charity. He refused a private jet. "The more money they spend on you, the less goes to the charity," he says with a shrug.
All this from an eighth-grade dropout who used to give you the idea that the only thing he cared about was his newest Humvee and his latest dye job. Dripping with talent, he fell from No. 1 in the world to No. 141, then sweated all the way back to the top. Somewhere in there, Agassi changed. The more his hands became calloused, the less his heart did.