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Coming Into Focus
GARY SMITH
July 17, 2006
It took startling transformations--from callow prodigy to thoughtful champion, from punk to philanthropist, from conflicted son to devoted father--for Andre Agassi to finally see the big picture, and he's still searching for answers
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July 17, 2006

Coming Into Focus

It took startling transformations--from callow prodigy to thoughtful champion, from punk to philanthropist, from conflicted son to devoted father--for Andre Agassi to finally see the big picture, and he's still searching for answers

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He insists he's not worried about a void after tennis, once he's done playing several hard-court tournaments and the 2006 U.S. Open, because he's learned by watching how his wife moved on without a hitch. Sure, his new life will probably have a lot to do with the academy, perhaps trying to replicate it around the country. Sure, it'll have even more to do with his own kids, but not likely on a tennis court unless they really want it. Already his father's telling him that Jaden's not playing enough and that Andre needs to start dropping the boy off at Grandpa's house at sunrise and picking him up at sunset, to which Andre just nods and says, "Yeah, I might do that, Dad" ... and never does.

Andre: I just hope the kids find something to pour all of themselves into because that's where the marrow of life comes from. If it's tennis ... wow, I'd take a deep breath. I'd have to hand it to Jaden if he did that. He'd have to have a mighty big pair of....

Steffi: It would work out, Andre. Just trust your instincts. You'd do it right.

Andre: Yeah ... but my instinct is to NOT trust myself.

Even now. After the magic thing happened.

The fifth set. Last September against James Blake in the U.S. Open quarterfinals. The changeover as Blake prepares to serve for the match. The crowd rising, love thundering from the highest seats like a waterfall, gathering volume as it rolls. Love for the battle Andre has waged, digging out of an 0--2 grave in sets against Blake, and for his 20 U.S. Opens, and for more than that: for his arc, for who he has become. He's as deep in the tunnel as he's ever been, but he looks up and around, and for the first time in his life he sees and hears everything outside the tunnel. He sees his friend James instead of the distant blur that his opponents have always been. He sees what he's never seen in the audience: actual faces, individual joy. He hears not the fuzzy din that he has all of his career but each syllable growing louder and louder: An-dre! An-dre! An-dre!

Chills run through him. He battles from behind once more and beats Blake. It's O.K., he says now, that Roger Federer defeated him four days later in the final because Federer's the best he's ever seen, and besides, being No. 1 never was what his journey's about. It's O.K., he says, because he finally knows what it's like to be totally absorbed in yourself and yet feel part of everything.

He shakes his head. All that trekking, only to find out that where you get to means nothing, and all that matters is how you look at the forest.

I used to look at it as something overwhelming, he says, something separate from me that I had to find my way through. Now I see myself as part of it. When you start out on the journey you think it's all about taking in experiences to fulfill yourself. But it's not. The greatest experience is changing someone else's experience of life. And once you come to that realization, it becomes your foundation, the ace in your pocket, who you are. It's the opposite of what you think it is. When you see the world through the lens of others, that's when you find yourself.

The fire's out. The world's best margarita blender's empty. The man yawns and rises. You thank him for taking you on the journey and wish him luck on the second leg, the new path. The one where the man who learned to see learns to trust his eyes.

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