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You sat two feet away. Flying in a private jet last December with Andre and his wife, Steffi Graf, on their way to play an exhibition arranged by a company that they endorse, Genworth Financial, in order to raise money for its youth charity work and Andre's charter school. It was only the second time that he and Steffi had gone anywhere together without the kids, and they were stuck with you. And still he did something that, during 30 years in this work, you'd never seen. In a country in which celebrity means never having to ask a question, he asked a zillion of them. Almost as many as you asked him. With eyes unlike any you'd seen in an athlete: aglow.
But something was unsettling him. He kept wanting to know what aspect of his life you wanted to write about--to whittle down the big picture--and you kept explaining that it was the whole shebang you were after, how and why he traveled all the way from who he was to who he is.
It was all over that full moon of a face: hmmmm. But he knew his tennis life was about to end, and part of him yearned for perspective. So he invited you to his house for a steak dinner, but not just any steak dinner. If it's not the best steak you've ever eaten, he said, then I've failed.
Of course you said yes ... and went closer.
You were studying that steak. It was four inches thick, prime dry-aged loin, express-mailed from California in an ice pack, marinated by your host for 16 hours and now searing over charcoal and water-soaked wood chips on a backyard grill, all of which he'd painstakingly researched. The flame was caramelizing a coating of port wine, kosher salt, sugar and a palette of seasonings that he wouldn't reveal because it was the fruit of six years' seeking--launched when Steffi, eager to meet his friends, innocently uttered the words, Let's have a barbecue--and because if he told you, then his steak soon might find itself in a tie with yours as the best you've ever eaten. You were sipping a peach-raspberry margarita that was the product of the same exhaustive quest. And it was true. They were both the best.
You watched him, during brief breaks from his cooking, play with his four-year-old son, Jaden, with the intensity of a man living his second childhood--no, his first. Andre was three when his father began tugging open the bedroom curtains in the morning, tugging on his toes, tugging off his blanket, tugging him onto the tennis court before he ate breakfast so he could become what his dad already was telling other people he would be: the No. 1 tennis player in the world.
You were sitting in front of a fire after dinner, looking around a house without a single trophy, plaque or tennis picture, without a nanny, maid or cook, asking him how he came to see the big picture, how he got it ... and he started shaking his head no, saying that he hadn't got it, that he still couldn't see the big picture. I can't see anything objectively or in context, he said. I wish I could. It drives me crazy. It causes a lot of problems. Show me a drop of water, and I'm fine. I'll learn everything about it. But don't show me the ocean. Don't show me the whole forest. Every time I try to see the big picture, I'm finished, I'm lost....
Wow. The seer was telling you he couldn't see. The seeker was telling you that the only way to see the forest was to go even closer, inside it, and take it tree by tree. Then he remembered this game, introduced by his first wife, back in an earlier life....
You're about to
enter a forest, says the beautiful woman. What does it look like?
You come upon a key, she says. What does it look like? What do you do with it?