SI Vault
 
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
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
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

View CoverRead All Articles
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15

One day later Andre survives 37 Goran Ivanisevic aces to win the men's championship in five sets--his first Slam title! He sags to his knees, drops to his back and sobs. Thump-thump, thump-thump.... On to the ball! His stomach tightens. He doesn't know how to dance. He can't wait to dance.

He arrives and stares. Swept-back hair, short white dress, plunging neckline.... That's Steffi Graf? A Wimbledon member sidles up to him. When, asks Andre, is the dance?

Sorry, old chum, he's told, that's been scrapped.

The rebel blinks. What about tradition?

He can't squeak out a word to Steffi when the photographers put them elbow to elbow and pop flashes in his eyes. He flies home to Vegas, throws a party, gets drunk, gets sick, takes off his clothes and ends up on his lawn, staring at the stars, as naked as....

The day he was born. He opens his eyes. What does he see?

Fuzzy. Green. A ball. Dangling from a string attached to a racket hanging from the ceiling over his crib. Above it a man, moving the string, trying to compel the newborn's eyes to follow the ball.

Another ball. A balloon half filled with water, flying from the man's hand toward Andre's high chair a year later. The racket taped to Andre's hand--a Ping-Pong paddle split in half to make it lighter--smacks the balloon across the kitchen. Fifteen-love, says the man.

Then another ball. A bladder extracted from a volleyball so it's light enough for a baby to whack with a sawed-off tennis racket, chase it in his walker, then whack it again and again.

Those eyes. They're what convince the man, at a Ping-Pong tournament one day, that his two-year-old will be rare. Every head in the audience shifts back and forth to follow the action, except Andre's. His eyes alone flash, affixed to that ball.

As soon as the boy can walk, his father--a short, stocky Iranian with a thick accent and thinning hair--takes him to the Tropicana Hotel's two tennis courts, which the immigrant grooms in exchange for their use. Emmanuel Agassi swooned for the sport as a 13-year-old in Tehran, coming upon it one day on a dirt court behind the American Mission Church. Sure, said the American and British soldiers who played there, the little street fighter could play if he would be their ball boy and groundskeeper. The game and the big Americans entranced him, transported him far away from the one-room home, too cramped even for a table, where he, his parents and four siblings ate on a dirt floor and shared, along with 35 others crammed into the compound, one hole in the ground--their toilet.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15