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
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
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
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