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The boy halts and looks around. He's 13. He's alone in the depths of the forest. He comes upon a training ground, an academy for young warriors.
What does it look like? What does he do?
Twenty-two acres. Forty-two tennis courts. One hundred eighty teenagers, but only the select. A leathery ex-paratrooper in charge. Twenty-five hundred miles from home. Andre's heartsick. He had agreed to come. He felt he had no choice.
It's only for eight weeks, he tells himself. That's all his dad can afford, two months' tuition on the half scholarship that Andre's been offered to attend the Bollettieri Academy in Bradenton, Fla. Tennis boot camp. That's what it was called in the 60 Minutes segment that introduced his father to it. Fifty-six days. Andre can last that long.
It rains one day, two weeks after his arrival. Andre's summoned to the indoor court to play in front of Nick Bollettieri for the first time. Ten minutes is all it takes. Nick calls Andre to his office and calls Mike in Vegas.
"Take your check back," says Nick. "He's here for free."
That's it. Gone, his friends. Gone, his mother's touch. Gone, his bedroom, his childhood and any normal teenage life. It's tennis, conditioning and school from 6 a.m. to lights-out, then dreams of dog eat dog.
Nick anoints Andre top dog. He has never seen a kid hit the ball so clean and early and hard. He has never seen such eyes. "I became hypnotized with those eyes," recalls Bollettieri. "I felt the depth. But there was also a question in those eyes: What am I doing here? I think Andre was frightened."
Terrified. But he's the coolest, most charismatic kid in camp; he can't tell anyone he's lost. He turns his fear and loneliness inside out, into hard, hip anger aimed at--no, not at the one who sent him here, not his father. At Nick. Rebellion by proxy.
Andre breaks curfews, drinks Jack Daniels, berates opponents, smashes balls at their teeth, smashes rackets, trashes linesmen. He gets a Mohawk haircut, grows it out, dyes it red, dyes it orange, draws crosses on his face with eyeliner, grows an inch-long pinkie fingernail, paints it red, paints it black ... and takes the court at a televised Florida tournament in pink lipstick and ripped denim jeans. He'll do what his father--whose aversion to homosexuality is rooted in lurid tales he had heard as a boy in Tehran--wants him to do: play world-class tennis. But in a way that'll make his father wince.