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Curry Kirkpatrick
March 13, 1989
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March 13, 1989

Born To Serve


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"Meet my little world champion," is how Mike would introduce Andre to friends when his youngest was barely four years old. Then the child would go out and hit with Connors, as he did on his fourth birthday, or perform for crowds at the Alan King Classic at Caesars Palace, where he once hit with Bjorn Borg.

"Mike always said what he felt—and in colorful language," says Gil Roberts, the former president of the USTA Intermountains. "His children weren't angels, either. All knew how to swear. They weren't bad kids; it's just that Mike always bent the rules a bit. Coaching during matches and things."

Throughout his children's years in the juniors, the elder Agassi complained about tournament match times or lousy draws or unfair treatment. Once Mike claimed his tires had been slashed by a saboteur involved in the tournament. Parental postmatch handshakes were practically nonexistent when an Agassi was involved. On one occasion, despite his boxing experience, Mike lost a fistfight with an irate player on a nearby court who took exception to Mike's profane goading of his kids. When Georgetown's Rogers was 11, before he knew Andre well and became his best friend, he played him in a junior match and remembers the elder Agassi timing him as the players switched sides. "I thought, Wow, he's putting the clock on me," says Rogers. "The kids liked Mike, but the parents all thought of him as this psycho tennismonger."

Agassi Sr. was in the habit of threatening other parents. Eventually he was barred from Spanish Oaks tennis club in Las Vegas. "He [Mike] said he was going to hire someone to take care of me," says Chuck Kellogg, the head pro at Spanish Oaks. "He'd get somebody to break my legs. But he threatened a lot of people in town, so you ignored that. He's changed now. He's got what he wanted."

Ultimately, even though Andre could beat all the other juniors, he hadn't played the tournaments required to earn the Intermountains endorsement as No. 1 to represent his section in national competition. Still, Mike pushed his youngest son and finally asked Roberts about sending the 13-year-old boy across the continent to Bollettieri's in Florida. "It's an Army camp," Roberts told Mike, "but the kid will make it because of you."

"My father saw this story on Nick on 60 Minutes where it showed him making these little kids cry and everything," Andre jokingly told The New York Times, "and [he] thought that was the place for me."

But it was no joke at the time. Agassi left school midway through the eighth grade. "I was frightened at first," says Sidney Franklin, principal of Cashman Junior High, Andre's old school. "I thought he should get in at least the eighth grade. That's the most important socialization year."

The night before Andre left Las Vegas for Florida, he and Rogers rented a chauffeured limo and cruised the Strip for hours, reminiscing. "It was like he was a condemned guy," says Rogers.

"I missed out on a lot," Agassi once told John Henderson of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. "But I can always talk to my best friend when I want to know what it's like to be a normal teenager." Rogers remembers his friend calling long-distance and talking for hours, homesick: "It was tough on him—a young kid like that, so far away."

Friends and family downplay the state of Andre's temper back then, but his was truly a mean, vulgar attitude. While he foundered mid-ladder at the academy for three years, trying to live up to the expectations of a father who was disappointed if he didn't win every match, Agassi did distinguish himself in the burgeoning ranks of racket-smashers. There were off-the-fence numbers, into-the-pool drownings, smashed-against-the-court jobs. Agassi went through 40 Prince rackets a year—oh, how the company wishes he were still doing so!—and about as many bizarre, up-against-the-wall, rebellious haircuts.

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