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One Christmas Agassi came home with a butched, bleach-striped cut so radical that Rogers didn't even recognize him. When he wasn't shave-creaming half the academy, Andre was showing up for the final of a tournament in Pensacola wearing earrings, makeup and jeans—a nifty combination of Alice Marble and Alice Cooper. Nasty? If he got high-sitters in matches, he would aim for opponents' heads. Or mouths. "He was a bit of a punk, in trouble at the academy, never much of a student," Jim Courier, his roommate there, has said. "If Andre had continued where he was heading, he would have gone down the toilet."
Rogers knew what was happening. "Don't you see?" he says. "This was the ultimate slap in the face to everybody. Andre was saying, 'I don't care about this game. I don't want to be here.' He saw me in Vegas, living it up and having fun. And here he was missing everything, not growing, losing. He was nearly crying on the phone once. 'What am I doing this for?' he said. He was scared. He was scared he was going through all this to be a tennis player for nothing. He was scared he wasn't going to make it."
Even after Agassi blew off the juniors—just flat left them in the dust—and turned pro (on May 1, 1986, two days after his 16th birthday), he continued to be something of an enigmatic monster. In the spring of '86, the Reno Gazette-Journal reported that Agassi criticized his opponent in the Nevada Open, pounded balls against the fence, crudely wiggled his racket between his legs and, when the crowd applauded his opponent, muttered, "Shut up."
Contrast this troubled, unhappy soul with the joyous, no-care, no-swear role model of today, and one wonders what happened. Sports psychologist Jim Loehr has written that Agassi's emotional transformation from a temperamental, nervous misfit to a gent of poise, perspective and maturity is the most amazing he has seen. And those close to Agassi say that what happened to him was the Bible.
Andre had attended First Good Shepherd Lutheran School in Las Vegas as a youngster, so he was familiar with the Scriptures. Then in the winter of '87 he received guidance from Fritz Glauss, the pro tour's traveling minister, with whom he found himself spending more and more time. "He earned my trust," Agassi has said. "I was facing a lot of questions in my life. I knew there had to be more important things than tennis, money and fame. I thought I'd give the Bible a chance."
Through conversations and Bible reading with the tour's other teenage star, 17-year-old Michael Chang, as well as with Mary Jane Wheaton, whose son David is another Bollettierian, Agassi came around to Christianity. "Andre was afraid he would have to give up tennis if he became a Christian," Wheaton says. "I told him to be a Christian is not necessarily to be a religious, pious-type person."
At the U.S. Indoors in Memphis last February, Agassi met Moss, a Mississippi State student and a volunteer driver who shared his beliefs, and the two have been going steady ever since. "Amy was amazed; she never thought she'd meet a born-again tennis player" says Rogers.
"The religious thing is no facade," says Flach. "Most kids Andre's age get crude and raunchy in the locker room, but when the [Davis Cup] team sits around shooting the breeze, there's no talk of beers or babes from Andre. The groupies are everywhere, but he's not into that. He's really devoted to his girl. And he doesn't flaunt his faith, asking us to go to meetings or anything. He doesn't go to R-rated movies, either. I don't know if his mother washed his mouth out with soap or what, but whatever happened, that's the way he is. The most risqué he ever gets is suggesting we practice with our shirts off. He actually demanded we take a vote to have shirtless practices. Andre does want his tan."
Last summer Agassi explained his conversion to Christianity. "To me there are only two directions in life, one that leads to helping others and one that leads to selfish purposes," he told reporters. "I wasn't on my way to helping others. I was concerned with myself. I'm not saying there's a relationship between God and winning. Life doesn't offer that kind of promise. But what [Christianity] has offered in my life is peace of mind and the understanding that it's no big deal if you get beat."
It's fairly easy for Agassi to say "no big deal" when he doesn't have to face that whiplash of a forehand that sends shivers up and down the tour. "Andre hits the ball harder than anyone else by far," says Jimmy Arias, who used to have the hardest forehand in tennis. "It's not even close. It's like a slap shot, the kind of shot I hit if I'm mad about something and I smash the ball over the fence. That's his regular stroke."