SPIEGEL Interview with Andre Agassi 'I Really Hated Tennis'

Part 2: A Fight Between Fathers


SPIEGEL: How does he actually get along with Peter Graf?

Agassi: They only met once; they were standing in our garden. Peter had just told my dad that he should have taught me Steffi's slice and that I would have been even better. And then my dad said: "Bullshit. Steffi should have learned Andre's two-handed backhand, and she would have won 32 Grand Slam finals." Suddenly they were in front of each other, shadowboxing. Peter is funnier and more subtle, so I was not worried about him when he said: "I'll knock you out." I was worried about my dad because I knew how he normally reacted to things like that. Peter actually took off his shirt. It was surreal.

SPIEGEL: Two former boxers, I guess.

Agassi: And I had to step in. Luckily, Stefanie was not there.

SPIEGEL: Is it true that, as a child, you had a mobile of tennis balls hanging above your bed?

Agassi: Yes. And, from my look, my father claims he could tell how gifted I was.

SPIEGEL: Did you ever get beaten up?

Agassi: Yes.

SPIEGEL: And there really was the ball machine you called "The Dragon"?

Agassi: Yes -- 2,500 balls per day. One million per year were supposed to make me impossible to beat.

SPIEGEL: Did you ever receive any praise? Or was it all criticism?

Agassi: After three losses in three Grand Slam finals, I finally won -- against Goran Ivanisevic, in Wimbledon. When I called home and told my dad, he said: "How could you lose the fourth set?"

SPIEGEL: When you retired, you and your wife seemed to disappear into a quiet private life. Why did you have to write a book now? Did you miss the public stage?

Agassi: No, even though I have lived a public life, I am a private and shy person who has learned to find cover. The rebellion of my early years…

SPIEGEL: … when you drove a white Corvette and wore jeans on the court and did not go to Wimbledon because of the old men's rules…

Agassi: …were just my way of trying to disappear, nothing else.

SPIEGEL: You got killed in public for it.

Agassi: Very much so, right. Sportswriters wrote that I couldn't deliver. Then, there was the Canon commercial claiming "Image is everything," which stuck to me for years. To be permanently judged by colleagues, the media and the public was horrifying. And the worst was what Boris Becker said after beating me in the '95 Wimbledon semifinal: that nobody liked me, that I was an elitist, that tournament directors were giving me special treatment, and that I was not able to win on a windy outside court. It hurt, it was personal, and it left a deep wound.

SPIEGEL: Unlike Steffi Graf or yourself, Boris Becker seems to not have recovered from ending his career. He seems to be lost and an easy victim of the media. Ten years ago, feeling sorry for Boris would have been unimaginable. Do the two of you still have a relationship? Are there things you talk about?

Agassi: I like Boris, and if we had dinner today, we would both say that the unfriendly feelings we had for each other back then is long past and that we both talked like juveniles. But our lives are not connected anymore. We just see each other at various ceremonies on some center court every once in a while for three minutes. That's all.

SPIEGEL: For years, the rivalry between you and Pete Sampras was magical to a worldwide audience. Is there still a connection between the two of you?

Agassi: There is a lot of respect. I believe that, without Pete, I would have won more and learned less.

SPIEGEL: He appears to have been as driven as you were. He had to sleep in ice-cold rooms in total darkness. Was he obsessed or traumatized, as well?

Agassi: We were all driven. And, of course, there is something strange about tennis: Egocentric and narcissistic behavior can win; torture and the isolation of players may lead you to the top. Pete and I shared our life and our fate; we were together all year long. But we were lonely. If there was not the net separating us, there was a wall.

SPIEGEL: There were some players -- like Michael Chang -- whom you just couldn't stand.

Agassi: Well, yes, I didn't like him. He thanked God for his points! As if God would not have better things to do.

SPIEGEL: What about Jim Courier? Did he give you any respect?

Agassi: We grew up side-by-side in Nick Bollettieri's tennis camp, and both of us wanted to reach the top. When he beat me, he put on his running shoes and went jogging -- because playing Agassi, you didn't even sweat. Respect? No.

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