SPIEGEL Interview with Andre Agassi 'I Really Hated Tennis'

Tennis legend Andre Agassi recently published "Open," a no-holds-barred memoir of growing up to become a reluctant champion. In an interview with SPIEGEL, Agassi speaks about how his father forced him to play a sport he never liked, how he used fake hair and crystal meth, and how his wife -- Steffi Graf -- has brought this high-flyer down to Earth.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Agassi, is it possible for a happy person to win Wimbledon?

Andre Agassi: For me, it's hard to imagine.

SPIEGEL: Roger Federer seems to actually enjoy playing.

Agassi: Yes, maybe. But, in my world, this is impossible. The maximum were short moments of peace during a match which we, the players, used to call "the Zone." But you couldn't plan it. It was never constant. And it went by very fast.

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Photo Gallery: Andre Agassi Looks Back

SPIEGEL: Does a tennis professional have to be obsessed? Must there be some kind of trauma for him or her to be good?

Agassi: While I was winning Wimbledon, I felt like I would die. I feared to fail; I feared embarrassment.

SPIEGEL: Are you and your wife, Steffi Graf, similar in this regard?

Agassi: Oh, no, there are a lot of differences. Stefanie is much more secure, much clearer and stronger than me.

SPIEGEL: Could you learn something from her?

Agassi: The way she faces and confronts her fears, how she lives the way she wants to live -- I did not know this was possible. She was the one to show me, with her life, how to care about something every day. This, too, was new to me. Or, in sports, she told me: "Stop thinking; it's about feeling."

SPIEGEL: What did she mean?

Agassi: You have to be so conditioned, so practiced, that your thinking is removed, and you're just reacting intuitively, without constantly questioning everything. I'm a thinker by nature, much too complicated. My father tried to forbid thinking, and I tried to analyze my thinking away. Nobody ever said anything about feeling. Stefanie taught me that you have to be patient with yourself, you have to just let go. She taught me not to stand in my own way. I became famous so fast; but, in some ways, I grew up so slow.

SPIEGEL: Both of you were drilled by fathers who wanted to control everything.

Agassi: What is right is that both of us were in our fathers' hands. I told a lot of people that I hated tennis -- seriously and strongly hated it -- and they all tried to talk me out of it: "Ah, that is not right, Andre; in fact you love tennis, don't you?" Do you want to know what Stefanie said: "Don't we all?"

SPIEGEL: Did you tell each other the stories of your sufferings?

Agassi: I was the better talker; she was the better listener. But we did not have to explain everything.

SPIEGEL: You knew?

Agassi: We both knew a lot, yes. But there is a very significant difference between us: Stefanie wanted to play tennis, it was her decision; and I did not, but I had to. For me it was the wrong life; it was not mine.

SPIEGEL: In Germany, Peter Graf has been seen as a diabolical father who stole his daughter's childhood.

Agassi: But it wasn't like that. It was her choice. Stefanie did not have to give up her family or her childhood, whereas I was sent to a training academy in Florida. And, from that moment on, I had no friends and no mom anymore. No, this story and this image are wrong. Of course, sometimes she was sick of it; but, in general, she loved the sport she happened to be great at.

SPIEGEL: Your father, Emmanuel, is an Armenian-Iranian immigrant, who speaks five languages…

Agassi: … and none of them fluently. He mixes letters: "Vork your wolley!"

SPIEGEL: A violent man?

Agassi: Yes, very much so. And choleric. He used to have an axe handle in the car and sometimes a pistol. I was there when he knocked people unconscious with whom he had gotten into stupid debates about who had had the right-of-way.


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