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A Tennis Star Who Hates Tennis?
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. Iâm Terry Gross.
There are plenty of surprises in tennis star Andre Agassiâs new memoir âOpen.â
Although he won 869 matches, eight grand slam titles, an Olympic gold medal and
was fifth on the all-time list, he says he hated tennis with a dark and secret
passion. He confesses that he used crystal meth and that when his urine tested
positive for the drug, he lied about how he ingested it. Then thereâs the
confession that his famous long mullet, which helped define his image, was part
But Agassiâs memoir is also filled with insights about the game, what itâs like
to win and to lose, and the physical toll being a professional tennis player
took on his body, forcing him to retire at age 36 after the 2006 U.S. Open. The
memoir is written with the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer J.R. Moehringer.
Agassi says he asked Moehringer to collaborate with him because he loved
Moehringerâs memoir, âThe Tender Bar.â
Andre Agassi, welcome to FRESH AIR. I have to tell you, I really love the
opening of your book. Thereâs so many memoirs, sports memoirs included, that
start with like the moment of triumph and then tell you how they got there. And
your memoir starts with you in incredible painâ¦
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: â¦on the way to what will be your final match. And youâre 36 at this
point, itâs in the year 2006, you feel like youâre 96 physically. Itâs just
before the U.S. Open. Why were you in such pain then?
Mr. ANDRE AGASSI (Former Professional Tennis Player; Author, âOpenâ): Well,
physically speaking I was in pain on a lot of different levels, emotionally
trying to come to terms with the real rollercoaster of a whirl of a life that I
lived and trying to understand myself through that process. But physically, I
was in a lot of pain because I had just been through, you know, over nearly
three decades of just a lot of wear and tear on my body. And my spine was kind
of seizing up on me as moments continued on the tennis court. And to physically
be so limited and to be able to compete in the U.S. Open was traumatizing.
GROSS: When you play with pain, how does that alter your game?
Mr. AGASSI: It alters your decision making. You know, you understand what your
limitations are, so if you canât quite bend as low or reach as far, you know,
it forces you to be in better position for the ball, which forces you to make
more educated guesses out there. You have to start leaning more. You have to
start guessing more. Part of the reason why I got aced a lot on the tennis
court is because I didnât have the lateral coverage. And so, as a result, I
would have to take these educational guesses and start leaning so I can be
close enough to the ball to hit it with a purpose that, you know, that you want
to hit it with.
GROSS: So, you know, in your opening chapter you describe, you know, at the
U.S. Open, your final U.S. Open, youâre playing against Marcos Baghdatis and
heâs a young tennis player at this point, heâs like 21. He grew up with
pictures of you on his bedroom wall. He patterned his game after yours. Heâs at
the beginning of his career, youâre at the very end of your career. What was it
like playing against him at that point?
Mr. AGASSI: Well, it was brutal. You know, it was beyond the physical
limitations that I felt, and beyond the fact that his game was a game that was
designed like mine, which means we were going to play basically the most brutal
form of the sport, which is going to be toe to toe, pounding on each other. And
we knew thereâs going to be long rallies since neither one of us really had an
overpowering serve. So, I knew I was going to be in for a physical battle
unless everything went absolutely perfectly.
But beyond that, you know, stepping onto a court and not knowing if this is the
last time youâre ever going to do this, thinking quite possibly this is the
last time - I sort of challenge any industry, any person in any industry to
imagine what itâs like to get to a point of your life where you say, you know,
Iâve done this my whole life and today will be the last time I do it - the last
article I write, the last radio show I host, the last, you know, interview I
give. It is daunting. So, emotionally, I was going through quite a
GROSS: And to make that match particularly more incredible, your opponent was
having physical problems, too. Marcos Baghdatis was having, letâs seeâ¦
Mr. AGASSI: Cramps.
GROSS: Yeah. He had problems with a strained quad.
Mr. AGASSI: His problems I earned that day, to be quite honest, you know, it â
physically, it turned into a huge battle. And I was actually getting him quite
fatigued. And early in the fifth set, when he had seized momentum of the match
and we had been out there for a number of hours, he called a trainer out to
help with his quad because his quad was starting to cramp. And I knew he was
running on a clock just like I was.
GROSS: And when the game was over, youâre both lying on a table in pain, alone
in a room together. So, at that point, is he like your opponent, your rival, or
do you feel this connection because, I mean, heâs this young guy who patterned
himself on you. Heâs going through pain like youâre going through pain, like
youâre so connected and so opposed to each other at this moment.
Mr. AGASSI: Yeah. And also on the court, you know, I mean that strangely
connects you. Youâre so connected to somebody for many hours out there on a
tennis court in front of the world and on that stage. And when both of you
physically push yourself to places you never thought you can go and heâs
cramping on the tennis court and your back is starting to seize up, and youâre
walking to the locker room and he can hardly walk, and your backâs contorting
the closer you get to the locker room. And the next thing you know, you just
drop your bag and you canât walk any further and he canât walk any further. And
you have people that come around and help lift you onto this table and lay me
on a bag of ice and people start stretching him out. And every time they
stretch one part of his body, you know, you flex the other. Itâs the way our
body works. You stretch your quad, your hamstring flexes, and you stretch your
hamstring, your quad flexes. And every time a muscle would flex, itâs cramps.
And heâs screaming in pain, Iâm screaming in pain because I canât breathe. The
muscles had spasms so much, that it kind of pulled against my diaphragm and I
was having a hard time breathing. And we just begged everybody to leave the
room and let us be because thereâs nothing to do but wait for the doctors.
And while we are doing this, weâre looking at this TV above our heads. At two
oâclock in the morning, youâre lying under Arthur Ashe Stadium with an opponent
that you just bludgeoned and he had done the same to you, and, you know, youâre
watching yourself run around this court, accomplishing a level of tennis that
youâve never â that you very rarely get to experience. And I see the hand move
out to the left of me and I look over and, in pain, heâs holding his hand out.
And in pain, I hold mine out and we kind of hold hands watching the fierce
battle that we had kind of just gone through. And, you know, it was a crazy
moment for me and itâs just - Iâll remember it the rest of my life.
GROSS: We should mention you won that particular match.
Mr. AGASSI: I got over the finish line, you know, I won a lot that day. He gave
me one of the greatest memories I think Iâve ever had on a tennis court.
GROSS: But this was like your last big tournament, the last U.S. Open. So as
you were entering all of this, you write that you were thinking: Let this be
over. And you were also thinking: Iâm not ready for it to be over. You wanted
to retire, at the same time you wanted to continue. I think this is not an
uncommon conflict for people who are facing the end of something and they have
to decide if itâs over yet. Can you talk about how that conflict â what that
conflict was like for you?
Mr. AGASSI: Well, that conflict started when I was a young boy. You know, I
never chose tennis. My father certainly pushed it on me in a very disciplined
way. It was what we did as kids in our house. You wake up, you play tennis, you
brush your teeth, in that order. And I was always introduced as the future
number one player in the world. And we would go out on the tennis court every
day and hit balls, and hit balls endlessly and tirelessly. And I just â I
resented how it changed the mood of our house when I either won or lost or I
either practiced well or didnât.
GROSS: If youâre just joining us, my guest is Andre Agassi, the tennis star who
was ranked number one during part of his career and he's written a memoir
called "Open: An Autobiography."
You say you never really chose to play tennis. It was kind of forced on you by
your father who was, among other things, a tennis fanatic. And he kind of
worked you to the bone, and talk about like your father's obsession with tennis
and how that played out through him trying to train you.
Mr. AGASSI: Yeah. Well, my father was from - is an Armenian immigrant who was
raised in Tehran. He's a Christian Armenian raised in Muslim Tehran and spent
much of his young youth fighting on the streets. His mother was rather abusive
and as a punishment, would make him wear sometimes hand-me-down girls clothes
to school which caused boys to, you know, tease. And he fought since he was -
as long as I've played tennis he's fought and he finally turned that into a
formal form of fighting and became a boxer in Golden Gloves and won the Golden
Gloves a couple times - boxed in two Olympics.
But he came to America not speaking English, putting himself through school and
feeling like the world was always against him. And there's one thing he wanted
for his children - was the American dream - was really the quickest way to the
American dream and tennis was the one sport that he really connected to with
boxing. Because it was like boxing except without the gloves and without the
And he was a good boxer but he used to break his hands a lot so I think he
responded to tennis because it was like you can beat somebody up but you donât
have to get hurt. And you know, so he had this real passion for tennis and
believed that it was going to be what brings us success and he didnât have
choice in his life and he was convinced the American dream would give us choice
in our lives. And that passion was relentless, not just towards tennis but just
who he is. It's in his bones to work. It's in his bones to not cut corners.
It's in his bones - repetition, repetition, repetition. And it's in his bones
to fight the world and that's one thing my dad definitely did.
GROSS: Describe his ball machine, the Dragon, that he drilled you with.
Mr. AGASSI: It was fierce. It stood many feet tall, many feet taller than me.
It had a black base to it and it had a long aluminum, tubular neck that
stretched up, you know, it was probably seven or eight feet, and then it had a
long tubular nose that sort of shot towards you, kind of angling down. And this
ball would kind of get sucked into this base of this machine and it would build
up pressure. It's one of these early ball machines that sort of needed to block
the air around the ball before the air would eventually just push that thing
through the narrow aluminum tubing, and it would make really sick sounds as it
kind of sucked this ball into its gut. But he would push this thing as close to
the net as possible. And then he would stand behind me and kind of push me as
close to the baseline as possible and then he would crank this thing up and
when that thing finally shot off - I make an analogy: it's like how a bullet
gets shot out of a gun. And sure enough when that ball came out, it was coming
out about 110 miles an hour and coming out at a trajectory that was nearly
impossible to deal with in the sea of tennis balls that were around me.
GROSS: And but - how many balls would you have to hit a day about?
Mr. AGASSI: You know, it was into the thousands. It was into the thousands. It
was hours upon hours. And my father, he's a mathematician. He was always a
genius at math - came easy for him. He was a guy that believed in numbers. He
believed in percentages. He believed in angles and geometry and was fascinated
by the game for those reasons as well. But the one thing he definitely believed
about numbers is if you hit 2,500 balls a day you'll hit a - he had it figured,
youâre going to hit a million balls over a certain period of time, which is
about a year and he just figured anybody that hits a million balls a year can
not be beat. And one day youâre get to enjoy what it is I saw at the local
professional tournament that used to come to town: a wheel barrel full of
silver dollars getting wheeled out with Caesar and Cleopatra on hand as well.
It was an image I think that he never forgot, certainly I haven't.
GROSS: My guest is tennis star Andre Agassi. His new memoir is called "Open."
We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: If youâre just joining us, my guest is tennis star Andre Agassi. During
his career, he was often ranked number one. Now he's written a memoir called
Now you went to a tennis camp in Florida. You grew up in Las Vegas but your
father sent you to this tennis camp and then you also had to go to a school
school. So you went to an academy that you hated. You hated the tennis camp.
You describe it as a glorified prison camp. Why? Because you were drilled so
incessantly and also the food was so bad?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. AGASSI: Well, those were two of many reasons, really. It was built on an
old tomato farm and it just had rows of tennis courts. And, you know, more than
anything, the prison of it was the prison of having tennis start to really come
with a huge cost to my life, which is not even being able to be home, which is,
you know, having your kind of life taken away, having to raise yourself at 13
years old, so that a lot my perspectives then were just built through that
But there were hard reasons why. I mean we lived in rickety bunks and buildings
that were named like prison blocks. It was C building and A building. And, you
know, we had a strict schedule with strict rules and we had to be up and go to
a cafeteria with horrible food. Youâre fighting to get to the cafeteria first
from other boys and girls. Youâre fighting to get to the shower before your
bunkmates get to it because the hot water lasts for about 12 minutes. You know,
youâre fighting to get a seat on the school bus that was a little bit nicer
than the other one. You go to school for four hours a day and you play tennis
for six or seven hours a day, and that inverse ratio of time and school and
tennis made you end up having to give up on school. And it was just an endless
kind of intensity to it.
GROSS: And this contributes to why youâve often thought of yourself as hating
Mr. AGASSI: Well, you know, I played tennis for all the wrong reasons
throughout my life, and different reasons throughout it, but all the wrong
ones. You know, at first it was my father, then it was me - in order to get out
of this tennis camp the only way out was to really succeed. And I...
GROSS: To say that you really wanted to play tennis full time beyond the tennis
circuit and not be stuck in school.
Mr. AGASSI: Yes. And I wanted out of that academy. And I wanted to quit school
because I was intimidated by it, because I was overmatched by it, because I was
too tired for it most of the time, and succeeding on the court was my way out.
Little did I know I was jumping from the frying pan into the fire because I
succeeded only to find myself on a world stage rebelling in front of the world.
GROSS: Okay. Speaking of rebelling, let me read something that you write in
your book. And I'm talking to Andre Agassi, the tennis star was ranked number
one during part of his career, and he's written a new memoir called "Open."
So during the period when youâre in this like tennis camp and you write about
how you rebelled and you write: I've mutilated my hair, grown my nails -
including one pinky nail that's two inches long and painted fire-engine red.
I've pierced my body, broken rules, busted curfew, picked fistfights, thrown
tantrums, cut classes, even slipped into the girl's barracks after hours. I've
consumed gallons of whiskey, often while sitting brazenly atop my bunk. And you
say: What more can I do? No one seems to notice my antics any more.
So looking back, why do you think you were doing all of that? Was it a fashion
statement or more than that?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. AGASSI: It was, you know, it's easy to think it was an attempt for me to
stand out when truly in hindsight it was an attempt for me to hide. You know,
there's nothing - there's no better way to hide than to wear a mullet or a
Mohawk or attract attention somewhere else. And I was hiding. I was rebelling
and I was fighting the world. I was making a choice to be a fighter.
GROSS: There's a really like funny dash scary part...
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: ...in the book having to do with your hair, and this is during the
French Open in 1990. You were starting to lose your hair, which was a thing in
the family. You know, your bother had lost his hair - had started to lose his
hair at a very young age and you found it very upsetting. And now that you are
known for this mullet - you are known for your hair and youâre starting to lose
it, it's like there goes part of your identity. So you got a hairpiece. You
actually got a hairpiece for the top of your head. And then what happened to
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. AGASSI: I did. You know, I was terrorized watching my brother lose his hair
at an early age. It left an impression on me. Combine that with the fact that
my livelihood and my image was so connected to it, I didn't - I just couldnât
bear the thought of the world knowing my dark secret, that I was actually
losing my hair. So I wore a hairpiece in the French Open during that time and
everything was great the whole tournament, except the night before the finals.
I guess I used the wrong conditioner on my hair and as a result, the weave
started to slip loose and 80 percent of the hairpiece was kind of flapping in
the wind. And I was panicking the night before the finals: What am I going to
do? What am I going to do? And we found a bunch of bobby pins. My brother went
out in Paris and we stuck all these bobby pins in it to kind of clamp it to my
real hair and to make sure it holds down and I was just dreading the
possibility that it wouldnât. And I asked my brother, what do you think? Is it
going to hold? And he basically tells me well, yeah, I think it will if you
just donât move around too much. And so that...
GROSS: Oh, very funny.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. AGASSI: So we had kind of a dark laugh about that as I go out to play my
first Grand Slam final and it was the only time in my life I ever prayed for a
result and the result wasnât a win. The result was for my hair to stay on
because I didnât know what I would do if that thing came flying off on center
GROSS: So at what point did you decide to cut it off?
Mr. AGASSI: I decided to cut it off...
GROSS: Actually, let me back up and ask you something else.
Mr. AGASSI: Yeah.
GROSS: How did you keep it on? I mean just forgetting that night even - but
just in general, everyone has seen hairpieces that kind of came loose and got a
little twisted and looked a little foolish and the person wearing it didnât
know. And like youâre sweating like crazy when youâre on the court, so how do
you keep on a hairpiece?
Mr. AGASSI: That's why God invented hats and headbands.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. AGASSI: You know, I - first of all, I had some hair. It wasnât like I was
this bald guy who was just having this fake hair. I think that looks a bit more
extreme. But, you know, I had hair that I could kind of hide around it and it
helped in concealing it to a certain degree. But I always played in - from that
day forward I was playing in headbands. I could somehow push, you know, hide
the base of it. I always went out at night most of the time wearing baseball
caps. And, you know, I eventually started to play in just a hat because I got
tired of worrying about, you know, its malfunctions and the fact that you have
hundreds of photographers taking thousands of pictures through the course of
one match. So I did it with hats and a lot of hope that the hat wouldnât come
GROSS: So when you cut it off at the suggestion of Brooke Shields, who became
your first wife, how did it change your sense of yourself? Did it make a
Mr. AGASSI: It liberated me. You know, I felt like I was free and I felt like
it was just a great step forward in my life.
GROSS: And now you have a shaved head, right?
Mr. AGASSI: I shave it every other day.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: It looks good.
Mr. AGASSI: Thank you. That's very...
GROSS: Itâs a nice look.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: Andre Agassi will be back in the second half of the show. His new memoir
is called "Open." I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Iâm Terry Gross, back with Tennis icon Andre Agassi.
He retired in 2006, after winning eight grand slam titles and an Olympic gold
medal. His new memoir, âOpen,â has some big surprises, like his confession that
he hates tennis and that he briefly used crystal meth. The memoir is also
filled with insights about the game and the physical toll it took on his body,
forcing him to retire at the age of 36.
Iâd like you to talk a little bit about your long time coach, Gil, who you met
at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, UNLV. And the first time you met him
before he actually started working with you, he gave you some really great
advice. Would you describe the advice he gave you?
Mr. AGASSI: Well, first of all to clarify, a coach in tennis is kind of a word
used for the person that helps you between the lines and a trainer is kind of
designed to be, to describe the person that helps you with the physical,
nutritional, strength training part of sides, and thatâs who Gil was.
He was a strength trainer in my life, but he was, more than that, he was a soul
trainer. He was a lifeguard for me, you know, he was just an amazing, amazing
person, and one of the things that really impressed me about Gil is he knew
nothing about tennis, but he knows everything about the biomechanics and the
human body. And he knows a lot about sports, in the sense that heâs believed
right from the beginning that if you have a muscle and you make it stronger,
you make it more capable.
And he was asking me why I have the trainee routine I have? Why I run five
miles a day? Why I do certain things? And I basically didnât know. And he asked
me, did you, do you five miles in a tennis match ever? And I said, well, no. He
says, well, in a tennis match you have to run maybe five or seven steps before
you have to think about slowing down or stopping, else youâre going to run
right past the ball after you hit it and you wonât be back in position for the
next one. And I was like, well, yeah, thatâs, thatâs right.
So, you need to accelerate and then you need to brake. So, it seems to me like
your sport is a lot more about starting and stopping than it is about running.
And I said, (unintelligible) thatâs about the smartest thing I think anybodyâs
ever said to me about tennis.
He says, how about we start to focus on building the muscles that you need to
explode to brake and to dig back out of. And it was just - all of sudden it
occurred to me that, you know, I had this asset in my life or access to this
asset of understanding my body and being kind of guided and navigating those
waters of becoming stronger and fitter.
GROSS: Was it really terrific to have somebody on your side who could train you
but at the same time didnât have ulterior motives, like your father, I mean, he
was living his fantasy out through you. And then, you know, but in this case, I
mean, it sounded like he was really on your side and wanted what was best for
you, including for you to play your best game.
Mr. AGASSI: Oh, no question â before we worked together, before we even
technically worked together and he, you know, we just bonded and loved each
other early in our time spent together. And, so much so that when I asked him
to work with me formally, the subject of money never came up. And he said,
well, absolutely yes. And he says, but if Iâm going to do this, I got do it a
certain way, because Iâm not going to risk and Iâm not going to risk you. Iâm
not going to risk your dreams, your hopes, your career.
And so, he literally set out and built every machine that we trained on with
his hands, designed, welded and built, and it was â like my father who built
this dragon, you know, it was like this â I wondered if it was the only thing
he had in common really with my father, because he was such a source of
strength and he taught me that Iâm worth caring about. His actions lived â that
was the way he lived is proving to me that Iâm worth caring about. I started to
realize, I was learning a lot more from Gil than just how to get physically
GROSS: In your memoir, you confessed something thatâs really shocked a lot of
people, which is that you used crystal meth for a while in 1997, and you
actually had a urine test that was done by the ATP, the Association of Tennis
Professionals, and you tested positive for crystal meth there. And you lied â
what did you tell them to cover up for the fact that you were actually using at
Mr. AGASSI: Yeah, it was a time in my life where I was depressed and didnât
know what depression was. And I was disengaged with tennis. I woke up in a life
that I realized it wasnât mine. I wasnât connected to it. I hated what I did. I
was in a marriage I didnât want to be in. And I was depressed and somebody came
along and offered me an escape and, and I took it. And for a moment there was
And then the drug at least allowed me to feel again for a few moments before it
started to, you know, rip away at me, like, like drugs do. And getting caught
with it and getting tested positive, I was scared, I was ashamed. I didnât know
what to do. I couldnât really confide in anybody because nobody knew. The
doctor called me and told me I tested positive for, he gave me all these
lengthy words of what I had been tested positive to. And I went with my
recollection of crystal meth, only not being completely sure what it actually
And I did the only thing I thought to do. And I wrote a letter following the
procedure, and I lied about how I ingested the drug. I lied by saying my
assistant, who was a drug user, which was true, he used to spike his sodas to
sometimes conceal his usage, and that was true. And I then went on to say that
I drank one of his spiked sodas. And thatâs how it was in my system, and I
begged for leniency and mercy and sent the letter off. And Iâve just
absolutely, from that day forward, never, you know, never, was never really
able to shake how bad something like that feels.
Doing a drug is one thing, you know, itâs one thing to make a decision and have
that decision impact you, thatâs fair enough. You make a choice for yourself
and you pay the consequences, but when you start to lie about certain things,
you really do run the risk of hurting more than just you, and that part was
always hard for me. And I think in many ways from that day forward, Iâve been
trying to atone for it.
GROSS: Were there consequences for you â your assistant who you kind of ratted
out in your letter, youâve said that he used meth and, that, you know, he
spiked his drink that you accidentally drank?
Mr. AGASSI: He had already kind of fallen off the radar. He was gone. I donât
know to this day where he was, never had seen him again, but I watched that
drug rip his life apart. He was in the rehab and was, had already publicly sort
of confessed to his circle that he was, you know, dying with this addiction.
And so, there was nothing private about that part of it. But, you know, in the
book I sort of refer him as Slim, which was also deliberate.
GROSS: To hide his real name.
Mr. AGASSI: Yeah.
GROSS: Mm-hmm. Professionally, I think the question, you know, one of the
questions is, did doing meth give you a competitive edge and should it question
the accuracy of your record? What do you think?
Mr. AGASSI: Well, I can tell you exactly what it did. It is a performance
inhibitor. I mean, itâs a deadly, deadly disease that destroys you. It destroys
you from the moment you take it. Itâs, to take that drug and to think about
doing anything physical is nearly impossibility between your heart rate and
between your dehydration. Itâs what our sport demands. It was beyond a
It was a class two violation, which is a recreational drug. And itâs my belief
moving forward that anybody that tests positive for a recreational drug, well,
there should be rules that are followed, and adhered to, instead of judgments
or condemnation, that there should be some compassion towards the possibility
that this person really has a problem and needs help. And I think that always
should be considered because I lived it and I needed help.
GROSS: My guest is tennis star Andre Agassi. His new memoir is called, âOpen.â
Weâll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is Andre Agassi. And he has written a memoir about his life and
his life in tennis called, âOpen.â So, you know, we were talking earlier about
this feeling you had through your tennis career of how, like you wanted it to
end, you didnât want to end. You wanted to retire, you didnât want to retire.
But, then in 2006, you retired. It was over. And so, three years into that
retirement, how does it feel to not be a professional tennis player?
Mr. AGASSI: It feels like a good fit. You know, it was â a seamless transition
for me. You know, again from that day that I lied about taking the drug, you
know, that was the day that I was asking for a second chance and got it, and
most people donât get that. And Iâve made a commitment to myself â and I made a
commitment to all those around me and - that I would make the most of my second
chance, that I would atone for this part of my life in a way that will be real
And part of that atonement has been this book, part of that atonement is also
the fact that I was going to play tennis as hard and as long as possible and
give as much as I could to it. And do everything in the meantime to appreciate
its gifts to me and it gave me my school in Las Vegas, it gave me eventually my
GROSS: This school is a school that you founded and have helped fund a charter
school for inner city kids, yeah.
Mr. AGASSI: Yeah, I built a, I built a K through 12 public charter school in
the poorest neighborhood of Las Vegas. And as a result, these children are
going on to lives of their choosing, and itâs been my lifeâs work for about 12
years now. But, you know, so, I â just, part of that commitment was to see
through my career, to not retire for â to not choose to quit or choose to
retire, but for retirement to choose me. And I pushed until my body just
absolutely couldnât do it anymore. And when I finished that day, I could feel
that tape of that finish line snap across my chest.
And I went out that night, as recently as that night, and had dinner with a few
close people in my life. And I - you could see it on my face, and as I look
back, I used to think of myself as a moody person, you know, I really did. But
Iâve to terms with the fact that, you know, tennis is moody. I mean, tennis
asks a lot of you every day. And it demands you to be hypersensitive to
everything youâre feeling and everything that you need to have around you,
everything you need to feel, to be at your best and Iâve been, I just, I live a
blessed life now and certainly one of my choice.
GROSS: Now, when you were playing tennis professionally, you had a trainer who
traveled with you, is with you a lot, Gil, who you write about in the book. Do
you feel, does it feel different to go through life now without a trainer? You
know what Iâm saying, without somebody whose job it is to look after you and
give you advice and makes sure youâre drinking enough water and all that stuff?
Mr. AGASSI: Gil still gives me advice. Itâs just not as often about the body
anymore, you know. But weâre so close and what he contributed to me meant more
off the court than it ever did on the court. And I still get all the good stuff
without the, you know, the pressures. And then there was pressures for him too,
you know. Heâs - one mistake in a gym - can cost a career, it can cost your
dream, it can cost all of it. It was, and itâs a mistake that can happen at any
moment and, you know, every decision is calculated and it was tiring for him,
too. He â I felt the tape snap across his chest as well.
GROSS: Itâs interesting, you know, you describe how when you decided to retire
in 2006, at the end of the U.S. Open, well, I mean, you knew you were going to
retire at the end of U.S. Open. Your father seemed to want you to retire too,
like he knew you were in pain, he knew you were done, and he wanted you to be
Mr. AGASSI: Yeah, I was standing in the lobby of my hotel and I felt some man
come along and put his arm on me and pull me aside, like he always does when he
wants to say something to you. And he pulled me aside and he had tears in his
eyes, and he says, you know, donât play, Andre, just quit. Go home. You donât
need this. Youâve done it enough. Youâve proven everything you need to prove.
Itâs over now. I mean, I canât stand it. I canât stand it all these years. And
he starts going on with watching me over all the years and watching and living
and dying with all of it, and studying these up-comers and these newcomers. And
when thereâs a tournament in China, heâs waking up at certain hours. When itâs
in Europe, heâs going to sleep at certain years. Itâs â his whole life was
And that moment, I looked at him and it appeared to me for the first time, that
I saw in him what Iâve seen in myself, which is he hates tennis. He hasnât
really come to terms with his own tortures with this, and what this all means
and, you know, and I just told him, dad, I canât quit. I havenât quit yet. I
had many opportunities to quit and I never chose it. And Iâm not going to
choose it today no matter what that means - going out there on that court. Iâm
going to see this through.
GROSS: Why do you think he hates tennis? I got the feeling, reading that part
of your book, that what he really hated was watching you suffer and also,
maybe, knowing what heâd put you through?
Mr. AGASSI: I think thatâs the case. But I think thatâs part of the â thatâs
part of his emotion. I think the other part is hating how much tennis has
gotten in between me and him.
Mr. AGASSI: How much tennis heâs got in between - you know, my pains and
struggles got in between my relationship with myself. I think it was, you know,
it was â it was a strong moment that a lot can be read into it and I donât â I
just â I wish my father wasnât touched enough with what he felt to be able to
fully communicate it, because it looked powerful and it looked deep and it
looked â it looked broad and then he felt like it went to the bone.
GROSS: In the acknowledgements of your book, you write about how you chose the
writer J.R. Moehringer to collaborate with you on the book and he is best known
for his memoir, âThe Tender Bar.â Heâs also a Pulitzer Prize winner. And you
describe how youâre reading âThe Tender Bar,â during the 2006, U.S. Open, your
final, you know, your final big tournament. And you liked it so much you were
hoping that the tournament wouldnât end before you were done with the book. You
invited him for dinner and eventually asked him to collaborate with you on your
autobiography, which he did.
And you said that you wanted to know how your life would look through a
Pulitzer Prize winnerâs lens. Does the life the way he helped write it in the
book, look different to you than you had thought of your life as looking?
Mr. AGASSI: I think thatâs the surprising part, same with Steff, you know, the
surprising part to her was notâ¦
GROSS: This is your wife.
Mr. AGASSI: â¦the storiesâ¦ Yeah, Steffi.
GROSS: Steffi Graf, yeah.
Mr. AGASSI: Yeah. Sorry. Sheâs, you know, itâs not the stories of my life that
surprised her. She knows the stories. I know the stories. But whatâs the story
of your life, what is it really mean, what were you really feeling, whatâs the
truth that youâve been searching about yourself? And, you know, that process, I
needed somebody brilliant, to be quite honest. And I knew what I thought to
him. I connected and bonded with him through his book, âThe Tender Bar.â I
found myself identifying with a torture perfectionist kind of existence and how
he had teachers around him, how the people in his life were his greatest
teachers. And so much resonated with me, that I literally said I want to take a
hard look at my own life through this kind of lens.
And, I mean, as a result of that process, the hours â the thousands of hours
that we put in together. I mean, he studied psychology books, and Freud and
everything. And we just â we hashed it out and bust it through nine drafts,
making thousand decisions from no quotes in the books to writing in present
tense to, you know, to just the things that all the decisions that went into it
- but understanding it was something I donât think would have been possible,
really, with anybody else - not this way. But did it surprise me? It did
surprise me. I mean, I was part of giving birth to this. I was significant in
giving birth to this. And when this book was done, I knew it. I knew every word
on every page and it still somehow surprised me.
GROSS: So, youâre married to tennis star Steffi Graf. Youâre both retired. Do
either of you play tennis anymore?
Mr. AGASSI: We do occasionally, getting ready for a charity event or something
of this nature. And I take her, you know, out on court and we both have
perfectly aligned goals. She wants to run and get exercise. And I want to stand
still. So, she hits the ball back to me and Iâ¦
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. AGASSI: â¦and I run her left and right. And itâs kind of fun.
GROSS: I want to thank you so much for talking with us.
Mr. AGASSI: Thank you. It was a pleasure to be here.
GROSS: Andre Agassiâs new memoir is called, âOpen.â
This is FRESH AIR.
*** TRANSCRIPTION COMPANY BOUNDARY ***
Tito x 2: Celebrating The Kings Of Mambo Again
TERRY GROSS, host:
Our music critic Milo Miles has reviews of new collections by Latin music
pioneers Tito Rodriguez and Tito Puente, who were rivals on the band stand.
(Soundbite of music)
MILO MILES: Many music fans enjoy a time-machine fantasy where they are
transported back to a famous dance club of the past. For some itâs Studio 54 or
the Fillmores, but for me, the first choice would be New Yorkâs Palladium
Ballroom in the 1950s. The Palladium was the first incarnation of the modern
dance club - a free-form space where different cultures and different
ethnicities threw aside the social rules and united in motion, and the
cascading rhythms of Latin music made it possible.
By the mid-1950s, America was in the midst of a mambo craze, which included not
only the mambo itself, but the cha-cha-cha, the rumba and more. It wasnât quite
Beatlemania, but it was widespread and the Palladium was the epicenter. There
were three clear kings of Mambo. Machito and His Afro-Cubans, the longest-
running group; and the two Titos, bandleader and singer Tito Rodriguez and
bandleader and timbale drum master Tito Puente - who knocked dancers out night
after night with numbers like â3-D Mambo.â
(Soundbite of â3-D Mamboâ)
MILES: The soundtrack to the film âThe Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love,â remains
the best introduction to the Palladium scene, but Tito Puente and Tito
Rodriguez can boast of ideal introduction albums out at the same time. Puenteâs
is an expanded version of his 1958 masterpiece, âDance Mania.â What makes it a
timeless party record? Well, thereâs not an off moment in the 12 cuts. But
theyâre not relentless â the beats invite you out to the dance floor, they
donât push, and the record slows down just when the dancers need to. And it
simply feels like a continuous, one-take performance.
The original Dance Mania LP was very short, by todayâs standards, so itâs a
welcome idea that the re-issue includes âDance Mania Volume Two,â as well as
more than 20 worthwhile outtakes and tracks from other RCA sessions around the
same period. Thereâs no sequence as perfect as âDance Mania,â itself, but it
all flies way, way up there, including a number with one of my all-time
favorite titles, âMambozooka.â
(Soundbite of âMambozookaâ)
MILES: If Puenteâs Dance Mania features particularly rich percussion language,
Tito Rodriguezâs collection, El Inolvidable is a singerâs paradise - from
smoking mambos to creamy boleros. But Rodriguez fronted a consistently superb
band, with some of the best chops in Latin music. Especially notable were the
contributions from bassist Israel Lopez, better known as Cachao, who not only
helped invent the mambo, but laid the foundations of Latin jazz with numbers
like âDescarga Cachao.â
(Soundbite of âDescarga Cachaoâ)
Unidentified Man (Singer): (Singing) (Singing in Spanish language).
MILES: This anthology of 1960s tracks has one lapse. It begins with a 12-minute
number in which Rodriguez introduces all the members of his band. Itâs more
musically interesting than dramatic, and just goes on too long. But every other
track on the 30-cut double disc is a winner, finishing with a searing trio of
live numbers that climax with the finest version of the unforgettable hit,
(Soundbite of âMama Guelaâ)
Unidentified Man (Singer): (Singing) (Singing in Spanish language).
MILES: Rodriguez died tragically young at 50 in 1973, and Puente passed on back
in 2000. So the Mambo Kings are gone now, but you can pit Tito against Tito
right on your sound system. Itâs as close as you can come to a ticket to the
Palladium. Best of all, the big winner, as they say, is you.
GROSS: Milo Miles lives in Boston. He reviewed new collections by Tito Puente
and Tito Rodriguez. You can download Podcasts of our show on our Web site
freshairnpr.org. And you can follow us on twitter at nprfreshair.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.