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Andre Agassi's Life Through Victory and Defeat

Aired May 26, 2001 - 11:30   ET




ANDRE AGASSI, TENNIS PLAYER: ... I have to really -- to mean anything.

ANNOUNCER (voice-over): A star-studded career and marriage that suddenly shattered.

AGASSI: You're looking at lives that kind of crashed.

ANNOUNCER: Now he's back in form, and at the top of his game.

BRAD GILBERT, AGASSI'S COACH: Andre's pursuit now is against himself.

ANNOUNCER: From rowdy rebel to mean Mr. Clean, the comeback career of Andre Agassi, ahead on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.


DARYN KAGAN, HOST: Welcome to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. I'm Daryn Kagan.

He was a tennis prodigy who turned pro at just 16. But after Andre Agassi smashed his way to the top, his game and his Hollywood marriage fell apart.

Now Agassi's back, and he's got game. He won the first three big tournaments this year, including the Australian Open. The French Open gets under way on Monday. It's a real test of Agassi's comeback.

Pretty amazing for a player who, at 31, should be over the hill.


(voice-over): Don't tell Andre Agassi he's an old man for professional tennis. He may look a little different from that upstart player whose image was everything. Gone are the flashy outfits, the shaggy hair.

But Agassi's game hasn't gone anywhere.

AGASSI: I feel like I'm moving better and fitter, and I'm bringing experience, so that allows for a pretty airtight package.

BRAD GILBERT, AGASSI'S COACH: At 31, he's hitting everything better, and Andre's pursuit now is against himself. That's the most important thing.

KAGAN: Four years ago, he was losing that battle, though he seemed to have it all. Married to one of Hollywood's most beautiful actresses, Brooke Shields, raking in millions in endorsements...


AGASSI: Training is such a bore.


KAGAN: But his tennis career had slumped to its lowest point ever, number 141 in the rankings.

AGASSI: There was no margin for error any more. It's like I had to either play or stop.


TENNIS ANNOUNCER: And you're looking at Andre Agassi, and just 6 years old, and...


KAGAN: A difficult decision for someone who was practically born playing tennis.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Andre, how do you like the game of tennis?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who taught you tennis?

AGASSI: My dad.


KAGAN: His father, Mike, taped a racket to Andre's hand as soon as he could walk and hung a tennis ball over his crib.

AGASSI: He was convinced that if my eyes are going to move around as a little baby, might as well be looking at a tennis ball.

KAGAN: Mike Agassi was himself no stranger to competition. He was a Golden Gloves champ who boxed for Iran in the 1948 and '52 Olympics. He settled in Las Vegas, where he found work as a tennis pro at the Tropicana.

But his main job was pushing his four kids on the tennis court. NICK BOLLETTIERI, AGASSI'S FORMER COACH: Mr. Agassi, he was very domineering. I mean, he -- you know, tennis, tennis, tennis, tennis. He had the ball machines out in the back, and ball machines in every room.

KAGAN: He even cranked up the machines to a higher speed.

From an early age, all Andre knew was tennis.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You want to be a tennis player when you get big?



PERRY ROGERS, AGASSI'S MANAGER: He practiced every afternoon all afternoon. Practiced every weekend, all weekend. Practiced every holiday that I can recall. It was just what they did.

KAGAN: While his brothers and sisters all excelled, Andre was a tennis prodigy.

AGASSI: When I was 7, I played my first tournament and won the -- like, the first seven tournaments I played. You know, it was just started playing out more and challenging myself more. But, yes, I was always a little bit ahead of my years.

KAGAN: By the age of 10, he was winning tournaments against some of the same players he would later face in grand slams, Pete Sampras, Jim Courier, Michael Chang.

MICHAEL CHANG, TENNIS PLAYER: He didn't have a whole lot of competition in Las Vegas, so he would fly over -- he would come -- drive over to Southern California because our section was so strong.

You know, Andre was charismatic in his own way.

KAGAN: When Andre was just 13, his father shipped him off to Bradenton, Florida.


KAGAN: To the tennis academy of legendary coach Nick Bollettieri.

BOLLETTIERI: No mistakes, no mistakes.

In his raspy voice, he called, "Now, Mr. Bollettieri, this is Mr. Agassi, Mike Agassi." And he said, "I have a little problem," he said. "I have a son. He doesn't listen to me. And I know that you could get my son to the top."

KAGAN: The Tennis Academy was a tough adjustment for Andre. AGASSI: So it was at the time probably closer to a boot camp than it was a tennis academy, but I -- you know, it helped me in my -- on the court, and I had to learn to survive when it comes to living away, 3,000 miles away from your home.

ROGERS: That was really hard. And what was thrusting him into that environment was the game of tennis. And so suddenly your feelings about the game of tennis aren't as positive.

KAGAN: The young teenager began to rebel.

ROGERS: That's when he started to grow the hair long. He actually showed up for one tournament in jeans, I recall that. And he just didn't really want to follow the rules that they had at Nick's.

BOLLETTIERI: Oh, he pushed everything. He -- Andre pushed everything.

KAGAN: Three years later, at the age of 16, Andre Agassi decided to turn pro.

AGASSI: I just kind of started thinking, you know, what else am I going to do? I mean, school and going to college wasn't a consideration. I was -- always planned on being a professional, and I figured I might as well just get out there and do it.

ROGERS: Part of that was to get out of the academy, to leave the environment. He got one get-out-of-jail-free card, and this was it.

KAGAN: When the story of Andre Agassi continues, how the flash and fame took a toll on and off the court.

AGASSI: You're looking at lives that kind of crashed.


KAGAN: Andre Agassi's agony in a moment.

But first, this week's celebrity happenings in "Passages."

ANNOUNCER: What a girl wants is her demos back. Pop sensation Christina Aguilera has filed a lawsuit against two record companies to block the release of "Just Be Free." The album contains songs the diva recorded when she was 14. Despite the suit, Aguilera fans can still pre-order "Just Be Free" on many Internet music sites.

Whitman Mayo, who played popular sidekick Grady on "Sanford and Son," died this week. He was 70. After "Sanford and Son," Mayo remained active in acting and served on the faculty of Clark-Atlanta University in Georgia. Most recently, he hosted "Liars and Legends" on the Turner South Channel.

All-pro wide receiver Randy Moss of the Minnesota Vikings is trying his hand at something new, basketball. Until football season starts, Moss will play for a minor league basketball team this summer. Moss certainly knows the difference between a nose guard and a point guard. Twice selected as the basketball high school player of the year in his native West Virginia, he played on the same team as NBA star Jason Williams.

For more celebrity news, pick up a copy of "People" magazine.

PEOPLE IN THE NEWS will be right back.



KAGAN (voice-over): In 1986, Andre Agassi hit the pro tour in a blaze of hype.


AGASSI: Image is everything.


KAGAN (on camera): You took off as a personality faster than you took off as a tennis player. You got some huge endorsements long before you ever even won a grand slam.

AGASSI: Yes, I definitely had a lot of attention. But you have to have a certain amount of substance in order for any of the hype to really -- to mean anything.

KAGAN (voice-over): With the help of his coach, Nick Bollettieri, Agassi rose to number three in the world in just two years. He had a bad-boy reputation, plenty of endorsements, but no grand slams.

BOLLETTIERI: So that was tough for Andre. You know, the billboards, the money, and everything else that went along with it, and then you have to win too.

KAGAN: When Wimbledon came around in 1992, Agassi only decided to go at the last minute.

BOLLETTIERI: Go over to England, had a press conference, and the press said, Andre, how have you prepared? Oh, he said, I been to Boca Raton, man, hitting on that grass for two weeks. And he winking at me like that. He hadn't even seen a blade of grass.

KAGAN: He advanced to the finals as the 12th seed against all odds.

AGASSI: I didn't need that pressure to feel the pressure, because I was already putting it on myself. I just -- I wanted to win, I wanted to not just make it to the finals, I wanted to see what it felt like to win.

KAGAN: Then in the final match against Goran Ivanisevic...

AGASSI: I just remember being incredibly overwhelmed and relieved, you know, it was like a combination. It felt impacting and then at the same time it felt like a lot came off my shoulders.

BOLLETTIERI: No one expected that. I mean, we weren't even going to go.


TENNIS ANNOUNCER: Andre Agassi, in tears, has won Wimbledon.


KAGAN: The elation didn't last. Bollettieri had become something of a father figure to Agassi, but that relationship began to unravel.

Bollettieri says he thought Agassi was starting to squeeze him out of coaching.

BOLLETTIERI: Things began to get a little uneasy. I think Andre began to tighten up a little more with his team, maybe had a concept, Maybe I should get another coach to help.

KAGAN: After 10 years together, Bollettieri wrote Agassi a resignation letter.

(on camera): What about the split with Nick?

AGASSI: Difficult time, you know, we've had our ups and our downs, but he helped my career a lot. And there just came a time when it needed to be different, for what reasons I'm not sure I even completely understand today.

BOLLETTIERI: Hit that Agassi swinging volley.

KAGAN (voice-over): In a rare admission, Bollettieri now regrets the way he handled the split.

BOLLETTIERI: I made one of the gravest misjudgments of how to terminate when I wrote that letter to Andre Agassi. You look back and you say, How the hell could I have done that? But that's Nick. You know, I sort of acted. Now I try to think a little bit more. But I think that was wrong in so many ways.

KAGAN: Agassi turned to fellow player Brad Gilbert to coach him, and he hit a hot streak. The player with the bad rap of never winning the big one clinched the U.S. Open in 1994, the Australian Open in 1995, and an Olympic gold medal in 1996.

Things also began to heat up off the court. In 1993, the tennis idol began dating actress Brooke Shields. Saxophone player Kenny G's wife had suggested the two get together. Shields was on location, so she faxed Agassi a letter. The two talked on the phone every day for six weeks before they ever met.

ROGERS: They could completely relate to each other. They both were working on getting their careers where they wanted. They both had been acknowledged as being famous before necessarily they had earned all of the merits that go along with that. And so they really were supportive of each other.

KAGAN: On April 19, 1997, the two were married in Carmel, California. But love is also a tennis term, as Agassi discovered. Shields' career got a boost with the sitcom "Suddenly Susan." His career was starting to slump. The Hollywood dazzle was distracting. He lost his focus and his confidence.

AGASSI: I was just losing every time I played. And I couldn't beat anybody any more, I mean, anybody in the main draws, that's for sure.

KAGAN: In November 1997, Agassi sank to number 141 in the rankings, the lowest point in his career. His new nicknames, Andre Agony and Andre Aghastly.

GILBERT: He got to 141 because of his head. He went through a tough year, '97, I mean, he just wasn't at the right place. He barely played. And when he did play, his mind wasn't into it, and he was out of shape.

KAGAN: The struggle with his career began to put a strain on his marriage.

AGASSI: There are realities you can't get around. I mean, my life was in Vegas, but then it was in L.A., and then, you know, to succeed at an incredible level, you need an incredible amount of focus and you need an incredible amount of support. And I think in many ways we tried to support each other, but you're looking at lives that kind of crashed.

KAGAN: Ten days short of their second wedding anniversary, Agassi filed for divorce.

ROGERS: You know, he clearly put a lot into the marriage. And sacrificed a lot of his career. But there was this sense of, What do I want from my career, at the same time that I'm trying to balance my life and the relationships in my life?

KAGAN: But at the age of 27, could he get his game back on track?

IVAN BLUMBERG, AGASSI'S AGENT: There were a lot of people in the tennis game who were convinced that that was it, that Andre was done, he should hang it up and not go out and sort of embarrass himself at the level that he was playing.

KAGAN: When Agassi's story continues, a career comeback and a personal setback.

(on camera): Last summer was a double whammy for your family.

AGASSI: It was a difficult time. It was pretty eye-opening.


KAGAN: Before we look at how a tennis bad boy made good, a look back at one of the original bad boys of the court. Here's this week's edition of "Where Are They Now?"

ANNOUNCER: Rumanian playboy and tennis Hall of Famer Ilie Nastase was renowned for his on-the-court tantrums that often led to whopping fines. And in 1973, Nasty, as he was sometimes called, was ranked No. 1 in the world.

So where is Ilie Nastase now? He received worldwide attention in 1996 when he ran for mayor of Bucharest. Nastase lost that challenge but continues to be a strong advocate of tennis in his home country, serving as the chairman of the Rumanian Tennis Foundation.

PEOPLE IN THE NEWS will continue after this.



KAGAN (voice-over): By 1999, Andre Agassi had reached a low point. His marriage to Brooke Shields was shattered. His career had sunk so low he had to play in qualifying events for the first time in a decade.

It was like being sent back to the minors.

BLUMBERG: He was either going to pack it in, have had a relatively successful career, or he was going to rededicate himself to the sport of tennis.

KAGAN: Agassi's coach, Brad Gilbert, sat him down for a tough talk.

GILBERT: If you're going to play like this, I mean, this is not you. It's like, if you want to rededicate yourself, I'm there with you. You know, if you don't want to rededicate yourself, I mean, we're not doing each other any good.

KAGAN: Agassi decided to stay in the game.

AGASSI: That decision was pretty easy. The work that followed wasn't, but the decision was pretty easy. I still wanted to play.

KAGAN: Before, Agassi's reputation as a junk-food junkie was even portrayed in a Nike commercial.


AGASSI: My favorite doughnut is a rainbow sprinkle. Has all the colors on it and puts me in a good mood.



AGASSI: One-forty-one.

Two years ago, my game was going nowhere. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KAGAN: He started a new healthy diet, and Madison Avenue began marketing his gut-wrenching training routine.

AGASSI: It's a combination of a lot of weight training, a lot of cardio, you know, sprint work on hills, combined with the tennis court.

GIL REYES, AGASSI'S TRAINER: He's running so hard, and his body is aching so much, his legs are on fire, his -- you can hear his lungs screaming as he's sprinting up the hill. And on his face you see the look of pain, but you also see the look of purpose.

KAGAN: The hard work began to pay off. Agassi whipped himself and his game back into shape.

In 1999, he set out to win the only grand slam tournament that had eluded him so far, the French Open. In the final match, he was down two sets to nothing. But Agassi staged a remarkable comeback, and he became the first man since Rod Laver in the '60s to win all four grand slam events in his career.

BOLLETTIERI: It shows me that if a person gets knocked down -- I judge a champion when everything goes wrong -- can you get up and get yourself back up? He's done it.

KAGAN: After climbing from 141 to number one in just two years, Agassi's triumph met tragedy. Both his mother and sister were diagnosed with breast cancer.

(on camera): Last summer was a double whammy for your family.

AGASSI: It was a difficult time. I was -- it was pretty eye- opening on many -- in many ways personally.

KAGAN: Two days after he publicly revealed the shattering news, Agassi lost in the second round of the U.S. Open. He decided to spend time with his family in Las Vegas and put his career on hold for a while.

ROGERS: Clearly there was nothing more important than his mom's health and his sister's health. And so tennis -- not only was it not in the back seat, it wasn't in the car.

KAGAN: The tennis star shared his family's pain and then took what he learned back on the court.

(on camera): How are they doing?

AGASSI: They're doing great. My sister is done with all her chemo. She's shown me in a few ways now what it means to really fight and to really be, really be great at asking more of yourself. And she's been an inspiration.

KAGAN: Another inspiration in his life right now, a tennis great in her own rate, Steffi Graf.

(on camera): The women in your life, you obviously like successful women. A lot of guys in your position would maybe not be attracted to those kind of women.

AGASSI: Well, let's be clear about something, I have one woman in my life, and she's an amazing woman, so she does -- while she might have been very accomplished and while she might be very strong, but she's amazing, and, you know, I marvel at it.

KAGAN: Agassi had always admired the way that Graf conducted herself on and off the court. They've been together since Graf retired in 1999, with an amazing 22 Grand Slam titles.

ROGERS: He's always tried to walk this balance between his life and his tennis, and here's someone that supports both. So there is this complete balance. It just funnels right down together.

KAGAN: Agassi also balances his life by giving back to the community where he was raised. His foundation gave nearly $1.5 million next year to help at-risk kids in Las Vegas, including Child Haven, a shelter for neglected children, construction of a new charter school, and the Agassi Boys and Girls Club.

AGASSI: I heard that saying one time, you know, somebody expects a lot from you, that means they think a lot of you. And our foundation is designed to not just give to children but to expect a lot from them.

KAGAN: If image was once everything for Agassi, now it appears substance is everything.

ROGERS: I think that at first he was viewed as this rebellious guy who only wanted to wreak havoc, and now I think people understand that it's -- he's a thoughtful man who is very compassionate.

GILBERT: I have never met anybody that's more honest, that's more forthright, and that's got -- he's got the kindest heart I've ever met.

KAGAN: The question now, at 31, how long can he keep it up?

GILBERT: Maybe he's going to be this freak, and he's going to be able to go till he's 35. But I don't know, you know, he surprises me every day.

AGASSI: I think I can do this for a number of years more. I don't know how long I can do it for, and I really don't know how long I'm going to choose to do it for. I hope that it's for a number of more years. You know, hopefully I'll always bring more to a sport and to a life that gives more than it takes, and that's fair enough for me.


KAGAN: Besides Andre Agassi, only one other player has won four Grand Slam titles plus an Olympic gold medal for singles. That would be his girlfriend, Steffi Graf.

For other interesting facts about Andre Agassi, check out our Web site at You can also go there to subscribe to our free weekly e-mail.

Next week we'll profile Robert Downey Jr., one of Hollywood's most talented actors, but a man who is so far losing a difficult battle with drugs.

That's it for this week. Thanks for watching. For all of us here at PEOPLE IN THE NEWS, I'm Daryn Kagan.



4:30pm ET, 4/16

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