Tennis: Agassi taking different tact with fatherhood

By Kris Shannon

Andre Agassi signs copies of his autobiography, Open, at Paper Plus Newmarket. Photo / Getty Images.
Andre Agassi signs copies of his autobiography, Open, at Paper Plus Newmarket. Photo / Getty Images.

Andre Agassi spent his childhood doing nothing but hitting tennis balls, so he's happy to let his daughter dance, ride horses and even - on occasion - play tennis.

The eight-time grand slam winner, in New Zealand promoting his autobiography Open, shared a complex relationship with his father, Iranian-born Mike.

With resentment at his father's arduous training techniques conflicting with desire to please the man he loves, Agassi experienced a troubled adolescence as a tennis wild child before rising to the top of the sport.

Agassi, married to one of the greatest ever women's tennis players, Steffi Graf, hoped his son and daughter had none of that conflict to deal with and said he wanted Jaden, 11, and Jaz, nine, to do whatever made them happy.

Given they were made in a tennis super-laboratory, many fans may have dreamed of Agassi's offspring becoming the next wunderkind of the sport, but Agassi's own experiences led him to believe personal choice is the best thing he can provide his kids.

Speaking at a dinner in Auckland to promote his book last night, he said: "People always make the assumption that, with me and Steffi [as parents], of course they're going to be great tennis players. And I always say, 'it's a big gene pool, you haven't met the rest of our family'," he quipped.

"With that being said, I think the life that we've led would make us take a deep breath if they did have a passion for [tennis] because it's not an easy road."

That may seem a strange sentiment, but Agassi's own road was particularly difficult while growing up, with his book painting his father as a cross between a tennis coach and drill sergeant. Agassi insisted he gave and "honest and loving" portrayal of his dad, but was worried about how he might have reacted to the perceived criticisms.

Mike - who refused to help Agassi while writing the book and had no interest in reading it because he "lived this shit every day" - assured his son that, at 80 years old, he was past caring what people thought about him.

And Agassi told the dinner that his father, if he had a chance to do it all over again, would do it differently - a bombshell given his one-track mind resulted in his son's successful career.

"[Mike] said, 'I'm very clear that if I could do this all over again I would do it different'," Agassi divulged. "I asked him what he would do different and he said to me, 'I wouldn't let you play tennis'.

"I took a deep breath and asked why not. And he goes, 'baseball or golf'. I said, 'why baseball or golf?' And he said, 'because you can play longer and make more money'."

It was an exchange which Agassi clearly found amusing, and one which he referenced when asked which sports his children enjoyed

"My daughter plays [tennis] twice a week for fun. And my son plays baseball seven days a week."

His book, and his anecdotes while in this country, can paint an unflattering picture of his father, but Agassi said that wasn't his intention. He explained how everything in his life - his children, his wife, his charter school for at-risk children in Las Vegas - was a result of his dad.

"He achieved what he wanted to achieve and he gave me what it is he never had. He gave me that dream, he gave me that opportunity, he gave me that wealth and the trophies.

"If it wasn't for him all my world would look different."

Perhaps as different as the world of men's tennis now looks to a 42-year-old Agassi. When asked if he could still compete at the top of the sport, Agassi gave a blunt 'no' and admitted he would fall some way short of the 'big four'.

"Every now and then people come along and change the game - that's just what happens. The game sees these moments where somebody brings something new. Starting with [Roger] Federer, then [Rafael] Nadal, [Novak] Djokovic and now [Andy] Murray, they unquestionably changed the rules of engagement when it comes to tennis.

"I would have to work my arse off to be ranked about five in the world. You'd have to say Pete [Sampras], too, so maybe six."

- APNZ

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf01 at 26 Nov 2014 19:53:54 Processing Time: 261ms