Andre Agassi and his father do their version of Rashomon
For all the talk about crystal meth, the real theme of former tennis star Andre Agassi’s new book is how much he fuckin’ hates his old man for making him play fuckin’ tennis. He goes on so long about it, you expect him to strip off his tennis shorts and announce he always wanted to be a lumberjack.
You’ve probably already read the excerpts of his book “Open.” Like how Mike Agassi taped ping pong rackets to little toddler Andre’s hands. How he fired balls at 110 mph from a machine — at age 7. The pressure Andre felt at age 9 when his dad wanted to bet the house (literally) on him beating football Hall-of-Famer Jim Brown in a tennis match (which Andre did, in a bet whittled down to $500). How Mike coerced Andre into taking speed before a tournament. How Mike kept an ax handle in his car, for, um, situations that he wouldn’t try to solve with a pistol, or by throwing the salt and pepper he carried around into some goob’s face. How Mike congratulated Andre for winning Wimbledon by telling him he shouldn’t have lost the fourth set. How Mike called Andre a fag. How Mike was “shrill and stern and filled with rage.”
Mike Agassi already had the reputation for being “domineering,” as Andre’s former coach, the legendary Nick Bollitierri put it, before the release of “Once.” But now Mike, very much alive at age 79, is now cemented to the crazy tennis parent Hall of Fame, up there with Andre’s father-in-law, Peter Graf. (Another hilarious anecdote in the book is how when Andre’s dad and Steffi Graf’s dad met for the first time, Peter immediately asked to see the legendary ball machine, followed by the two men arguing over tennis strategy, followed by Andre breaking them up when the two ex-boxers started to strip down to fight.)
Andre, while seeming a little heartened that his dad learn to hate tennis when he saw his youngest son’s body breaking down at his career’s end, has a lot of daddy issues to work out. Why else would each of his wives — his first wife was Brooke Shields — be the daughters of domineering stage parents? Who better to understand Andre and his relationship with his father?
So what does Mike think?
He already said what he thought in his own 2004 book, “The Agassi Story,” a heart-warming look at a dad who just wants what’s best for his kids. Here is how Mike describes the process of determining Andre was the one of his four kids that would become a tennis star, a dream born when he was a young Persian boy watched U.S. and British GIs play it. (Emphasis is mine.)
Andre, the youngest of my four children, wasn’t the first kid I tried to coach. That dubious honor goes to my oldest child, Rita. She was amazing. Headstrong and feisty, Rita had an unbelievable two-handed weapon on both sides, and could hit a tennis ball almost as hard as Andre does. The fact is, though, I ruined tennis for Rita by pushing her too hard.
I made the same mistake with my second child, Phillip, who had a tremendous game, but who lacked that killer instinct. In other words, he’s abuot the nicest guy you could ever hope to meet, always putting himself out for others.
Fortunately, by the time my third child, Tami, was born, I’d wised up — at least a bit. I didn’t push her the way I did Rita and Phillip. I taught her to play, of course, but I gave her the freedom to pursue other interests. That’s probably why, of all my kids, I suspect that Tami is the happiest, the most well adjusted.
I learned a lot by coaching Rita, Phillip, and Tami, so by the time Andre was born on April 29, 1970, nearly 10 years after Rita’s arrival, I was ready. I decided that I wouldn’t push him the way I had Rita and Philip, but I would begin teaching him about tennis at a very early age. I figured if he took to the game, then we would take it from there.
As it turned out, Andre wasn’t just the most talented of my four kids, he was the most willing. He had the desire. I don’t know if it was the desire to play tennis or if it was simply the desire to please me, but he had it. Whenever Andre found a free moment – before school, after school, you name it — he was on the tennis court, practicing his strokes for hours at a time.
Well, if Andre says he hates tennis, then maybe it was the desire to please dear old Dad, who was nuts but, let’s face it, like most crazy sports parents sacrificed heavily for what he thought was best for his child, and ended up leading his youngest son to a life of fame and fortune.
Maybe what is pissing off Andre is not tennis, or his father’s rage, but the nagging feeling, as he counts his $5 million bonus that wouldn’t have gone to Andre Agassi, plumber, that the old man might have had the right idea all along.