“My hatred with tennis started with fear of what it did to my family, siblings, the relationship with our father. Winning or losing really dictated everything in our lives. I was the youngest of four and the pressure fell on my shoulders and it was pretty hard to bear,” the American eight-time Grand Slam champion brought down the curtains on the Times Network Economic Conclave on Friday, and opened up again.
“My ultimate feeling of abandonment came at the age of 13, when my father sent me to a tennis academy, sort of like a military academy, but I understood that fear was a great motivator. Talk about pressure, my father always introduced me as the future No. 1. I had the distant hope that winning was going to be the answer to all my problems.” Being No . 1 turned out to be the nadir. He felt nothing, zero, zilch. “It took me down a dark path,” he said, “Everyone was shocked but I knew exactly where I was heading. No. 1seemed like the end of time.”
He was the long-haired rebel with a cause. “I had this unspoken authenticity that brought up this strange connection with fans.” But it was the day when he gave himself the permission to quit the game that he had an ‘epiphany’. “Epiphanies don’t change your life, it’s what you do with them that changes it.” He really had a cause, he took a $40 million mortgage and built a school in the most economically challenged place in the otherwise glitzy Las Vegas. Now he has helped fund 125 schools across the United States.
Andre Agassi (TOI Photo)
Here in New Delhi now as a 50-year-old educationist, the 8th grade dropout talked at length about his company Square Panda but he admitted it was the ‘food’ that got him here first.
It was inevitable there would be talk about his lifetime partner Steffi Graf. “I avoid the court at all costs. It really tests our marriage, too competitive,” he said, chuckling. What about the trinity of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic? “I had the luxury of playing in multiple generations, starting with the Jimmy Connors era. But I had the unfortunate opportunity to run into someone called Roger Federer too. These guys are the greatest of all time. What is remarkable is the spin that is created nowadays, the geometry needed, the trajectory. It completely changed my optimism about extending my career.”