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February 3, 2004

Andre Agassi

Andre Agassi

GREG SHARKO: Andre is a five-time Bay Area winner, having captured the title in 1990, '93, '95, '98 and last year. This will be his 12th tournament appearance in the past 15 years and he has reached the finals the last three. Overall, he is 5-3 in Bay Area finals with a career match record of 44-6. Last year, Andre won four titles, including his eighth career Grand Slam crown at the Australian Open. In May, he became the oldest player at 33 to hold the No. 1 spot in the ATP rankings. Andre, who is ranked No. 5 this week is one of five Americans in the Top 25 for the first time since April 14, 1997. Barry MacKay and Bill Rapp would like to say a few words.

BARRY MacKAY: First of all, thanks for a great effort in Australia. We are happy you are back in the Bay Area for your 12th appearance. We go back to 1990 when you were wearing denim shorts and you had long, blond hair. So see you later in the week.

BILL RAPP: I wanted to welcome you and also thank the writers and the media folks for taking the time to spend some time with us this afternoon. And Andre, we are looking forward to having you back.

ANDRE AGASSI: Oh, great stuff. I appreciate that.

Q. Just curious, you have a lot going on in your life right now, and just assess where your game is at coming off the Australian.

ANDRE AGASSI: Well, the Australian has always been sort of a great start to the year for me. This year has been no different. It was a great tournament. I really felt like my game was right where I wanted it to be and all I could have hoped for. A few shots didn't fall the way I wanted them to at the end there, but that happens and I'm excited to get the year underway.

Q. What are your biggest focuses for this year, is there anything that you're working on in particular?

ANDRE AGASSI: Well, we always work on everything as far as my game is concerned. But, you know, it's never been my approach towards tennis to sort of say, my goal is to win this tournament, win that tournament. I'm always looking to improve and as I get older. I certainly need to be more aware of keeping myself at my best for the biggest tournaments, and that's always a challenge. Certainly that's my goal this year is to play my best tennis when it matters the most, which is the biggest tournaments.

Q. Compared to earlier in your career, where do you think the depth and talent of the men's game is now compared to ten years ago, five years ago? It seems like there's a wave of young players at the top of the game now.

ANDRE AGASSI: Well, yeah, that's inevitable, isn't it? It's something that's bound to happen where new guys come along and make their mark on the game. I think that the depth of the men's game is deeper than it's ever been. You can't be just a touch off your game and expect to win the match. It doesn't matter what round you're playing in. We certainly have a lot of young great players. Just look at the top of the game, we have seen a few young ones really come along and already make their mark. I think tennis is in for a serious improvement even from here. Every ten years, I think tennis gets better and sports get stronger, athletes get stronger and tennis is no exception.

Q. Beyond the depth of talent, as you know, in terms of popularity, there always seems to be a need for personality, as well. How much do you see that among the top players now; that there's enough personality and sort of compelling stories to keep the public's attention?

ANDRE AGASSI: Well, first of all, let me just say it's hard to be terribly objective about that. I live with these guys on the road. I know them well, and I certainly have an appreciation for most of them on the court and off the court. When I think back ten years ago, I can't really pull myself out and say -- speak to what sort of personalities were out there. I see the guys who are great guys who went to work in different ways. And I think we see with Andy and the way he's been able to sort of capture the imagination of people and especially here in America, it's a great thing to watch. I think the game is expanded to all different parts of the world now. You take Srichaphan, for example, from Thailand. This is a country that's never had a player even compete in a big event, let alone be seeded and be a threat. So I think there's a lot of great stories. I think people have the opportunity of appreciating these stories when they can see it firsthand and see it often. You know, that's the part that I think is a little tougher now than it ever used to be. You know, Pete and I would, for example, play in a lot of big finals, and nowadays, I just think it's so easy for guys to lose because of the depth of the game; that maybe the stories just aren't out there as often. But I think the stories themselves are just as good, if not better.

Q. I hate to be the one to be the first to bring up retirement questions, but I guess somebody's got to do it.

ANDRE AGASSI: If you think you're the first, you're delusional.

Q. The first thing is, what do we make from your exit at the Australian Open?

ANDRE AGASSI: Well, I don't know what you make of it. What I make of it is pretty simple. I was playing some really good tennis. I played a really good match and lost to a guy who played a great match. To me, as far as I'm concerned, if the best players in the world have to play a great match to beat they me, that's all you can really hope for. I feel great about where things are. I certainly have a lot going on in my life, but nothing that has distracted me or detoured me from my goals on the tennis court.

Q. Wondering if extending your career either beyond this year or the next two years or whatever, is it contingent on, say, your ranking at the end of the season or your ranking at the end of next season or something along those lines?

ANDRE AGASSI: What I've sort of concluded to myself is that when I step on the court and I play my best tennis, can I still win? That's the question I want to answer. I think rankings can be deceiving at times. I'm not interested in working long; I'm interested in working hard and working well. So I would say that now the ranking would not be an issue. My game would be what I hope to base it entirely on.

Q. I need to ask you about your house in Tiburon. What's the status with that? And you said last year you were not using it as much as you'd like. How much have you used it between last year's Seibel Open and this year's?

ANDRE AGASSI: You interested in buying it? (Laughing).

Q. I'd love to but I think I'd have to mortgage quite a bit of it.

ANDRE AGASSI: Last year was a tough year in many respects, or a busy year I should say. With my wife being pregnant and giving birth in the fall and the amount of tennis I was playing and the businesses, all of this stuff that was sort of going on in my life in Vegas, we were here for probably two weeks last year. This year, we have already been here a little bit more than that already, leading up to Australia and coming back from Australia. It's something that the jury is still out as far as how our lives are going to unfold over the next year or two. So, we have to sort of be in position to play it by ear. I think it's hard to predict that by now.

Q. Is it still on the market officially?

ANDRE AGASSI: I believe it is. It might be coming off. I don't know if it's going to come off straightaway or as we see this here unfold.

Q. Following up when you were talking about working hard, working well, obviously your off-season regimen seems to be successful, and based on your success in Australia last year, your success early in the season, what do you do in the off-season and how would does it vary from other players?

ANDRE AGASSI: When you get older, you have to make adjustments here and there from the way your body is responding and getting the recovery time you need. Sometimes you have to push yourself harder. At other times, I've always been a big fan of strength training. I believe athletes, regardless of what it is you do, if you get stronger, you've just made yourself more capable. I've tried to sort of base my training on that theory, which is the stronger I get, the more capable I'm going to be as an athlete. I don't know how necessarily that compares to other players . I'm not sure sort of what most of them focus on. It's a very tough sport. The training time that you do have is spent away from all of the guys. But for me, I need to continually focus on getting better, and the only way I'm going to do that is to strive too become a better athlete, and I believe that happens off the court.

Q. How much has your regimen contributed to the fact that a lot of the guys who were your contemporaries are now retired?

ANDRE AGASSI: You know, in hindsight, I've made some pretty good decisions in my career as far as what it is I'm focused on, how I do my business. Partly because it's how my game is played, but also because I believe the stronger your body is, the more it can sort of endure the rigorous scheduling and surfaces and elements and environments that are constantly changing throughout the year. So I attribute the reason really why I'm still out there to the training and the decisions that Gil and I have made off the court.

Q. Your last three Slams you lost to three good players in competitive matches. Are you sure what you get into that match situation again, that you are going to be able to pull out a four- or five-setter, or are there doubts as to whether you can still beat those types of players at the Slams?

ANDRE AGASSI: No, I don't rally doubt that I can. I think for me, I have to believe that my best will get it done. Obviously, the last three have been disappointing, but they have been good matches. The guys that came up with the goods on that day have gone through a long time in my career where those matches have come consistently. So again I try to base it on the X's and O's of my tennis and I'm still believing in it.

Q. Do you feel like -- let's quickly go back to the Safin match where obviously you played very well and he played an excellent fifth set, but in that match, maybe against Federer at the Open and Corretja back at Roland Garros, and maybe even Philippoussis, were there things you could have done differently to get you over the top in those matches?

ANDRE AGASSI: I think in Paris, playing Corretja, like I said, that day there was not really a whole lot for me to do except play higher-risk tennis, which again, I did try to do. I just was outplayed on the surface that was not as comfortable for me as it was for him. In Wimbledon, Philippoussis through 45 aces. I have to give him full credit for coming up with a big second serve breakpoint down in the fifth set that I hit pretty well and it just missed; and that ball falls and you never know how that match goes. The US Open was a bit uneventful for me. In that loss, with the rain delay and playing those matches back to back in a row, it's not ideal for me at this stage for my body to respond, to recover so quickly from it. So I sort of chalk that one up to just difficult circumstances that I didn't quite get through. And then Australia I was less than an inch away from being up four sets to zero. So I feel like if anything, that gives me more belief.

Q. I want to ask you about the aspects of where your body and minds are at when you come to this tournament after the Australian, and how that has contrasted to times in your career when you were not playing the Australian, whether you have more momentum from having already played or the freshness factor?

ANDRE AGASSI: I think you always go out on the court and you work hard and try to play your best tennis. Sometimes you need it more than other times. And I think in the past when I didn't play Australia, this was my platform to sort of get my tennis legs under me and to get feeling good throughout the year. And it's been great for me in that respect, as recently as two years ago when I had to pull out of the Australian Open with my wrist. It's been a great platform for me. At this particular stage, I have the luxury of coming into this tournament feeling like my game is pretty sharp. My mind is certainly fresh, my body feels good and we are sort of on with this year. So I'm not coming in here needing to get comfortable. I'm sort of coming in here to continue where I'm at.

Q. On a completely different note, could you talk about your thoughts on James Blake and his tennis now? He had a little up-and-down not playing as well as he'd liked to last year, but he seemed to do better in Australia. Did you have a chance to watch him play or talk with him?

ANDRE AGASSI: Yeah, a little bit of both. James is a phenomenal athlete who has a lot of ability, and certainly, the firepower to beat any guy on any given day. What keeps him from the next level is something I would need to put a lot more sort of study behind because certainly from the outside he has a game that has a lot of potential. But you're talking about the best players in the world. If I'm not mistaken, he's ranked Top-30 in the world now. That's not an easy thing to do. So he just needs to put together his best tennis at the biggest moments and he still has plenty of time for that.

Q. You said recently that there were -- it's so tough in tennis; that there's so many different conflicting groups with so many different agendas and that you'd like to kind of put all of the groups together into one room and have them put aside their self-interests. If they were all together in that room, where would you start, what would be some of the things you'd like to talk about or what would be your agenda?

ANDRE AGASSI: Well, for me it's about everybody completely getting their arms around what a great sport this is, and if it was packaged and marketed right, the amount of growth that the game would experience. You're dealing with -- you're dealing with a lot of groups. You're dealing with personalities. And I think one of the things that you would find in common with everybody involved is that there would be a similar need for the game of tennis to grow. If we can somehow sort of bring the sport together from the standpoint of selling TV rights and just the overall marketing and package of our sport, I think it would be -- I think it would be in everybody's interest in the business side of it. And I think it would help the sports fan to have a clear understanding as to what the sport is about.

Q. Do you think there would be any danger of a mid-sized tournament like San Jose or Los Angeles might get lost in the process of kind of getting a unified Tour together?

ANDRE AGASSI: Well, I think there's potentials for a lot of sacrifice, not just from the tournaments such as San Jose or Scottsdale, tournaments that really are a lot of fun to be involved with. I think there would be sacrifices from players, as well. There would be sacrifices from and compromises from big tournaments, and I think it would take everybody trying to look out for the greater good of the sport. There's nobody that would want it all more than me. I would want everybody to be a part of this sport. But I wouldn't want that at the cost of the sport itself. So somewhere along the line, I believe compromises and sacrifices would have to be made. Where they would be made and how they would be made would certainly need to be a lot of thought put into.

Q. And lastly, the sacrifice the players might have to make?

ANDRE AGASSI: Well, you know, you don't know at this point because you don't know how everything would play out. But I believe as a player that I would be very willing to sacrifice any short-term gain in order to invest in the future of our sport. So it might be a financial sacrifice. It might be a playing requirement sacrifice where players might have to play more or less than they want to. Sacrifices could come in a dozen different sort of shapes and sizes. But again, it would have to -- it would have to be only through the lens of this sport moving as a whole, as opposed to as many moving parts.

Q. Just curious if you could give your opinion about how good do you think Andy Roddick is and how difficult will it be, obviously he lost the No. 1 ranking in Australia, but how difficult will it be for him or anyone to hold on to the No. 1 ranking long term?

ANDRE AGASSI: Well, it's never been anything but difficult for any player to hold onto that. I think you certainly have to say at this point that Federer is a class above at the moment, not Roddick, but the field. He's won two of the Slams that are on the year, and that's argument for him to be considered a class above right now. You know, I think Andy is an incredible talent which has a lot to look forward to as far as repeating his accomplishments and even accomplishing more. He has one of the biggest weapons that the game has seen in the serve of his. And, you know, what happens beyond that serve is sometimes a moot point because he never gets there. So, you know, we can sit back and say, well, what if Pete never had his serve, how would he have done? Or what if Federer didn't have his forehand or what if Roddick didn't have his serve? You have to assess it as an entire arsenal. And when you look at Andy that way, he's no question, one of the best.

Q. Little bit different direction, but I'm curious about how tournament directors kind of entice players to come to their events. And I'm just curious if you had any anecdotes from maybe some extremes that maybe some tournament people have tried to get you to come to their tournaments. I don't know if you have any interesting stories or background that I could throw into a story.

ANDRE AGASSI: You know, I've been in a little different situation for a number of years now. The last 10 years of my career, it's been about me making decisions that hopefully are best for my tennis. Where and when I play is always something that I valued but even more so now. I think it would probably be best to speak to those that have had a little bit more experience in engaging in those conversations. For me, I try to run it through the lens of what's best for my tennis. So most of the time when I'm having those conversations, I don't have the leverage because I want to be there playing, and I don't certainly engage in conversations where I know it doesn't serve me to play.

Q. Follow-up to that would be what originally attracted you to coming to this event and what's kept you coming? Obviously it sounds like it's fit well with what you want to do at this time of year.

ANDRE AGASSI: Well, yeah, early in my career when I first started coming, that was a time when I first started playing Australia. So it was key for me to get underway after Australia, and I felt like it was a great place to start, playing indoors with no elements. It gives you a chance to find your game. And plus, I've always enjoyed when this used to be in San Francisco. I enjoyed San Francisco and that's when I sort of started coming up here and that's when I fell in love with the area and I fell in love with the tournaments, the fans. I think it's one of best places to play. I enjoy it a lot.

Q. I wondered, among the young guys, is there one who stands out as having the best chance of emulating your career in terms of playing Grand Slam Championship calibre tennis into his 30s?

ANDRE AGASSI: Well that's not a function of talent. To some degree, you need to have, obviously, the options to cut corners when necessary, as far as you can't always -- it would be hard for just somebody who runs for a living to take a pounding over the years, for example. So there is some sort of ability that's attached to it, but most of it is discernment. It's decision making. It's focusing on the right things. It's being led in the right direction and that's something that, you know, I wouldn't be able to speak to any other individual about how they go about it.

Q. Getting back to what you were talking about with getting the different groups of tennis together and making the different changes to market the game, after you're done playing, is that something you'd like to step into, that kind of administrative role, Commissioner of Tennis, as it were?

ANDRE AGASSI: You know, I would have -- I would have a tremendous amount of interest in helping the sport that has been so good to me. What I would have no interest in would be some sort of token job title, the Commissioner of Tennis, so to speak. It would have to not just be a job title. It would have to actually have the parameters and the structure that would allow significant change to take place and to happen. I would be very interested in helping the sport any way I could. I would have no interest in a token job title.

Q. You've won been asked this four times having won the Australian Open, but what chance does Federer have of winning the Grand Slam this year?

ANDRE AGASSI: Like I've said so many times, this question was asked to me, starting the year off winning in Australia, I think it's one of the toughest things to do in sports. So based on that, you have to say the chances aren't great. But the fact that you're even engaging in that conversation speaks to his ability, because that accomplishment would be truly one of the greatest. I think he can win on all surfaces, which certainly is the platform you have to start with. But him being able to do it in one year is not easy.

Q. The sports leading bodies, ATP, USTA, if everybody came to you and said to you, "Andre, we are really going to have a Commissioner's job here in three or four years and now you are going to lead us into the 2010s, the next decade," would you realistically take it?

ANDRE AGASSI: Here's what I'll try to -- the most I can say to that is, I would need to understand what the structure is and what platform is set for change. Again, I'm not interested in just the job. I'd be interested in helping the sport. I believe that there's a lot of help that the sport needs right now, and I believe it can go a long ways in a very short period of time. It would require sacrifice and compromises from many different bodies of people, including the players. For that to be the groundwork that we're starting with, I would enjoy very much directing the potentials of where that could lead.

Q. When you take a look at the sports landscape you see a lot of athletes who are playing well into their 30s, and even some into their 40s. From your perspective why is it so tough for players to make it to 30 and well beyond 30 in tennis?

ANDRE AGASSI: Well, I think first of all, you're dealing with an individual sport. You're dealing with a sport that you can't get around sort of the difficulties that come along with age. You can't get around the -- you can't call time-out. You can't take your breaks. You don't have your off-season. It's a year-round sport. You can't recover and then prepare for an entire season. You have to sort of constantly negotiate where you're at physically, mentally. You're playing in different continents week after week. If you're not playing, somebody else is. Your job is in jeopardy if you don't force yourself to keep playing. We play on different surfaces, which has another wear-and-tear issue on your body. So, it's a sport that doesn't lend for longevity.

Q. Do you think that hurts the sport? Because you've had a long career and people can identify with you, but do you think that hurts the sport; that we don't have more, that tennis doesn't have more athletes that are well into their 30s? You've built quite a rapport over these years, and a lot of these guys leave the sport so quickly, it's like we hardly get to know a lot of them.

ANDRE AGASSI: I think it hurts the sport for players to have short-lived careers, no question about it. You know, we play a lot of tournaments in a short period of time, and some guys only make it through five or six years doing that. I'd rather see tennis be a bit more streamlined so that you have guys that are still competing for the biggest titles well over a decade. I think it would help people identify more, understand more, get to know these players better. I think it would only be good.

Q. When we had Andy Roddick on a conference all before the Australian, he made the point that for a while before last year in public, he would always be asked, could he beat Serena. Just curious if you sense a change in the public buzz; that the buzz maybe is more about the men's game now than it has been about the women's game in the last couple of years?

ANDRE AGASSI: Well, again, that's a tough subject for me to be objective on because I feel like I'm so sort of closely tied with the intensity of the men's game, which I've always had an appreciation for and a respect for. I can speak to the buzz that the women's game seemed to have a few years ago, with so many great athletes coming through the game sort of jumping leaps and bounds in skill level and athleticism. I think the women's game has grown tremendously. I think it has an incredible -- it has an incredible -- their play has incredible cast members, but it takes more than that to sort of be at your peak and you need a lot of things that come together. I think that right now when you look at how the men's went down in Australia, it was just, we almost had the top eight players in the world playing in the quarterfinals. That's a pretty amazing time and it's a pretty fortunate time for all of those players to come together like that.

GREG SHARKO: Thank you, everyone, for joining us this afternoon. Andre, thanks for your time and we wish you the best week.

End of FastScriptsâ?¦.

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