ATP MEDIA CONFERENCE
February 7, 2001
GREG SHARKO: Good afternoon to everybody, good evening to some across the Atlantic. Welcome to our conference call with Andre Agassi, who joins us this afternoon from his home down in Las Vegas after capturing his seventh career Grand Slam title by winning his third Australian Open crown. He has now won at least one Grand Slam title for at least three straight years. Andre, who is the ATP Champions Race leader and the January ATP Player of the Month, will return to competition later this month at the Sybase Open in San Jose which begins February 26th, and he'll follow with appearances at the Franklin Templeton Tennis Classic in Scottsdale, the Tennis Masters Series in Indian Wells and Ericsson Open in Miami. Before returning to action, Andre will be busy off the court. Tomorrow afternoon in Las Vegas, the ceremonial groundbreaking for the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy will take place. The $4.1 million charter school is jointly funded by the Andre Agassi Charitable Foundation, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development and the State of Nevada serving underprivileged youth. The academy's curriculum will focus on technology and college preparation while introducing cultural activities and expanding social community affairs. Grades three to five will open next fall with grades six to twelve opening through 2008. Andre, I want to ask you what tomorrow's groundbreaking means to you, what impact it will have on the future of Las Vegas' youth.
ANDRE AGASSI: I appreciate that, Greg. Thanks and hello to everyone. Tomorrow is a big today because tomorrow we're actually starting the groundbreaking of the school that's been a dream of ours for a while now. The point is to bring the level of education, as well as expectation, to these children's lives. We believe that if a child is expected to do little, then the child will not disappoint. If a child is expected to work hard and to learn and to go to college, then a child will not disappoint. That's kind of the approach towards it. We have third through fifth. You kind of spoke the specifics of it quite well. We have the hope of every year opening up another class grade which will allow the children who are starting this to make it through to college.
GREG SHARKO: Thanks, Andre. Again, please feel free to ask questions.
Q. One thing I'd like to know about, two things actually, the appearance on the Simpson's that's coming up this Sunday. Can you tell us a bit about that, how it came about?
ANDRE AGASSI: Well, I was just actually asked to be a part of it. I think the Simpson's has been around a long time. I think it has added a lot to a lot of people's lives, including mine. I've always enjoyed the writing on the show, look forward to have an opportunity to be a part of it. Not much to it other than that. I recorded my part in it last summer when I was in Washington, DC, and have now been surprised with the fact that it's about to air. It's something that I'm anxious to see.
Q. Of course, the USA are playing in Switzerland this weekend in the Davis Cup. When you went to Zimbabwe a year ago, you ended up with the back injury which caused you to pull out of a tournament over there and you were out for about a month. Do you feel at this stage that you are a lot more comfortable with the fact that you haven't had to do a Davis Cup almost straight after the Australian Open, that you're free to move into the season coming up with all its crowded schedule?
ANDRE AGASSI: Well, I think the Davis Cup is an important event and I think my 12 years of service to it reflects that, as well as the quality of effort that I've brought to it every time I've played. So while I value the Davis Cup tremendously, I'm left with a situation where I have to make some pretty difficult decisions these days as to where I designate my energies and how I do. With the Davis Cup format the way it is, the way it's been scheduled after every Slam, it asks a lot of the players, it asks a lot out of the players, and it's something that 12 years later I just don't find myself in position to pull off to my standard.
Q. The school thing has taken us all by surprise. Thinking back to your school days, did you envisage that all this would happen when you were a kid of, say, 11, 12? Obviously tennis was a big part of your life from early days, but was it a dream of yours to achieve things like this?
ANDRE AGASSI: It was something I was led to be convinced was my future when I was very young. My father was very good about convincing me that I can do it. I was always better than the kids my age for most of my childhood, so my inspirations stayed very nurtured all through my early years. I think that the level of accomplishment is always in question, and to this day still is. I think there's still more out there that I might be able to do or might not be able to do. I don't really believe my approach to it has changed a whole lot, but I certainly would never have guessed to be here today, no.
Q. If you hadn't have been a tennis player, which way was your education pointing you? What might have been your career?
ANDRE AGASSI: Well, my education was pretty much getting me through eighth grade. I finished school through correspondence specifically for my tennis dreams. I'd have to say there was no Plan B.
Q. We had a press conference today for the ITF. Yet again the Davis Cup and participation came up. We were quite surprised at the dismissive attitude of any suggestion that the format might be changed. Given you've done 12 years, given everything to it, they won't actually listen to any changes, does that surprise you?
ANDRE AGASSI: Well, no, it doesn't surprise me. I think every business has a responsibility to understand all the components. I'm sure there are components involved here that I haven't understood from a very direct perspective. And for me, I need to be informed to make decisions on behalf of the ITF. By the same token, I can do my part by being clear about what I think it asks of the players. I believe that if golf had The Ryder Cup four times a year, after every Grand Slam, that you would see a lot of players that would struggle with playing. Americans are not the only ones that struggle getting the players by any stretch of the imagination. I also believe that 12 years of service puts a person in a position to say, "I've done it and I've been part of it, and it's not quite -- I'm not quite able to perform to those requirements by my same standard."
Q. I'll ask you a tennis question. At your age, having just gotten done playing seven matches, 20 some sets in sometimes grueling conditions, what is your recovery like at this stage in the game? What are you doing differently now after a tournament like this that you haven't done in the past?
ANDRE AGASSI: I think you get more experience with everything. You get more experience with your preparation and your recovery. For me, recovery has -- I have the luxury of it being a lot more mental in some cases and emotional than physical. I'm healthy, which is always the most important thing. Then you follow that up with recuperating with your mind, allowing yourself to really get away from the game without compromising your preparation for what's ahead of you. So those things you get smarter about. And for me now, barring injury, I'm doing everything a lot better. I mean, I think my body's responding a lot better. But if there is a kink in the armor, so to speak, I think at 30, going on 31, it's tougher to recover from than 21.
Q. Let's go back to the school. What was the genesis of this?
ANDRE AGASSI: Well, I've had a foundation now for over six years. We're focused on reaching kids at risk, kids who need help, whether it's education, whether it's shelter, whether it's clothes, whether it's just the opportunity to make better decisions in their lives. The school has just kind of been where we've ended up. It's been the latest dream in our efforts to make a difference here in Las Vegas. I really don't know what else to say about that outside the fact that without education, a child would have nearly no chance.
Q. The Simpson's appearance, who is your character?
ANDRE AGASSI: My character is myself.
ANDRE AGASSI: Yeah. I kind of saw the likeness. I can't honestly say that I'm proud of my appearance there (laughter). I guess, you know, when I'm standing next to Homer and Bart, I'll look a little better. GREG SHARKO: I might add that the school also will be within a mile of the Andre Agassi Boys and Girls Club that was built in 1997.
Q. Maybe it's kind of early, but I just want to know what is your opinion about the Ericsson Open? Are you looking forward to coming to Miami and playing in Miami?
ANDRE AGASSI: Well, I love it there in Miami. I've always enjoyed that tournament very much. I think the conditions suit me on the court and off the court. I've always enjoyed myself and highly anticipate those ten days. Yes, I'm very excited and looking forward to playing well there this year.
Q. Seven Grand Slams now. I was wondering how much thought you're starting to give to your place in tennis history and where you rank?
ANDRE AGASSI: Well, my thought to my place in tennis history isn't relevant really to that same issue. It's like my place in tennis history is only going to be clear if I focus and do everything I can to be the best that I can and allow everyone to argue those things hopefully forever. That's the greatest part about it. There's no proving who's the best in anything and you have to make a good argument for it.
Q. Do you feel comfortable with the notion that you have become one of the best players to play the game?
ANDRE AGASSI: I mean, I feel overwhelmed by that concept. Those are just perceptions and words; they don't ever really impact me as much as what it feels like to step out on the court in front of all the audiences that I've gotten to know through the years. That to me, I think I appreciate and enjoy more.
Q. I'll ask a swimming question. Tell us about your dip in the Yarra River.
ANDRE AGASSI: Well, that wasn't intended for people to know about. I just said three weeks earlier, if I happen to win here, I would have to jump in. You look at the same river for a month preparing for the possibility of holding up that trophy. When it was all said and done, I really didn't want to, and I kind of wish I hadn't said it, but I said I would do it. I pulled over, just jumped in. Nobody saw anything, excluding when I walked through the lobby of the hotel wet.
Q. Why do you say you kind of regretted having said you would do it?
ANDRE AGASSI: Because it was a lot dirtier than I anticipated (laughter).
Q. I wanted to ask you, is Pete involved in the Simpson's episode, as well?
ANDRE AGASSI: Yes, he is, as well as the Williams sisters.
Q. Did any of you do your parts at the same time or was it all done separately?
ANDRE AGASSI: No, it was all done separately.
Q. I read where you worked out on Christmas Day. Is that true?
ANDRE AGASSI: Yeah.
Q. What is driving you now compared to earlier in your career?
ANDRE AGASSI: Well, that particular day, the thought of a big turkey dinner was motivating me to work out. I think overall it's about knowing what I need to do to even have a chance, staying fit. Being at the top of my physical fitness is not just an asset, it's a necessity. If I want to continue to play this game the way I play it, I have to establish myself as a physical presence on the court.
Q. What's it like for you to be able to actually stay home for a few weeks, go to San Jose, come to Scottsdale?
ANDRE AGASSI: It's a great time of the year. I think the sport, being a year-round sport, all different parts of the world, it's an opportunity for people to enjoy certain parts of the year more than others. I've got to say that it's nice to come back from Australia, have some time off, and start up again in some areas that I really enjoy. I enjoy San Jose, I enjoy Scottsdale, Palm Springs, Key Biscayne. It's just what I call a nice run.
Q. You've won every Grand Slam, but these Tennis Masters Series are like the next level. Are there certain Tennis Masters Series that you kind of look at now that you'd like to add to your trophy case?
ANDRE AGASSI: The one that jumps to mind is Palm Springs. It's been the -- I've been to the finals there twice, semis there. You know, it's a tournament that is on hard court, it's in the desert. I've grown up on hard courts, I've grown up in the desert. I'm a little disappointed that I haven't won it. I want to win that one.
Q. The New Balls campaign, kinds of sets the stage for old guard versus new guard this season. Is that how you see it?
ANDRE AGASSI: Here is my perspective on it, real simple: It's about what happens on the court, inside the lines. For four or five years, I've looked at young guys and their games and had to assess how I need to get better to deal with them. So regardless how they're marketed, how I'm marketed, or the lack of any marketing, it doesn't change what happens on the court. The great thing about the guys in that ad is they force me to get better. So my perspective is really as simple as that. I don't care how many posters you're on; I care about your game.
Q. I have to ask about those rumors about impending fatherhood. Is it true?
ANDRE AGASSI: You know, if you're interested enough to ask that question, I'll leave you with the most exciting part, and that is reading it and wondering. I can't start addressing every rumor that gets printed. I'm not going to start now.
Q. Do you think without you and Pete, that the United States can beat Switzerland this weekend?
ANDRE AGASSI: I'd say we have a 58% chance of winning. I'm just basing it on my experience with Davis Cup, knowing the players that are involved. I would still give us the edge to win in Switzerland. It's going to have to happen from a team effort standpoint. Federer is most likely going to have to three-point it. That's always a tough task. At the end of the day, I do think we will beat Switzerland.
Q. Back to the education bit. You obviously didn't go to college, weren't brought up thinking in terms of that. Do you ever think that maybe you missed out on that experience? Also, did you have any friends that were at school that you visited to get a taste of it?
ANDRE AGASSI: Oh, sure. That's why I've always enjoyed Washington so much because it's where my best friend Perry went to school.
ANDRE AGASSI: Georgetown. So I did miss out. I missed out on a experience that I will never be able to get back in the same context. But it's hard to have it all. It's a choice that was made, certainly one that I don't regret because I also gained a lot. I try to balance the cost with the benefits. And I did get enough of a feel for it that I understood how much I was missing out on much, you know, what it would have offered me both from a work standpoint and a pleasure standpoint.
Q. Do you think that's anything you might ever pursue in the future just for yourself?
ANDRE AGASSI: I could see myself being very specific in certain studies, but I can't see myself valuing just the whole process of an education for the sake of, but studying specifically.
Q. What do you think about the fact that Patrick chose Andy Roddick?
ANDRE AGASSI: Well, I think Patrick is doing a great job. I love the way he thinks about Davis Cup. I love the way he considers everybody in what he says and what he does. I think he's a great captain. I think he's capable of being a great leader for that team. I think it's very important for the young guys to be able to get a -- to taste a part of it. I've done it for many years, and it's been a tremendous part of my career. For that not to be experienced by all would be a crime, especially if you're the best coming up. It's time for Andy to step up and get a feel for it.
Q. A lot of this conference has been about non-tennis things. How do you juggle all those things in your life now that you're older with more personal commitments, other business commitments, the charity, the Simpson's?
ANDRE AGASSI: Very carefully is probably the easiest answer. It's not an easy thing. You have a lot you care about, a lot you want to do well. It requires you to constantly make choices. Some of them aren't easy, but clear. I find that it's a daily balance, one that I don't succeed with a lot of times.
Q. Last year seemed to be an emotional time with you for your -- your mom and sister being ill. How are they doing now? Has it been easier now to focus on tennis knowing they are getting better?
ANDRE AGASSI: Well, they are getting better. They're doing great. We're all doing great. I think battles take place on the court and off the court. We've had some battles off the court, and they've been fought, and they're still being addressed. But, you know, you get to a point where you feel like things have been handled and dealt with. I'm not a guy that can be stretched too thin when it comes to what I'm focusing on and how I'm focusing. So I am more prepared now for other things.
Q. Aside from your swim, what did you do to celebrate after Australia? What have you been doing the last couple weeks at home to recuperate?
ANDRE AGASSI: Well, I celebrated my win with Qantas, which was good. I got to go home. I got back here and celebrated with friends and family, which was a very nice time. I've carved myself a little bit of time to sit back and enjoy. I think the celebration happens a lot more quietly as you get older.
Q. Can you talk about Gil and the effect he's had on your training.
ANDRE AGASSI: For me it's immeasurable how much Gil has impacted my career, especially as I get older even more importantly it becomes a factor. You have to be fit, you have to be prepared. That's something that's in your control. There's nothing worse than somebody taking their desire and commitment to be fit and not seeing the results. That's a crime. It's also a crime to take somebody's desire and commitments and to run them so hard that they run straight into a brick wall and get dead legs or lose their enthusiasm. Like any profession, it requires some subtle judgments that are crucial. Gil, in my opinion, is the finest in the world at making those decisions.
Q. How intensely do you intend to be involved with the school, hands-on, being with the kids?
ANDRE AGASSI: Well, you know, you designate your time and energy the best you can, where you can make the most difference. In this particular case, I'm hoping that in fourth grade, they're going to be helping me with understanding what it is they're doing more than me being able to help them. That's how much we hope to educate them. It's about putting the people in the right spot. It's about not just getting up the brick and mortar, but filling it with people who care. Those decisions I'm very hands-on with. As long as I'm traveling as much as I am, I'm going to continue doing that well so I can provide these opportunities.
Q. A lot of kids these days are growing up with dreams of becoming professional athletes, and short-changing their education to get there in some cases. What are you going to tell those kids?
ANDRE AGASSI: It's something that you have to dream. You can't take away dreams from a child or any of us. Everybody has the right to dream and to strive for those dreams. But I don't believe you have to strive at those dreams with the cost of keeping yourself prepared for whatever life throws at you. That's what it boils down to. It boils down to continue to dream, continue to work hard in your athletics, but also take care of your mind and your education. That's possible to do.
Q. In your opinion, how does tennis compare to other pro sports in terms of the athletic talent required?
ANDRE AGASSI: Hard to say when you don't play the other sports. I can speak for tennis. You know, I can tell you the incredible athleticism that I feel it takes to play it well. Ultimately, you're dealing with how much of the sport, if anything, is based on. If you're a great athlete, how much of an advantage does that give you in that sport? I can honestly tell you that in tennis, the greater the athlete you are, the greater your ability becomes to win and the more you separate yourself. From that standpoint, I think it requires strength, it requires fitness, it requires eye-hand, it requires every component. To what degree would be ignorant for me to speak because I don't know what's required specifically in the other sports.
Q. This is a related question. Do you think black players will eventually dominate tennis as they have in several other sports?
ANDRE AGASSI: I don't believe it's a color issue. I believe it's an issue of athleticism and opportunity. I believe that at the end of the day, the greatest athletes will succeed. Doesn't matter whether you're black or white, has nothing to do with it.
Q. How do you think the US Davis Cup team will fare maybe over the next couple of years as they're making this transition to younger players?
ANDRE AGASSI: Well, I think every country goes through their times where they have a lot of players. Sweden had it, Spain had it, America's had it, Australia has had it. There's a lot of players out there. It's an international sport. The young best players in the world are not from this country. We've seen Safin succeed, we've seen Hewitt succeed, we've seen Kuerten. We've seen some great players. Right now America is not at the forefront of the future of tennis. I believe that that can change. I believe players like Andy Roddick are helping that change. I also believe that we're comparing the future of American tennis to a pretty tough standard with the group that came through with Sampras and Courier and Chang and Todd Martin. I mean, this is an incredible group of guys that have come through, who have accomplished really absurd accomplishments. That's a tough standard to live up to.
Q. Back to the format. What would you suggest would be most useful to the players to help them participate more? You indicated it wasn't just Americans that had a problem with the format.
ANDRE AGASSI: My concern is twofold. I also think it's an issue that would help the public to even understand better if it was ideally an every-other-year event that had a top group, little bit more narrow of a group, maybe six to eight teams that would play the whole event in a two-week period in the defending champion's home country and have it be a format which forces other countries to qualify for. That davis Cup experience can take you year-round every year, but have the real deal be every other year and happen all in a two-week format where the public can have a better sense for why you play Davis Cup and what it's all about.
Q. What about the possibility of all four legs of the Grand Slam in one year? Are we ever going to see it done? Is there a possibility that a 31-year-old guy from Las Vegas can do it?
ANDRE AGASSI: Every year after the finals of the Australian Open it's a possibility. It's a possibility every year because somebody has to win the first one. The second they win the first one, they're the only ones that can win all of them. That's the extent of the possibility. I really believe it's one of the most difficult things in sports to do. I believe we'll see McGwire's home run record be broken before we see that. Hopefully we'll see that before the US Open and maybe I'll have a chance. It's not an easy accomplishment.
GREG SHARKO: Rod Laver was 31 when he won the Grand Slam in '69.
Q. Steve Young once said there's a time in every athlete's career where the mind completely understands the game and the body still can respond and capitalize on that knowledge. Do you feel you're at that point now?
ANDRE AGASSI: Well, I do believe that experience is a great asset. I feel like I always thought a lot about the fundamentals and the strategies of the game of tennis. I've needed to to win the way I play. I do believe I'm prepared for any situation that's out there mentally. You need to stay healthy and your body needs to respond. If you can do that, you have an advantage. I would agree that that's what you would call the peak of somebody's career. I don't believe it has to happen in your 20s.
Q. Do you think it's possible for a player who has gone to college to be successful on the men's tour?
ANDRE AGASSI: No. I think they're too far behind. I think you have too many countries in our sport that are putting these kids out at a very young age. I think every year that a college student is playing tennis, that's a year behind they are when it comes to the game itself.
Q. Your thoughts on coming to play the Sybase, especially since this area is a pseudo-hometown now?
ANDRE AGASSI: I wouldn't go that far. Let's call it like it is. Vegas is my life. Everything is here, my friends, family, office, foundation, home. While I love the Bay Area, I look forward to spending some time up there, like I have over the last several years working with Brad up there. The Sybase to me has always been a tournament I enjoy. I think Barry does a great job with the event. I think the fans come out and support it in a very intimate and personal way. I believe it has a field that's worthy of challenging you to a point where you're preparing for the big ones that are coming up so it's a win-win for everybody. I love being up there.
Q. I was interested in asking you about, it's been said that you're buying a house up in Tiburon. I live in Marin. I wondered why you would enjoy Marin so much, why did you decide to buy a house here?
ANDRE AGASSI: Well, I mean, I enjoy it a lot because I think it's beautiful. I mean, I've always loved San Francisco. I love being close to a big city where you've experienced different things. I've traveled the world and I've enjoyed going to visit San Francisco. I guess the best reason I could give for having a getaway kind of place to go to up there is because I love it up there and I'm in a position where I can do it. That's a great luxury that I'm choosing to spend by going up there.
Q. A lot of athletes have charitable foundations or do charity type work. It's obvious you've made an extraordinary commitment. Was there someone or some incident you encountered in your life that made you particularly concerned about underprivileged children?
ANDRE AGASSI: No, nothing specific. I've got to say that giving back, it's an ethical question, it's an issue that you have to come to terms with on the big level. How and when am I going to give back? I believe the later you wait, the less you're capable of doing it effectively. For me it's always been I'm going to give back, I'm going to make a difference, the question is how. Children to me seem like the greatest way to spend those energies. It's our future. When you touch a child's life, you never know the lives that they're going to touch. It seemed like a no-brainer to me.
Q. A little bit about your dad. There's stories out there that he was the one to teach you to stand within the court, put you out there with ball machines, raised you to be a star, put a ball over your crib. Could you talk about his role in your early development, what impact he had?
ANDRE AGASSI: Yeah. Without my dad I never would be where I am today. He nurtured an ability that I believe had the potential to accomplish winning big tournaments. Let's keep in perspective that I have two sisters and a brother. All of us were raised by my father, who loved tennis, and taught us to do it. You have to be taught right and you have to have the ability to do it. Those are combinations that don't always come together in a parent/child relationship. In my case, he taught me the greatest way, in my opinion, to play the game of tennis. I was able to do it.
Q. That was standing in close, attacking, hitting out?
ANDRE AGASSI: That was not to be a serve-volleyer, but not to be a counter-puncher, to actually play the game mid-court, to take the ball on the rise. Every second you take it earlier is a second less time your opponent has, and it allows you to not even have to hit the ball as big to get the same results.
GREG SHARKO: We do appreciate you taking the time this afternoon.
ANDRE AGASSI: No problem.
GREG SHARKO: I think you'll have a great day tomorrow. Congratulations on helping the youth in Las Vegas.
ANDRE AGASSI: Thanks so much, Greg. Everybody take care.
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