Agassi Visits U.S. Open, Signs Copies Of 'Open'
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
At the U.S. Open tennis championship in New York, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are still alive. They could meet up in the finals. The top seeded American, Andy Roddick, has been knocked out.
One of the great American players of the past who dropped by the tournament is a former U.S. Open champ. Andr� Agassi, who was once the top tennis player in the world - he retired in 2006 - he returned to the Open this year to sign copies of his autobiography, "Open," which is now out in paperback. That meant he was at the Open as a spectator.
Mr. ANDR� AGASSI (1994, 1999 Champion, U.S. Open): You know, it's a flood of emotions for me when I come back to New York any time during the year. But especially this time, it's memories that take me so far back to a wild teenager being a called a punk from somebody in the stands, to some of my greatest victories, to obviously the last memory I have here on the court - which is me saying goodbye to a sport I've played my whole life.
So it's just a flood of emotions. Im never quite sure how to place it, but it always feels great.
INSKEEP: I read somewhere that you showed at the U.S. Open and signed some books, but did not want to be in the spotlight, didnt want to be part of the festivities - which, you're Andr� Agassi, you could easily have been. You didnt do interview there.
Was that a conscious choice on your part?
Mr. AGASSI: You know, Im selective with how I engage with the game and where I engage with the game. You know, and my interest is contributing. You know? It's not about, you know, being out there celebrating anything for myself. You know, I mean there's the book that I spent three years writing, I believe is going to affect people. Generationally speaking, I think it's going to have a huge impact.
INSKEEP: What do you mean by affect people, generationally speaking?
Mr. AGASSI: Well, you know, I mean my book - I dont know if youve read it or not - but it's, you know, I've poured a thousand hours into it making sense of a life that people can relate to in a lot of different ways.
You know, my life was about a lot of rebellion. And my life was about identity issues and being labeled, and being told who I was by older people. My life was about forgiveness; forgiveness of yourself, forgiveness of your parents. It's a book thats going to help teenagers find themselves.
INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about that because you talk about trying to affect teenagers. When you were a teenager, you write - even though you were being pressed to play tennis and you were tremendously talented - you didnt like it.
Mr. AGASSI: Yeah, I had a real hate for the game early on. And the hatred came from what it felt like it was doing to my life.
You know, I was a child of four and I was the baby of the family. And, you know, everybody had that plan in their future, from my father, to be great tennis champions - the quickest road to the American dream - him being an Armenian living in Iran, an immigrant.
INSKEEP: So your father wanted you to be a great tennis champion.
Mr. AGASSI: He wanted me to be a great tennis - so the life was chosen certainly for me at that stage. And then got sent away to tennis academy in Bradenton, Florida at 13, where I started sort of that rebellion. So tennis always represented a - kind of a lot of drama in my life early on.
INSKEEP: What has your family said about the book, since it's been published?
Mr. AGASSI: My mom had a hard time reading the early years, to hear, you know, I write the book in present tense so it's pretty powerful to read what a seven-year-old is feeling and thinking, and how it relates to your environment at home. When she got past those first few chapters, then she settled into it and was really proud of me for it.
My father hasnt read it, told me he wouldnt. Says he'd do the same thing over again, except it wouldnt be tennis. It'd be baseball or golf...
Mr. AGASSI: ...because he felt like I could play it longer and make more money. So it's nice to know some things dont change in life.
(Soundbite of laughter)
INSKEEP: Why did your father refuse? Did he know what was coming? Even when he wasnt sure what you were writing, he said Im not going to read this?
Mr. AGASSI: Yeah, he just said, you know, he's embarrassed about the fact that he doesnt read very well. You know, he speaks five languages, none of them very well at all.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. AGASSI: And, you know, turning his lens on himself hasnt been a luxury he's had in his life. He came here not speaking a word of English and held two jobs and raised four kids. So I think he just wanted me to go through my experience with it and call it as I saw it.
INSKEEP: It's commonly said that there hasnt been a truly great American tennis player on the stage since you retired. Andy Roddick, of course, is very, very good. But as if to underline the story, he's been upset at the U.S. Open this week.
Mr. AGASSI: Well, you know, I got to believe that if Federer and Nadal were around when me and Pete were playing...
INSKEEP: You and Pete Sampras.
Mr. AGASSI: ...you might be - yeah - you might be asking somebody, you know, why Pete and Andr� aren't great. Because, you know, you guys out there right now that are doing things that are pretty remarkable. And Andy certainly has been in tough time, as it relates to coming into a dynasty of a couple of champions there that are taking all the prizes.
But he's one hell of a competitor, I tell you, and certainly brings a lot to the table. And, you know, he's getting older now and priorities sometimes shift. There's a lot of different decisions that need to get made, and if he makes them right he still has a window of time to do some great things.
INSKEEP: So you're not saying Americans have gotten worse. You're saying that Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal - who are not Americans - are just that good that they obliterate anybody else.
Mr. AGASSI: Well, thats certainly has it's been. It's not brain surgery to realize how much theyve dominated. But what Im sort of suggesting across the board, I think, is that globally speaking tennis has gotten much more competitive. I think with the technology thats happening and the strings, it's changed the kind of athlete we're seeing now.
We're seeing guys who rely a lot on their legs, play a lot of them way behind the baseline, six-foot-four taller and still move well. And they swing for the fences and get rewarded for those swings. And youve got courts like Wimbledon and grass thats playing more like a hard court. And the indoor courts, the balls are heavier and the courts are slower. So the child thats growing up in America, playing on the fast hard courts, is challenged in a different way than we used to be throughout the year.
Usually, that was the best way to learn tennis. And then you go, you adapt to the clay. But now with where everything is falling, it's better to be growing up on the slow surfaces, learning how to adapt your game to a few occasions where you have to play quicker courts.
INSKEEP: Hmm. Now that you dont have to play tennis, do you ever play?
Mr. AGASSI: I do every now and then. You know, I do some charity stuff for my foundation. I tie that in to some exhibitions across the globe, here and there. I take my wife out every now and then. When she wants some exercise, she talks me into hitting the ball and running her around, which I appreciate cause she hits the ball back to me and I still like to...
INSKEEP: You have Steffi Graff for a sparring partner.
Mr. AGASSI: Yeah, I still like the feeling of the ball off my strings. I just dont like the feeling of my body on the pavement.
(Soundbite of laughter)
INSKEEP: A little hard on the knees and the ankles.
Mr. AGASSI: Yes, everything is too - the ground is getting further away from me every day.
INSKEEP: Andr� Agassi's book, "Open: An Autobiography," is now out in paperback.
Thanks very much.
Mr. AGASSI: It was a pleasure. Thanks for your time.
INSKEEP: Renee Montagne is on assignment, traveling toward Afghanistan on this holiday weekend.
Im Steve Inskeep.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.