Agassi school of thought


the bald and the beautiful: Andre Agassi is grateful to the game of tennis that gave him his wife, German great Steffi Graf. AFP

Andre Agassi, the retired American tennis star, is hardly retired from the work force. At age 41, he has announced his goal, in conjunction with a Los Angeles-based investment firm, to finance the construction of as many as 75 charter schools in the United States in the next several years. In 2001, Agassi opened a charter school in Las Vegas, the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy, but he now intends to extend his reach with the backing of Canyon Capital Realty Advisors.

Agassi, in Paris for the French Open, discussed that project, as well as tennis subjects, with a group of reporters. He completed his collection of Grand Slam singles titles by winning the French Open in 1999, the same year that Steffi Graf won her sixth and final singles title in Paris. Agassi and Graf are married with two children.

Excerpts from the interview.

On his charter school plans: I’ve been working on this for the last year and a half. I’m partner with Canyon Capital, about a $20 billion investment firm out of southern California, and the idea is to access traditional for-profit capital to bridge the gap for these operators who know how to educate our children.

Agassi, who played on tour until age 36, on the 29-year-old Federer fighting time: At 29, the wear and tear he has on his body is probably a third more than I had, considerably more, so for him to be injury-free and to get out there at 29 and look like he’s at his best is remarkable. And the guy does it on any surface. What he’s done in the game is unparalleled, and I do leave room for Nadal to trump his career, but as of right now, I don’t see anything close to it.

On whether quitting tennis had left a hole in his life: I can truly say I’ve gone from hating this game for most of my life and most of my career to it giving me my school, to it giving me my wife, to then it giving me a chance to raise my children, to it giving me a chance to actually sit down and watch it without stressing it, without worry about it, without having to answer for it. So I actually enjoy it more now and every day it’s grown since I’ve been 27 years old.”

On the highlights of his post-tennis career: I don’t know if tennis turned me into this or I was good at tennis because this is hard-wired, but I don’t revel in things very long. It’s always about tomorrow. It’s always about the next step. I’ve had so many moments. I mean my book was a proud moment for me, even the two weeks before people got to read it and they heard about it. I kept telling everybody around me, including Longines, including my sponsors, I said, 'Don’t worry about it, please relax, once people get it, once people read it they will understand there’s a lot more to life than their perspective now before reading it. There’s a lot more to my life, there’s a lot more to the truth of this life. This will broaden tennis.

On whether that 2009 autobiography “Open” lost him any friends: As far as the personal relationships go, no, I included everybody in the process that I care greatly about as it relates to navigating our relationship. The rest, you are sort of obligated to tell the truth of how you see something or not do it. I wanted to be the harshest on myself, and I think I was and I think anybody who chooses to read it will conclude that.

On the importance of staying in the public eye through senior tennis and other projects to promote his educational goals: I think they all feed off each other. I really don’t think they are sort of done in a vacuum for me. I don’t need to be visible for the sake of being visible but if I do have the visibility I do feel like I have more ability to impact my mission and that’s always a good thing. My vision for my school is growing by the day. I think in tennis, you’ve seen tennis create a lot of amazing people throughout history that changed the way we look at ourselves and look at each other. And my hope would be that I can help and influence the way we as a society choose to look and address ourselves.

On the possibility of doing television commentary: I think to be a good commentator you have to stay really involved in the game. Otherwise you grow disconnected to it as it morphs and changes and gets better. When I was leaving the game, the spins and the Nadals, Federers and the way they can make the ball do whatever they want was something I experienced. So I can talk about it quite extensively. But all of the sudden you start seeing guys who come out. They are different kinds of players. They are bigger. They are stronger, and I haven’t competed against them, so to really talk about it in an educated way you have to be out there. So it’s a lot more to me than just showing up and talking about tennis. I don’t really do anything halfway anymore in my life.

On whether he and Graf discuss Paris and 1999, when they both won the French Open: We don’t really talk about it, but the memory is so alive. But you also live with the fact her experience was way different than mine. This was a hard tournament for me, so to get over the line at that moment was something special.

She had certainly a great moment in 1999 not being favored to win but my memory of Roland Garros is like Mount Everest, one step at a time with no oxygen. And I finally got there and the weather broke, and I had my window and made it to the summit. Quite a moment.

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