World – Agassi’s redemption song
In a long, cathartic journey of personal redemption, bravely enacted in the full public gaze, Andre Agassi may have arrived at a defining moral point. In admitting to taking crystal methamphetamine — a highly addictive stimulant that causes numerous neurotransmitters to be released in the brain — the eight-time Grand Slam champion may be sending out a simple message to his fans and the tennis community worldwide. Image doesn’t matter to him; truth does; and he can’t live any longer with a “central lie.” The irony that underpins Agassi’s mea culpa is the fact that it might not have been a big shock had it happened in 1997, when he consumed the hard drug. That was a year when the flashy anti-hero from Las Vegas went through a time of troubles on and off the tennis court. His marriage with actress Brooke Shields was collapsing and with that his world ranking plummeted to No.141. He was emotionally at his most vulnerable and susceptible to all kinds of influence, as the former world champion points out in his forthcoming autobiography, Open, excerpts from which were published in The Times (London). From that low point, Agassi authored one of the most stirring comebacks in sport — to pole-vault back into the Top Ten in 1998. The following year, he won the French Open title to become only the fifth man in tennis history to complete a Career Grand Slam.
Remarkably, the start of the most productive part of Agassi’s career coincided with the beginning of his relationship with Steffi Graf, winner of 22 Grand Slam singles titles. The great German provided the American the emotional bulwark that had proved elusive in his personal life. Enduring a rocky relationship with an overbearing father, Mike Agassi, a former Iranian Olympic boxer of Armenian-Assyrian descent, the future champion was exploited from an early age by avaricious agents and promoters. He was assigned a role and told who he was before he had the opportunity and the emotional maturity to find out who he wanted to be. Nothing better exemplified this than the 1990 camera advertisement tagline featuring him, “Image is everything.” But the rebellion slowly brewing inside Agassi came out in the open post-1997, as he distanced himself from his former persona. It is hard to believe that this highly intelligent man with an analytical bent has spilled his guts in a book just to sell it. Agassi and Graf have been two of the biggest philanthropists in modern sport. Almost certainly, it wasn’t about money. It was his way of telling us all: ‘Hey, watch out, there are pitfalls on this road.’ Agassi did not set out to be a role model; he only wanted to be the best player and person he can be. He may have achieved that goal by living a well-examined life.
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