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3:10 PM Fri, Sept. 21st

Howard: Andre Agassi more than a great tennis player

My Point

These images offer a glimpse into Courier columnist Chris Howard's "man cave." (Chris Howard/Courtesy)

These images offer a glimpse into Courier columnist Chris Howard's "man cave." (Chris Howard/Courtesy)

Many moons ago when the Scottsdale Princess Resort held both a men’s and women’s professional tournament I had the pleasure of taking busloads of local tennis players down to watch some of the matches and at the same time interview the professionals playing matches there.

One of the instances involved interviewing Andre Agassi after a loss, where I thought I had an interesting question that column readers would like to hear the answer to.

Nick Bollettieri up until a few weeks before had been Andre’s coach, but they had had a falling out and the relationship had ended on a note of distain.

Bollettieri was also at the tournament now coaching Mark Philippoussis, so my question went like this to Agassi, “I was wondering if you and Nick might get together, have a beer and maybe work things out since you’re both here?”

Agassi wasn’t in a good mood since he had just lost his match, probably didn’t want to be there and looked at me with a glare and said slowly, “This interview is over.”

Guess he wasn’t ready for that question yet, because today they are back on good terms.

Agassi during his professional tennis debut created a following of people to the game much like Tiger Woods has done for golf, and that was great for the game of tennis, but it is just a byproduct of what he has become in life.

He won 60 singles titles, eight of them Grand Slams, a gold medal at the 1996 Olympics, was on three winning Davis Cup teams and had a great rivalry with Pete Sampras, Michael Chang, Boris Becker and Patrick Rafter.

Along with his success of winning over $30 million dollars in prize money he also made another $25 million a year in endorsements, but with the highs he had some lows, like 1997 when his ranking plummeted to 141, he admitted using crystal meth, his marriage to Brooke Shields dissolved.

Maybe, “Image is everything,” wasn’t.

As he fought back to become the player he believed he could be again, he was also evaluating life, surrounding himself with people who inspired him, who he wanted in his life, to help with his tennis, but even more so with what his life would become.

He married (2001) another top tennis player Steffi Graf, of which they now have two children Jaden and Jaz.

And at his last match in 2006 at the U.S. Open, he was given a 4-minute standing ovation and he followed with a moving speech, and he could of just lived happily ever after in retirement, but he had a goal he’d been working on of not just creating a foundation to give money to good causes, but to be the catalyst of something amazing, something substantial.

In 2009 his autobiography was released “OPEN”, which was just that, not much was left unsaid. In it you can see his journey, his learning curve, his will to become a better person — more than just a great tennis player.

He was raised in Las Vegas, Nevada, and had a vision to lead the charge and use his platform, resources and inspiration to build a Boys and Girls Club, and he did. Followed by the “Andre Agassi College Preparatowry Academy,” and then a cottage built for medically fragile children, and with other athletes a foundation called “Athletes for Hope,” that help people volunteer and support their communities — and there’s so much more.

Agassi, with the support of many others now, are changing the lives of thousands of children that didn’t have hope, didn’t have opportunity, didn’t have people in their lives to make a difference — and what he started is spreading too many other poor areas, places of despair.

If you want to see an inspirational video, look up Agassi’s induction to the International Tennis Hall of Fame. The person introducing Andre is the valedictorian of his Academy (Simone), listen to what she has to say, how her life and so many others have changed in such a drastic positive manner, and how that will continue to multiply itself.

The kid who only went through the ninth grade, whose mother finished his high school career for him writing his papers and taking his online tests, is much wiser, giving and hard working than most realize.

Even though I caught him on a bad day a few years ago, I look upon him today as a great man.

Chris Howard is a local USPTA Tennis Professional with over 40 years in the racquet and fitness industry. He can be reached at 928-642-6775 or choward4541@gmail.com.