I can even say that I grew up with him. Following the tennis legend's actions, his success stories, his low phases and even his dalliances have always been my passion.
So, now, when the world of tennis, and sports in general, has been in the whirlwind focus post Agassi's shocking revelations, I thought that it is best to write my take on Agassi, here and now.
Agassi has always been the proverbial bad boy of tennis, at least for most of the commentators. He has been known for his colorful outfits, pop-star like hairstyle and flashy temperament, as much as his skills in the game of tennis.
Born in 1970, Agassi learnt the game of tennis at a young age and was egged on to compete by his domineering and ambitious dad. I would keenly follow Andre's career progress right from the days he turned a pro, way back in 1986. His charismatic service returns impressed me very much. A keen sense of anticipation on his part kept the game alive till the very end. And I would be hooked on to television, regardless of the fact that tennis wasn't exactly a popular sport among my peer group, and I lacked the knowledge of the game beyond the rudimentary. But there was something about Agassi, the player, the man..... it was magnetic, it was a magical charm.
I remember how ecstatic I would be when Agassi would win a match. When his powerful groundstrokes and deep angling would wear out his opponents, it felt so ecstatic.
In 2005, with the emergence of Roger Federer on the scene as the new tennis icon, I knew that Agassi faced more odds than ever. Agassi rolled his ankle in a racquetball accident & tore several ligaments and since then his fitness, that used to be the envy of all, took a major blow. Severe strain on the back, leg pain, and ankle injuries made Agassi stumble in many a match. Agassi announced his plans to retire following the US Open and I knew that watching tennis would not be the same for me.
Agassi had a short but dramatic run in his final US Open. Because of extreme back pain, Agassi was forced to receive anti-inflammatory injections after every match. I remember grimacing all the while as I saw him play in the second round. Agassi received an eight minute standing ovation from the crowd after the match, against Benjamin Becker, that he lost, and delivered a memorable retirement speech.
Since retirement, Agassi has been in the news for participating in a series of charity tournaments and for his work with his own charity, that focuses on the plight of the children who find themselves to be victims of war and persecution. In his personal life too he seemed to be having a near-perfect bliss after his marriage to Steffi Graf, yet another the tennis icon herself. Earlier, Agassi had a stormy two-year marriage with actress Brooke Shields, best known for films like 'The Blue Lagoon', 'Pretty Baby', and 'Endless Love'. But with Steffi, and their two kids, I could see Agassi as the lovable family man. They made a pretty picture - Agassi & Steffi and their kids - and I would smile contentedly, looking at the pics in the glossies.
But who knew that there was such a storm brewing in Andre's heart........!!!!
He had been battling his demons for long, and at last, he decided to come clean in his bare-all autobiography called "Open". The name befits the no-holds-barred account of Agassi's experiencing of drugs and other scandalous episodes that had been hidden from the world until now.
People might see it as an extension of the Devil-may-care attitude that Agassi has been known for even in his heydays, many are also crying out, "Shame! Shame!".....
However, I beg to differ....
I find such confessions on his part to be extremely brave and honest. Maye be all he seeks is comfort from baring all the ugliness from the past that had been casting its shadow even, and more so, upon his present state. His revelations, ranging from something as serious as having taken crystal meth, to something as bizarre as having used a hairpiece, might have outraged many, disgusted many more.... yet Agassi, to me is a true hero. I would just like to see a rise even in his supposed fall from the pedestal. Agassi has even admitted to having lied to the Association of Tennis Professionals when he was asked to explain a failed drugs test; this might lead to debates & repercussions. But Agassi knows that it is better to have come up with the candid confessions on his own than to wait for some jilted acquaintance to rake in the rewards with spilling of the beans. A true hero is one who goes the extra mile and battles the odds, and that includes battling one's inner demons for sure.
So, rise my hero, rise above all odds.