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Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Too Short For A Column

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Just when you thought there weren't any more headlines in Andre Agassi's incendiary, engrossing and endlessly human autobiography, "Open" (with J.R. Moehringer, from Knopf), the hits keep on coming.

In it:

Agassi hints he tanked games. "Losing on purpose isn't easy," he writes. "You have to lose in such a way that the crowd can't tell, and in a way that you can't tell. Your mind is tanking, but your body is fighting on. ... You don't do those tiny things you need to do. You don't run the extra few feet, you don't lunge. You're slow to come out of stops. You hesitate to bend or dig." Of losing in the semifinals of the 1996 Australian Open against Michael Chang -- a match Agassi suggests he tanked -- he writes, "I'm glad I lost."

Sportswriters who accused him of tanking often were wrong. "They never get it right," he writes in the diary-style format. "When I tank, they say I'm not good enough; when I'm not good enough, they say I tank."

He says his father calculated that when Agassi was 7, he made him hit 1 million balls in a single year.

He says his father gave him speed before the junior nationals in Chicago. Agassi writes he purposely made the match closer than it had to be, just so his father wouldn't make him take it again.

He did crystal meth partly out of self-loathing. "Apart from the buzz of getting high," he writes, "I get an undeniable satisfaction from harming myself and shortening my career. After decades of merely dabbling in masochism, I'm making it my mission. ... I hate tennis more than ever, but I hate myself more."

He was a bit of a pyromaniac. He liked to light things on fire. Once, on the balcony of a Munich hotel, he lit paper, clothes and shoes on fire, his way of coping with "extreme stress."

He had plenty of stress. He was so angry after then-girlfriend Brooke Shields licked actor Matt LeBlanc's hand at a live taping of "Friends," he stormed out, drove home and smashed all his trophies, including ones he won at the Davis Cup, U.S. Open and Wimbledon.

He was never sure he wanted to marry Shields. But he could relate to the actress. "She knows what it's like to grow up with a brash, ambitious, abrasive stage parent," he writes.

He claims that while Shields was getting in shape for the wedding, she taped a photo on her refrigerator of the "perfect woman" -- Steffi Graf (now his wife).

He says he got married with lifts in his shoes at Shields' request.

He says Shields got regular threats from stalkers, and he would put his longtime trainer, Gil Reyes, on a plane to stalk them back. "He ... appears ... at the stalker's house or workplace ... holds up the letter and says very softly, 'I know who you are and where you live. ... If you ever bother Brooke and Andre again, you will see me again, and you don't want that,'" Agassi writes.

He describes rival Pete Sampras as one-dimensional, "robotic" and a bad tipper, recalling a time Sampras gave a Palm Springs car valet one dollar. On the other hand, Agassi is grateful to have had Sampras' greatness to measure himself against. "Losing to Pete has caused me enormous pain," he writes, "but in the long run it's also made me more resilient. If I'd beaten Pete more often ... I'd have a better record ... but I'd be less."

He saves no love for Jimmy Connors, whom he calls a "rude, condescending, egomaniac prick." Of Connors' coaching Andy Roddick for a time, he writes, "Poor Andy."

He was incensed that Chang would point to the sky every time he won a match. "He thanks God -- credits God -- for the win, which offends me. That God should take sides in a tennis match, that God should side against me ... feels ludicrous and insulting."

He says Todd Martin was, "like me, an underachiever."

He insists that his sister, Rita, ran off with 32-years-older tennis legend Pancho Gonzales because their father was too contentious and controlling.

He notes that the irony of a man who never finished high school running one of the finest prep schools in Nevada is not lost on him. To say nothing of his school having a dress code.

And, perhaps the most shocking revelation of all: Beginning in 1999, he says, he never played wearing underwear again.

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