Documentary gives closer look

Updated: January 16, 2004, 6:59 PM ET
By Cynthia Faulkner | ESPN.com

It's all too easy to think that the life of a tennis player is about practicing and then playing the matches. Where do I sign up? But a recent documentary produced by the ATP, "Aces: Agassi, Roddick and the Tennis Masters Cup" (ESPN2, noon ET, Saturday) visits the 2003 Masters Cup in Houston to show the effort behind and the downside to the lifestyle that the fans rarely see.

At every tournament, the players are required to make appearances to help promote the event. They sign autographs, sit for photo shoots and basically just show up for people to meet and greet. They are on display. As this tournament begins, they even take a walk on a red-carpeted runway of sorts, with Guillermo Coria having perfected the beauty queen's arm-saving wave. At the end they all don Stetsons -- in honor of Houston. Unfortunately, only Texan Andy Roddick looks like he belongs in one.

The action in the hour-long documentary begins with what turns out to be some of the best tennis played all year as Australian Open champion Andre Agassi takes on Wimbledon champion Roger Federer. Both players bring their "A" game on this night, but in the end Federer comes away with his first victory over Agassi. The cameras follow Agassi into the locker room to surprisingly find this 33-year-old veteran near tears. Apparently losing never gets easier even after eight Grand Slam titles and a record-holding 16 Masters Series titles.

The locker-room shots are unusual. While the locker room is an area for quiet preparation, one generally reserved for players, coaches and ATP personnel, a player shares it with his opponent and his coach. Even after just losing to him.

Between matches and personal appearances, players have a lot of time on their hands, unless they're lucky enough for the tournament to be in their hometown. They have to wait for matches to finish -- prepared to take the court whether the match goes three sets or five. Players kill part of the time with therapists and trainers. The rest of the time is often spent in some kind of competition -- video games, golf or maybe a little one-on-one basketball. While watching TV at one point, Federer talks about the luxury of spending two weeks in one hotel, allowing these world travelers to settle in a little.

No one, however, has more time than Mark Philippoussis -- the alternate. The Australian has traveled half a world away to be in Houston just in case he's needed. This time he's not.

The documentary shows a mix of game-playing and serious moments. Both are combined as Roddick officially takes over the year-end No. 1 ranking. Afterward, during his press conference, a sneaky visit from fellow American and pal Mardy Fish shows off the two sides of Roddick -- the kid and the professional.

A serious moment comes as David Nalbandian's frustration on court carries off it into a heated discussion with the tournament officials. (Listen closely, is that George Bush Sr. in the background talking about the situation? Maybe.)

Speaking of the former president, Agassi flashes an almost childlike, ear-to-ear grin as Bush Sr. makes a surprise visit. Agassi, now a proud papa of two, came prepared to show Barbara Bush photos of his children. It's a unique moment. Usually, it's Agassi impressing people with his presence.

In a mild reminder of Agassi's former wild-child days, Bush asks him if he remembers that the then-first lady wouldn't let Agassi play in front of them if he didn't wear all white. Yes, indeed, Agassi remembers, looking a little chagrined.

From off-court discussions, to Juan Carlos Ferrero golfing, to Carlos Moya's therapeutic massage, the documentary gives the fan access to sights they'd never be able to see otherwise. It can be purchased on DVD at atptennis.com.

Cynthia Faulkner is the tennis editor for ESPN.com.