CHRISTOPHER CLOUSER: Good afternoon, everyone. With me here besides Andre and Anne Marie is Mark Stenning, who’s CEO of the Tennis Hall of Fame. I thought we’d take a minute with Tony Trabert. Tony is the president of the Tennis Hall of Fame. He also chairs the enshrining nominating committee, and it always comes up as we are fortunate enough to announce an inductee, the process. So Tony, will you take just a minute and go through what you and your committee do?
TONY TRABERT: Sure. We have people that are proposed for the Hall of Fame. We go to that group of people, and if we think they are worthy we put them in a book that we call. We have recent player category, we have master player category, a contributor category and now a wheelchair category, and we have an enshrinement nominating committee at Wimbledon each year, at which time we talk about the recent players we think should be on the ballot.
We are 21 on that committee, international, and then we vote for any of the master players we think should be on and then contributors. And then it goes to — we have various panels that vote, and some of the same — some people are on both voting panels, some are not, and you have to get 75 percent of the votes that are returned to be elected.
CHRISTOPHER CLOUSER: Tony Trabert was elected in 1970 and serving as our president of the International Tennis Hall of Fame. We are here in Las Vegas at Agassi Prep. We had a wonderful ceremony here with 600 students who now represent kindergarten through the 12th grade. It’s my fourth time back at the school, and every time I come I’m a little more uncomfortable because I know I could never get in here. It’s a wonderful place, and it was an emotional thing.
I said to the group, 25 years ago today there was an announcement that went out of the Tennis Hall of Fame that announced the selection of Arthur Ashe to the Tennis Hall of Fame, and that July 25 years ago, Andre was 15, I was much older, let’s just say way out of college, and I think if Arthur was here today, not just because of the tennis accomplishments, and I don’t think Jeanne would mind, who serves on our board, I think Arthur would say today he’s met his match. He’s met his match on the court, his match as a human being, as a philanthropist, a guy that was committed to improving people’s lives on top of committing every tennis accolade there is.
That’s what we told the students today and then Andre took some wonderful questions and said how important this was to him. I’m sorry you all weren’t there, but it was a wonderful ceremony. So Andre has been nice enough after being worked over by these 600 students and the press to take some questions today. Is there a question that you all would like to address to Andre?
Q. You had a great career obviously, a lot of incarnations during your career. I was just curious how you want to be remembered, what do you want your legacy to be in tennis?
ANDRE AGASSI: Well, I was hoping you didn’t notice those tips and turns through my career. You know, this is such a special moment for so many reasons, but mostly for me today because it was done here at the school and so profoundly connects my past and my future. You know, tennis was a vehicle that gave me my life’s work.
You know, tennis allowed me the opportunity to impact people for a few hours when I was playing, and then my career has given me an opportunity to impact people for a lifetime if not generationally. And my hope, like in tennis, was to leave the sport better off than it was when I entered it. That was always my hope as it relates to life and legacy. My hope is to leave everybody in my life starting with my own family and then my extended family, which is the school, better off for having me a part of their lives.
Q. One of the things that fascinates me so much about your story and came through so well in your book is this sort of mixed message if you turn back the clock to the days when your dad was firing balls at you out on the court and you were feeling like you really missed out on the, quote-unquote, normal childhood. And then you came up through the game, and now here you are going into the Hall, and all these incredible achievements that have happened in your life, the prep school, et cetera, et cetera, happened because of the tennis. I wonder if you could reflect on that a little bit. Was it worth it, all the sacrifices that you made during your childhood?
ANDRE AGASSI: Well, I’ll answer that with the short answer, which is yes. It was worth it because we all have our cross to bear in life, so to speak, and while mine were certainly unique in some cases, it did teach me a lot about myself. I learned a lot about myself, probably at a slower rate in some cases, but in others at a faster rate. And at each intersection of my life I was always striving to understand myself better.
And I had what I call a hate-love relationship with tennis, not a love-hate. I went from resenting a life that was chosen for me to at 27 years old after being No. 1 and then falling to No. 141 chose to take ownership of my life and to find a reason to do what it is I do, and then that’s when I started the school. And I built this school, and I all of a sudden felt like I was connected to a team. All of a sudden tennis felt like a team sport. I felt like I was playing for something but I was also playing — I was connected to something but I was also playing for something much larger than myself.
And it then gave me my life’s meaning, my purpose. It then gave me my wife, and as a result, I’m so grateful for where I find myself for many reasons, but starting with the fact that I have this opportunity to change these children’s experiences, these children’s expectations, and ultimately their lives.
Q. If I could just follow up, in the tennis business, of course, we always talk about what it takes to create a champion, what the ideal tennis parent is, so now looking back would you say that the way that he raised you — are you saying some of that was really necessary, maybe some of that pushing is what you need to go through to get to all you’ve achieved?
ANDRE AGASSI: Well, I can’t honestly say that you need to go through that. You know, when you look at other people’s experiences, I don’t know how transparent they are. You look at a Federer who seems to be so comfortable on the court and comfortable in his own skin, and to do things so gracefully and so easily, and hopefully he has a healthy upbringing in the game.
My father made a lot of decisions that I wouldn’t make, unquestionably, and I represented him not as abusive, but I represented him as very intense. Along with that intensity came intense love, came intense generosity, came intense us against the world, and also came intense pride. And there’s something very profound about a young man feeling like his dad is proud of him, and I always felt that. He used to introduce me as the No. 1 player in the world, future No. 1 player in the world, so there was a lot that I represented about him. I think it was a loving, honest portrayal.
But do I think you need to make the decisions he made to succeed? Absolutely not. You need nature and you need nurture. You need to be born with a gift, no question; it’s too competitive to be the best in the world at anything to not be born with a certain gift. But you also need it nurtured so that that gift can flourish, and in my dad’s case nurturing meant thousands of tennis balls and intensity, but in other cases I don’t think it needs to mean that.
Q. When we were doing the television, we all thought that the last Grand Slam tournament you would probably win would be Wimbledon because it was on grass. We thought the first one that you would probably win would be the French on clay, and it was just the opposite. Do you have any thoughts on that?
ANDRE AGASSI: You know, I have to keep the trend up, the conflicts in my life. Tony, it’s good to hear your voice. Your voice, you have left an indelible mark on me over the years, but hearing your voice, I realize how indelible your voice is in my mind and my connection to the game, so nice to hear your voice, Tony.
You know, I really felt like I could have won the French first. I agreed with you then and now that it probably should have been and that Wimbledon probably should have been my last, if at all. But the game changed shortly after I came into it, and once I had a player that could take offense from both wings, they could exploit the fact that I treated clay courts like a hard court.
For me I’ve loved playing on clay for the first few years of my career because it was just more time and more opportunities in a point to just beat somebody up because all I did was take the ball early and make him run and I never had to worry about defense. But when I lost out on those first two opportunities and then I started playing the likes of Courier, who was very aggressive on both wings against me, or Bruguera, who moved well and could generate that kind of spin with both sides and open up the court, I quickly realized that clay was not, like most Americans, my best surface.
So my hopes for Roland Garros changed really early in my career, which is why it makes it so powerful that after coming back from 141, 29 years old, that I found myself with that opportunity to win it again, and it speaks to how scared I was walking out if that finals that day thinking that this tournament would elude me for the rest of my life.
Wimbledon on the other hand was a surface that rewarded a person who could take charge of a point early. So winning Wimbledon surprised me until I’d played it, and I don’t mean in ’87 when I lost first round to Leconte; I mean when I went back and got to the quarters and had two sets to one and two breaks on David Wheaton to play Becker and Stich in the semis and finals who I both had a heavy head-to-head record on.
I started to really believe I can win here because if you can get start off well on grass it was hard for a player to recover. Grass played very fast, and the return was just shot-making and I felt comfortable there. So it didn’t surprise me how comfortable I felt at Wimbledon, but it did surprise me how quickly I got uncomfortable with pairs.
Q. Most athletes come to their second career after their first one is over, and you were in the rare position of finding it while you were still playing. Why do you think that happened to you, and has that been a benefit that you were able to overlap your kind of ongoing career with your future career?
ANDRE AGASSI: Well, I think it happened to me because I played until I was 36. You know, had I faded off into the sunset in 1997, which I wish you understood as closely as I do just how close I was, you know, I’m not sure I would have had something to go towards. But my spirit to fight on and to give myself the permission to quit but to not choose it gave me the fortitude to start to envision what I really want for myself. And tennis was such a great opportunity to have that mission become a reality.
I don’t know why others don’t, other than any sport is all-consuming. It’s a short window and a short career, and mine was almost a short career. But the fact that I continued to push myself and make myself better gave me the time to make sense of a few things and then gave me the age and perspective to not lose out on that opportunity.
Q. You gave such a beautiful speech when your wife was inducted into Hall of Fame, and I was wondering if you can share any of her thoughts or comments on your acceptance.
ANDRE AGASSI: You know, it’s interesting because we’re going through the same thing just in reverse. I got to experience watching her go through it and knowing her so well and how understated she is. I would never suggest that she did not want to go through it, but I would just say that she was — she doesn’t need it to be who she is. And those around her really were proud for her, and the love that I have for her allowed me to really understand fully just what it means to be in the Hall of Fame because I wanted it for her even though she didn’t necessarily crave it for herself.
Now that she went through it, she feels differently, but now she gets to see it through the perspective of somebody she cares for deeply, and she wants it for me, even though I tend to say it’s a bit nerve-wracking. I can’t hardly believe that it’s actually happening, and I don’t feel like I need it to continue my mission in life.
But seeing how I felt for her allows me to embrace this even more than I would have because so many people that have been around me that care for me want it for me, and I know that because of how I felt for her.
Q. After your last match against Becker in Ashe Stadium, it was really kind of a Lou Gehrig type moment when you addressed the crowd in New York and there was a lot of emotion. I wonder if you could not only reflect on that moment but also what emotions might come up when you’re addressing the crowd in Newport?
ANDRE AGASSI: Sure. The thing with New York, that was — that had very little to do with missing a tournament, missing a career. It had to do with a connection to people that I was so grateful they felt to me. That’s why that was emotional, because they were connected to me and I was just quite frankly thankful that I wasn’t the only one feeling that way.
In Rhode Island, I don’t know what to expect. I think it’s probably doing yourself a disservice to expect anything one way or the other. I’ve seen others go through it, and it never ceases to amaze me how surprised they are by the occasion. So I’m going to probably for one of the rare times in my life will just allow myself to be surprised, you know? But I will put a lot of thought behind it because I think if you care about anything you do, and I will make my best attempt to communicate what tennis has meant to me, what it means to others, and what it means to certainly a lot of children’s lives here in North Las Vegas.
CHRISTOPHER CLOUSER: So July 9th is our induction in Newport, Rhode Island. Obviously you all are invited. Andre is the sole inductee in the recent player category. We will be announcing one additional person who has been elected into the contributor’s category. We’ll be announcing that Thursday of next week from Melbourne.
Andre loves his school, and we’re happy to be here. He walked in and said, “Now, the school is not paying for this phone call, are they?” For the record, it is not. We want to thank you for joining us, and I want to thank Andre for a terrific day and a terrific announcement.