Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Andre Agassi: Open

Andre Agassi came to Palo Alto, California last week. The Commonwealth Club hosted an interview and book signing. Andre Agassi oozes charm, intelligence, and charisma. Although not formally educated, Agassi's intelligence is palpable, but so is his need for acceptance and his sensitivity to criticism. Joel Drucker, a reporter who recently reviewed Agassi's book, Open, was on the receiving end of a few barbs from Agassi. Few people can single out a reporter during an interview and still come out looking good, but Agassi's charisma allows him to say things almost no one else can say.

I look forward to reading Agassi's book. In the meantime, here are some snippets I remember from the interview:

On Michael Chang: Agassi found Chang's habit of crediting God for his wins "odd." He said if Chang had blamed God when he lost, he would have had more respect for him.

On His Father: if he had to do it all over again, he wouldn't have changed anything, except he would have pushed Agassi into baseball or golf. Apparently, Agassi's father believes that baseball and golf athletes play longer and make more money.

On Tennis: Agassi mentioned the loneliness of the sport and said no other sport is as lonely. As a result, Agassi joked that tennis players like to talk to themselves a lot, and also answer their own questions.

On Coach Brad Gilbert: he talks a lot, but in the middle of one particularly frustrating match, he was very quiet. When Agassi told him, "Now's the time you stay silent?" Gilbert, obviously incensed at Agassi's failure to perform up to his potential, responded, "What do you want me to say? Let me make this as simple as I can. See the ball; run to the ball; hit the ball. If you can't do that, then just do what the other guy is doing!" Agassi went on to win the match.

On His Dad's Iranian Connection: Agassi said his dad--ethnically Armenian, but born and raised in Iran--never taught him Farsi, so he doesn't feel a connection with Iran. He said his dad pursued the American dream by coming to America. At the same time, Agassi, ever the diplomat, said he was curious about Iranian culture.

I was disappointed, because growing up, Agassi was the closest thing to a cool Iranian celebrity. All the Iranian kids looked up to Agassi, just like all the Chinese kids looked up to Michael Chang. As my friend said, when Michael Chang, a Chinese tennis player, won the French Open, "all the Chinese kids (myself included) decided to pick up a racket."

On Roger Federer: Agassi called Federer a freak of nature and said he was the greatest of all time.

On His Son: after his son threw a tennis ball at Agassi's dad, his dad told Agassi if his son ever did that again, he'd kick his butt so hard, his son wouldn't sh*t for a week. Agassi's son responded with more curiosity than fear, asking, "Is that possible?"

On Charter Schools: Agassi has opened a charter school and said he favors the charter school system because charter schools are able to demand additional requirements (such as mandating parental involvement) and to terminate bad teachers. When someone asked if Agassi would send his own kids to the charter school, Agassi responded that the kids were chosen through a lottery system over which he had no control, but even if his kids were accepted, his school was for children who had no other options. Agassi said he didn't want one of his kids taking a spot from someone else with fewer options.

Father-in-Law: [from the book] the first time Andre's and Steffi's fathers met each other, they almost got into a fistfight.

Bonus: the NYT's book review is here (November 20, 2009, Sam Tanenhaus).

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