NBC: Andre Agassi Discusses His New Book, "Open"


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November 11, 2009 Wednesday
SHOW: Today 7:00 AM EST NBC

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MEREDITH VIEIRA, Enhanced Coverage LinkingMEREDITH VIEIRA, -Search
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Back now at 8:11 with tennis legend Andre Agassi. Following a 21-year
career filled with ups and downs, he made a memorable and emotional
exit from the professional stage in 2006 following a defeat at the
US Open. Since then, he has devoted most of his time to his family,
raising two children with wife and fellow tennis star Steffi Graf.

He’s also busy with the Andre Agassi College Prep Academy, a school
he started in his hometown of Las Vegas. And he is out with "Open:
An Autobiography," a new book about his life that contains some
shocking revelations.

Andre, good morning to you. Thanks for joining us.

Mr. ANDRE AGASSI: Good morning. It’s great to be here and see you.

VIEIRA: Shocking revelations for sure, beginning with your admission
that you hate tennis and almost always have. You talk about in this
book the pressure that your dad put on you from the time you were a
little boy to excel at this sport.

Mr. AGASSI: Yeah.

VIEIRA: You talk about your failed marriage to actress Brooke Shields.

You also talk about what was probably the lowest point in your life,
one of the lowest, and that’s the one that a lot of people are talking
about, your use of crystal meth.

Mr. AGASSI: Sure.

VIEIRA: We are going to touch on all of those. But first, you know,
you’re retired now. You’re not in the–in the public eye the same way
you used to be. You didn’t have to reveal all of this about your life.

Why did you make the decision to be so open?

Mr. AGASSI: Well, first of all, if you–if I were to do a book, I
wouldn’t do it halfway. It would be something that I feel somebody
can learn from or get inspired by as it relates to my story. But,
you know, I just–I found myself at a time in my life where I wanted
to take my story, find the story, the narrative in my life, and offer
that to people to help them. I think, you know, there’s millions of
people out there that wake up in a life that they didn’t choose for
themselves. And that’s what I found in my life. I never chose tennis.

I didn’t choose it until I was 27 years old. And, you know, what
do you do at that point, you know? And so I think–I think this can
be–have some real power.

VIEIRA: Your dad, Mike, is the one who chose tennis for you…

Mr. AGASSI: Hm. Yeah.

VIEIRA: …when you were little. You write about it extensively in the
book about, you know, standing on that tennis court and he’s created
sort of a jerry-rigged ball machine that fires balls at you. You
called it the monster, at 110 miles an hour. He didn’t want you to
just play tennis. He wanted you to be a champion. Why was he so hell
bent on that?

Mr. AGASSI: Yeah. I called it the dragon. But, you know, my father…

VIEIRA: The dragon, I’m sorry.

Mr. AGASSI: …my father had his own demons, if you will. You know,
he’s a man who grew up in Tehran, Iran, and he was a Christian
Armenian in a Muslim Tehran. His mom used to sort of make him wear
hand-me-down girls clothes to school, so from a young age, he was
getting in a lot of fights on the street and he’s a very driven man,
but he’s a fighter by nature. Came to America not speaking English,
put himself through school, raised four kids. Was very, very hard on
himself, very disciplined, but that sort of rage that he used to keep,
you know, he directed it at tennis. And I always felt he loved us,
it wasn’t an issue of that…

VIEIRA: Mm-hmm.

Mr. AGASSI: …it wasn’t an abusive thing, but it was an intensity
that if you didn’t play well, it changed the meal that night at your
house and, you know, for a seven-year-old, that leaves an impression.

VIEIRA: There’s a picture of you on the–actually on the back of the
book. I don’t know whether you’re six or seven at that point.

Mr. AGASSI: Yeah.

VIEIRA: When you look at that picture of you, who do you see? Who
was this little boy?

Mr. AGASSI: A pretty scared little guy, you know. I mean, I
internalized a lot, you know, and a lot of my pains my parents didn’t
see. But, you know, I watched three other siblings that I have, that
are older than me, go through, you know, a lot of the same emotions in
different ways. But I internalized, and I see somebody that’s scared,
somebody that doesn’t want to play the game.

VIEIRA: But you play it anyway.

Mr. AGASSI: But I played anyway. And that contradiction between what
I want to do and what I choose to do felt like core of my life.

VIEIRA: And you dad–sort of to give an indication to the readers of
just how much he wanted this for you, and how driven he was to see
you succeed…


VIEIRA: …you tell a story about him giving you a little white pill
that turned out to be speed.

Mr. AGASSI: Yeah.

VIEIRA: You’re 11 years old…

Mr. AGASSI: Yeah.

VIEIRA: …and your brother had even warned you that this might happen.

Mr. AGASSI: Yeah, yeah. My father used to give me Excedrin before I
played matches for that caffeine. He thought it would help me, and
the Excedrin actually did help me. But then he got this one pill that
somebody told him was kind of a souped up Excedrin and he wanted to
give that a go. Anything to get me to achieve the American dream. And
that’s the thing I also point out in that particular scenario with
my father, which he would give me that, but the second I told him it
didn’t make me feel good or something was wrong, he would turn on a
dime. My father could deal with your pain and change if he knew your
pain, but a lot of times, he wasn’t aware of it.

VIEIRA: So at 14 you drop out of school. By 16 you’ve turned pro. By
20, you’re the darling on the tennis court. You’re known for–with the
rock star looks and that long hair. Comes 1990, the French Open. What
people don’t know is when they see the pictures of you–we’re going
to put it up–what they don’t know is that that hair wasn’t even
yours at that point. It was a weave. And on that day it was falling
out. You had it held together with bobby pins.

Mr. AGASSI: I did. The night before the finals of the French Open,
I used the wrong conditioner and it–my hair started to pull out of
it and it was about 80 percent off my head.

VIEIRA: So that’s another lie you were living. Why was that hair so
important to you?

Mr. AGASSI: I watched my brother lose his hair. It was very emotional
for him. That left an impression on me. Plus, it was so connected
to my image. It was so connected to what people said about me. And,
you know, I didn’t know myself, and when you don’t know yourself,
you’re not–you’re not comfortable in your own skin.


Mr. AGASSI: And losing my hair was something I struggled with. I
actually had a lot of fun, though, writing about it, you know,
reflecting back on just how important it seemed.

VIEIRA: Yeah, to remember when, especially now that you have none. And
it was really your girlfriend at the time, Brooke Shields…


VIEIRA: …who convinced you a few years later, said, `Look, just
shave your head.’

Mr. AGASSI: Yeah.

VIEIRA: And you went on to marry her, but in the book you say you
knew that it was wrong. You talk about at your wedding there was a
look-alike of her sort of to fend of the paparazzi, to throw them off.

Mr. AGASSI: Yeah.

VIEIRA: And you write the following in the book. "As I see the Brooke
look-alike leaving, I have a thought no man should have on his wedding
day: I wish I were leaving, too. I wish I had a decoy groom to take
my place." That was more than just jitters, wasn’t it?

Mr. AGASSI: It was. I think at that time of my life, I couldn’t have
been married to anybody. You know, I think timing is really important.

You need a marriage, two people that understand themselves before
you can start to figure out how life’s going to work together, and
I certainly didn’t understand myself.

VIEIRA: So why, Andre, did you go down that path, do you think now?

Mr. AGASSI: You know, it was so familiar to me. I mean, I played
tennis, something I didn’t want to do, and it was never–I was very
familiar with the feeling of doing something that I just don’t want to
do. I just never had a choice and I didn’t use–I didn’t make a good
decision. But it was a familiar feeling. I said, well, why not? I
mean, it’s–I’ve always given up on relationships and had two-year
blocks in my life historically. And here’s this two-year block and
it’s like maybe I could just figure it out.

VIEIRA: Speaking of why not, you said why not in 1997 when you married
Brooke Shields, and in 1997 you said why not to crystal meth.


VIEIRA: A low point in your life. You are–you are–I don’t know,
who–Slim, your assistant at the time…

Mr. AGASSI: Yeah.

VIEIRA: …offered it to you and you said, and I’m quoting you now,
you said after you took it, "to get an undeniable satisfaction from
harming myself and shortening my career." That’s why you tried it.

Mr. AGASSI: Yeah. Well, I was depressed is really the big reason. I
mean, I found myself in a life I didn’t want to be in. I was doing
something that I hated, that I hadn’t chosen for myself. I was in a
marriage I didn’t want to be in and, you know, I was depressed. No
energy, pulling out of tournaments. And here somebody comes along and
offers me an escape and I took it and, you know, like most mistakes
that people make, they lead to more and more mistakes.

VIEIRA: Were you hoping that it would destroy your career?

Mr. AGASSI: I think in some sort of odd way. I was–I thought about
quitting many times and it was just hard for–hard for me. I never
quite had the strength to quit. I never–I wanted to continue in some
way. I had this conflict. And I just knew that maybe this will just
remove the choice for me. You know, it’s like–it’s like wishing
yourself injury on the court, which used to–I used to get that
feeling a lot, too. If I just fell over and broke my ankle, I mean,
gosh, I wouldn’t have to do this.

VIEIRA: And then there was the phone call that came that changed

Mr. AGASSI: Yeah.

VIEIRA: We’re going to come back and talk about that.

Mr. AGASSI: Yeah.

VIEIRA: Andre Agassi. And we’ll be back with more right after this.


VIEIRA: We are back talking to tennis legend Andre Agassi about his
new autobiography "Open."

Andre, thank you for sticking around.

Mr. AGASSI: Sure.

VIEIRA: We left off 1997. You start taking crystal meth with your
assistant. Towards the end of that year, you made a decision you want
to stop this and you want to start taking tennis seriously again,
because you’ve been losing consistently.

Mr. AGASSI: Yeah.

VIEIRA: And right about then you get a phone call from a member of
the tennis association, an official with USTA, actually…

Mr. AGASSI: Yeah.

VIEIRA: …saying that they’ve got a urine test on you and you’ve
tested positive for crystal meth. You have been caught.

Mr. AGASSI: Yeah, yeah.

VIEIRA: And you find yourself in yet again a lie. You write them a
letter and what do you say?

Mr. AGASSI: In the letter, I lie. I didn’t know what to do. I had
nowhere to turn. I was–I was…

VIEIRA: Because they want an explanation.

Mr. AGASSI: Yeah. I was ashamed of it, I was scared, I was panicked. I
had nobody to turn to because nobody knew in my life, and I wrote a
letter that was filled with lies. I said my assistant had a spiked
drink. It’s how he used to ingest the drug. He’s a known drug user,
and I took a sip of his–of his drink. And that came–that came on the
heels of me making a decision to not walk away from tennis. I was 141
in the world in Stuttgart when my coach said to me, you know, `Andre,
you’re too good for this. We’ve got to start over or we got to quit.’
And I remember looking out over traffic saying how many people go on
to lives that they–that they don’t want, lives they didn’t choose,
but they find reason to do it. And I committed that day to a life
that I’m going to choose. I can walk away from tennis. And it was
that moment when I chose tennis that a lot started to change. And
then that phone call came. Just…

VIEIRA: And then that phone call. But they bought your excuse. They
bought it. And then you realized now I really have a second chance.

Mr. AGASSI: Yeah.

VIEIRA: Every day is going to be a day of atonement, and you began to
turn your life around. The tennis improved, so did your personal life.

Mr. AGASSI: Well, I think that atonement is a great word and I think
this book, to be quite honest, is an atonement, because I, you know,
I had a lot more to lose in doing this than gain, you know? And–but
if a hit on my perception, it’s not–might not be what people perceive
of me, but it is the truth of me. And I think there’s a lot to be
gained from it.

VIEIRA: And as I said, your personal life also turned around.

Mr. AGASSI: Yeah.

VIEIRA: You–I mean, talk about the–some of the battles you’ve been
in. The toughest one was probably getting Steffi Graf’s attention,
your wife, right? You’d been trying for a long time and she just blew
you off time and time again. Finally, the two of you hit it off and
you got married and…

Mr. AGASSI: Yeah. Well, I had a phone call with her, you know, and
I was–and she had a boyfriend of six years and I think I had one of
the best lines ever in this conversation, because she was giving me no
inroads at all and I just–there was a pause on the phone and I just
said, `Six years is a long time.’ And there’s another pause and she
went, `Yes, it is.’ And I went, `Ah, I saw a little weakness there.’

VIEIRA: And you moved in for the kill, and the two of you got married.

You have two beautiful children now, Jaden and Jaz. You’re wearing
actually something that Jaden made for you. It says "Daddy Rocks."

Mr. AGASSI: Yeah. "Daddy Rocks." I haven’t taken it off in four years.

VIEIRA: All right. Thank you so much, so much I could talk to you
about. Andre Agassi…

Mr. AGASSI: Thank you.

VIEIRA: …thank you. The autobiography is called "Open." We’ll be
right back after your local news.

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