Tennis: Andre takes courtly bow with Steffi

How hard is Steffi's forehand these days?" your correspondent asked Andre Agassi after the world's No 1 tennis player had spent 20 minutes practising with Steffi Graf on the Centre Court at the Schleyer Halle in Stuttgart.

"Harder than Brad's," a smiling Agassi replied, with reference, if not deference, to his coach, Brad Gilbert, who once won $1m (pounds 600,000) as the runner-up at the Grand Slam Cup in Munich. "I assure you, it's bigger than Brad's."

Agassi and Graf had been hitting on a secluded court when the pair were asked to transfer to the main arena as a favour to the Eurocard Open tournament director, Markus Gunthardt, who was keen to entertain spectators during an unscheduled gap in the programme. Agassi had been due to play doubles with Nicolas Kiefer, the German No 1, who retired from the tournament after damaging ankle tendons during his second round match against Andrei Pavel, of Romania.

Gunthardt, the brother of Graf's former coach, Heinz Gunthardt, may even have twigged to the notion of having a public mixed practice session at one of the world's premier men's tournaments after receiving a letter from Serena Williams, the 18-year-old United States Open women's singles champion, dated 10 October.

Markus,

It would be of extreme delight if you would grant me - Serena - a wild card into your tournament, the `Eurocard Open', in Stuttgart, Germany.

During the tournament I will be attending school, but will quickly leave to be a part of the tournament.

If a wild card in singles is not available, I would love also to have one in the doubles - preferably with Pete Sampras, or whoever else desires to play by my side. I am sure they will win with me!

Thanks so much for the wild card in advance, I am so happy!

Love,

Serena Williams

Serena's tongue-in-cheek request was refused because of an ATP Tour technicality: theirs is a men's tour, and she is not a man.

The Graf-Agassi interlude was significant - "symbolic," one German journalist suggested - because about 65 per-cent of the German press coverage next day was largely devoted to the cameo, even though Kiefer was a wounded German warrior fighting for a place in the ATP Tour Championship in Hanover next month.

But, then, Kiefer, though highly gifted, is not Boris Becker, or even Michael Stich. Likewise, Tommy Haas, the German No 2. Nor do Kiefer and Haas even dream of approaching the status of Steffi Graf.

Moreover, there is nothing like a touch of romance. Graf and Agassi have been spending time together at every opportunity since the newly- retired, seven-times Wimbledon champion was seen standing among the spectators at the US Open, cheering Agassi to victory. They went to the Felix Trinidad v Oscar De la Hoya fight in Las Vegas, and stayed on in Agassi's home town for his annual charity gala at the MGM Grand.

They then travelled to Germany. Agassi participated in the Grand Slam Cup in Munich; Graf visited Vienna to see Willy Dungl, the specialist who helped her through her ailments last year.

Apart from receiving various awards, Graf has been to South Africa, where she sponsors a charity in the townships, "Children for Tomorrow". Afterwards she went to meet Agassi in San Francisco. They arrived in Stuttgart together, and Graf watched all Agassi's matches last week, usually seated beside Brad Gilbert; sometimes smiling, sometimes pensive.

Agassi is accustomed to high-profile relationships. A few years ago he was to be seen in Barbra Streisand's company (Streisand once described him as a "Zen Master"). Agassi's two-year marriage to the actress Brooke Shields ended in divorce in April this year.

Graf, by comparison, has tended to be conservative in her choice of boyfriends: Alexander Mronz, a German tennis player, and Michael Bartels, a German racing driver. Her friendship with Agassi appears to have been greeted with surprise and delight by the public, and with a degree of scepticism by some tennis insiders.

"Andre and I had a wonderful time in America," Graf told Stern magazine, "but the relationship is very young and I want to keep a little area of my life private. We heard in Las Vegas there had been some wild stories and speculation about us in Germany, but we were not secretive. Not even in my dreams would I have imagined the amount of fuss there has been, and the number of paparazzi."

The sight of Agassi and Graf on the court raised speculation that they may be planning to play mixed doubles at the Australian Open in January. "No," Agassi said. "Got to separate business and pleasure."

Does playing in front of Graf make a difference? "No. I mean, I'm out there working. She's one of, in this case, probably 9,000 people there. She can't change the way I hit the ball, that's for sure. I wish she could. If I had her slice today, maybe that would have neutralised Enqvist a little bit." Thomas Enqvist, of Sweden, defeated Agassi in the semi-finals, 6-3, 4-6, 6-0.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Office Administrator is requ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Manager required for a busy company in...

Recruitment Genius: Controller / Mobile Inspector

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This leading security company requires a prof...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A sales person is required to join a lea...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

How to find gold

Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

Not born in the USA

Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
10 best balsamic vinegars

10 best balsamic vinegars

Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy