Agassi goes commando to fight for honesty about an amazing career

After all the revelations in his book, the maverick American has shocked fans with a shorts story, writes Paul Newman in New York

It is four years since Andre Agassi brought down the curtain on his career but the 40-year-old Las Vegan can still light up a stage.

Play was in full swing on Thursday night here at the US Open – where Agassi began his career in 1986 with defeat to Jeremy Bates and ended it 20 years later – when the eight-times Grand Slam champion was given a standing ovation before taking his seat at Manhattan's Town Hall.

Hundreds of fans had paid up to $150 (about £97) to spend "A Special Evening with Andre Agassi". For the next two hours they listened as he was interviewed about his autobiography, which was published at the end of last year.

They do not do understatement in these parts. Rick Reilly, the interviewer, described Open as "the Sistine Chapel of sports books", while Agassi said J R Moehringer, his ghost, would go down as "one of the greatest writers of our time".

It is certainly a tome memorable for its honesty. Agassi describes his use of crystal meth, his subsequent lies after a positive drugs test, his "tanking" of matches, his failed marriage to Brooke Shields and his hatred of tennis. He even describes how he spent several years wearing a wig on court.

Reilly's opening question, nevertheless, went straight to another revelation: from the 1999 French Open onwards Agassi did not wear anything under his shorts. "I got to the locker room and realised I'd forgotten my underwear," Agassi told the audience. "What can a man do? I just commandoed it. After that it was a case of 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it'. It actually feels good." He added: "I don't want to unsettle you, but I'm actually freebagging tonight."

Agassi's father, an Armenian who grew up in Iran before emigrating to America despite not speaking a word of English, was obsessed by an ambition to make his son a tennis champion. From an early age Agassi was forced to practise for hours as "the dragon", his name for the ball-feeding machine installed in their backyard, forced him to hit up to 4,000 shots a day.

"Dad used to introduce me as the future No 1 player in the world," Agassi said "We had two rules in the house: you will brush your teeth and play tennis – but not in that order."

Agassi said his father had not read the book and had no intention of doing so. Agassi phoned him, concerned at what his reaction might be to the reviews and wanting to point out that it was "a loving portrait" of his father. Agassi recalled: "He said: 'I'm 80 years old. What do I care? If I could do it all again I would do the same, except I wouldn't have you playing tennis. You'd play baseball or golf instead: you play longer and you can make more money.'"

Some reaction to the book has been unfavourable. Martina Navratilova suggested some of Agassi's titles should be taken away because he should have been suspended at the time he won them. He was reluctant to get into a slanging match. "It bothered me what she said. She was wrong. But my book is about forgiveness. I try not to react to what was said."

Asked what crystal meth did for him, Agassi said: "I had a lot of energy. I was like Speedy Gonzalez. I didn't know what to do with it. I would do lots of cleaning. I would lock myself in the house and do all this cleaning and make sure the laundry was perfect. I was like Martha Stewart on steroids."

Agassi revealed that he had not spoken to Shields since the book's publication. He said she had never met Steffi Graf, his current wife, though the actress had called their home on one occasion. "Steffi picked up the phone," Agassi said. "I did what anyone would do and changed our number."

Pete Sampras was Agassi's constant rival and is not spared in the book, particularly in relation to his alleged meanness. "He was fundamentally my antithesis," Agassi said. Asked by Reilly what Sampras brought out in him and whether he liked him or not, Agassi replied: "The worst in me – and no."

The evening wound up with a brief question-and-answer session, though for some it was simply a chance to acknowledge their hero. "Thank you for your honesty," one questioner said to loud applause. "People say you diminished the game. I say you elevated the game."

Afterwards Linda Peters, a fan from Florida, waited patiently for Agassi to sign her copy of his book. "I'm the same age as Andre and feel like I've grown up with him," she said. "I loved what he did for the game and what he still does for it. I'm not delighted about the drug-taking and the tanking of matches. I would argue with him about them, but I commend him for being so open."

Sport
premier leagueLive: All the latest news and scores from today's matches
News
politics
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker