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TENNIS / LISA DILLMAN

Agassi Just Keeps Going With the Flow

January 27, 2003|LISA DILLMAN

MELBOURNE, Australia — Experience taught Andre Agassi to stay out of the water this time ... no more Grand Slam dunks in the dirty river.

As it turned out, the same Yarra River got Agassi reminiscing during the Australian Open. He and his coach, Darren Cahill, were driving past it, and Agassi spoke about his plunge when he won this title in 2001, paying off a promise. Cahill started thinking about some new wagers.

"He said, 'This year, I'll shave my head if you win and we'll get Stef out of retirement to play mixed doubles,' " Agassi said. "So I ran with it. She was reluctant, to say the least."

Agassi was asked what his wife, Steffi Graf, had to say at first about this family outing to the French Open in Paris. Was it printable in a family newspaper?

"It was more of a look," he said, smiling. "Looks can speak volumes."

The spur-of-the-moment gesture landed Agassi in some hot water at home, as the news spread worldwide.

"I would love the feeling being out on the court with my wife and doing something we've done our whole lives," said Agassi, who said he has never played mixed doubles. "She's at a different phase in her life than I am. So I can understand her hesitation with it."

Each Grand Slam title seems to bring forth a new Agassi. Number eight -- his fourth Australian Open title -- is the first for Andre, the family man. It's his first Grand Slam championship since becoming a husband and father in October 2001. Agassi, in a quiet post-match mode sitting with a couple of reporters after his 6-2, 6-2, 6-1 victory over Germany's Rainer Schuettler on Sunday, looked content when it was mentioned this was the first since the birth of Jaden Gil.

"It feels good, it does, because I want him to feel he came along and made everyone better," he said. "I find how he's helped me is when I'm away from the game. I'm completely away from it. So it keeps me from spending useless energy thinking, whether it's nerves or disappointment. Just a smile from him, doesn't matter whether you've had a good day or a bad day."

The toddler's diet bears no resemblance to that of early Andre, the lover of fast food during his formative years on the circuit.

"He loves fruit and vegetables over sweets and grease," Agassi said. "I try to encourage it. I take him to all sorts of things, McDonald's. Enjoy. You're only a kid once."

Agassi abandoned fast-foot nation long ago. He turns 33 in April and spoke of making new concessions to advancing age. He and longtime trainer and close friend Gil Reyes focused during the off-season on getting his legs stronger and fresher.

"Things don't respond as quickly," Agassi said. "They hurt a little longer. I've been pretty blessed with my body. I don't feel any nagging sort of injury. But I've got to be on top of it.... As you get older, it all sort of happens in your lower body. When you're young, that eagerness and youth, it sort of doesn't matter how you feel, you just go with energy. When you get older, the energy is not there. You don't have something to fall back on."

It was obvious almost from the start here that Agassi had done something right. In seven matches, Agassi lost one set, to Nicolas Escude of France in the third round. Guillermo Coria of Argentina, 11 years younger than Agassi, retired in the fourth round because of blisters.

Agassi's peer group is dwindling. Jim Courier's last season on the tour was 1999. Pete Sampras isn't sure how much longer he will play past this year, and Michael Chang is having a farewell tour in 2003. Those retirement thoughts have not entered Agassi's mind.

"I have no plan because it wouldn't be like me to plan out how I want something to unfold," he said. "If history serves me correctly, it's going to hit me like a ton of bricks. Knowing myself, I'm just going to sort of one day go, 'No more.' But I'm just guessing."

Serena's World

The other Australian Open champion, Serena Williams, had no shortage of opinions as she met with a small group of reporters a couple hours after she defeated her older sister Venus, 7-6 (4), 3-6, 6-4, for the fourth straight time in a Grand Slam final, completing the "Serena Slam."

Serena spoke about the perception that she is "cocky." Asked if this was a form of sexism -- the confident behavior of a man is accepted, while it isn't from a woman -- she said, "It really is. A guy can pretty much do anything. It's a man's world."

She also spoke about the future of her sport, family dynamics and Tiger Woods.

On the recent changes in WTA leadership:

"If anything doesn't happen on a solid foundation, eventually, if something is built on sand, the sand is going to wash away as well. The players have shown [during] this tournament that we can stand together. There's a lot of opportunities there and we're just waiting.... We need to start doing things and making things happen."

On her ability to compete with Venus:

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