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It's all about peace and love for Agassi

Contrary to harrowing autobiography, the tennis great appears content. Graf and their kids are a big part of it.

November 18, 2009|Diane Pucin

Andre Agassi is asked whether he is happy right now.

As he sits in an empty room at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, doing his part to promote his new autobiography "Open," looking forward to Thanksgiving in Las Vegas with the love of his life, Steffi Graf, with an outgoing 8-year-old son, Jaden, who is an aspiring baseball player and with an introspective 6-year-old daughter, Jaz, Agassi doesn't exactly answer the question.

"I find peace every day," he said Tuesday. "I try to enjoy the day, get the most out of each intersection."

Agassi's painfully honest book details what he calls his "love-hate" relationship with tennis, the sport that brought him fame and adulation but also was born of a tumultuous relationship with his hard-driving father, Mike.

In the book Agassi revealed that he had used the drug crystal meth in 1997 and failed an ATP tour drug test. Agassi's explanation -- he said he had accidentally ingested the drug by sipping on a soft drink given him by an assistant -- earned him a free pass 12 years ago.

"That wouldn't happen today," Agassi said. "With everything being looked at by WADA [World Anti-Doping Agency], I would have probably had to serve a suspension."

Agassi chronicled his emotional free fall at that time, one that occurred while he was married to actress Brooke Shields, and that ended with him ranked No. 141 and playing challenger tournaments.

The book is a love story. In the part where Agassi courts Graf, woos her with red roses and letters and constant voice mail messages, there is the sense of a grown-up man who found, all by himself, something to love.

This book is also a painful telling of the relentless need from an old-school father to make his son into a champion.

Agassi chronicles unending sessions of hitting tennis balls in the Las Vegas sun, of how his father built a contraption the young Agassi called "the dragon" that spit tennis balls at the child.

He writes of being sent to a tennis academy in Florida and of how he hated the sport, hated being good at it but also loving the sense of victory because it gave him respite from his father's demands.

Agassi said his father didn't want him to write the book, then read the book and told his son if he had it to do all over again, "He'd do things the same way," Agassi said. "Only maybe he'd have me play baseball or soccer instead. But we have a healthy communication. Me and the kids see him every weekend. We've reconciled to the degree we can be."

Agassi said Graf supported the retelling of everything, of the drug use, of his unhappy marriage to Shields and of his courting Graf. And, no, he said, the famously private Graf has not been inspired to tell her own story. "Never going to happen," Agassi said.

His biggest regret about the crystal meth use, Agassi said, was that he didn't tell the truth and ask for help at the time. "I wish I had been more open," he said. "I was depressed, was pursuing a career I didn't choose, I was 27 and in a marriage I didn't want to be in."

He also suggested that when a player fails a doping test for a recreational drug as opposed to a performance-enhancing substance, penalties should be different.

"One is cheating the sport, the other players and the fans," Agassi said. "The other is hurting only one person. Maybe we should be reaching out to help as well as punish."

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diane.pucin@latimes.com

twitter.com/mepucin

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