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Good Comes To Those Who Serve

Jan. 07, 2002
Jan. 07, 2002

Table of Contents
Jan. 7, 2002

Good Comes To Those Who Serve

The most amazing outcome of any tennis match in history was not
Borg over McEnroe. Not Rosewall over Laver. Not even King over
Riggs. No, the most astonishing result of any tennis match just
burped.

This is an article from the Jan. 7, 2002 issue Original Layout

Jaden Gil Agassi, age 11 weeks, is just over 11 pounds, has way
more hair than his dad and gets as much sleep at night as Dennis
Rodman's neighbors. He's what you get when two tennis legends
start love-love and end up tied. Between them, Andre Agassi and
Steffi Graf have 29 Grand Slam singles titles and a tax
write-off who cries only slightly less than Ilie Nastase.

It's so odd to walk into a modest house in a mixed-class
neighborhood of Las Vegas and see that a couple with a net worth
about equal to Monte Carlo's has been turned into pretzels by an
infant the size of a can of tennis balls. Graf, 32, retired two
years ago and now has a job that requires real endurance. "He's
not so good at sleeping through the night yet," says Graf, still
trim and bouncing Jaden the way she used to bounce waiting for a
Monica Seles serve. Agassi paces around the house biting his
fingernails, hovering over Jaden, Steffi and his mother-in-law,
Heidi, like a Wimbledon ball boy ready to pounce.

"I leave the house, and the only thing I want to do is turn
around, go home and stare at him," he says. One night Jaden fell
asleep on Agassi's chest. The next morning, when Agassi went to
lift weights, his arms and chest immediately cramped. That's
what comes of holding a baby tight while you sleep for six hours.

It's a helluva good hitting partner who will give you a present
like that. Agassi and Graf still hit balls together. "I can
smash it as hard as I want, and it always comes right back to
me," Agassi says. They're a team now. At night they lie in bed
and talk strategy. Map out their plans. Stay back or charge in?
Sometimes they'll even talk tennis. "The only hard part," says
Agassi, "is waiting for him to get old enough to play with."

Until then Agassi, 31, will have to be satisfied with baby faces
like 20-year-old Lleyton Hewitt, who will try to keep him from
winning his third straight Australian Open, starting on Jan. 14.
"I've got some time left, and I want to make the most of it,"
says Agassi, who expects to play for two or three more years.
After that it'll be up to Jaden, who the German press is
predicting will "always be the finest athlete around." Can you
sign a shoe deal if you don't wear shoes yet?

It's cool that Agassi has a new future, because he has given
more kids futures than anybody I know. Last September his Grand
Slam for Children benefit handed over $4.27 million to Las Vegas
youngsters. That made it one of the largest sports fund-raisers
in the world. Four point two seven. And every penny goes to the
kids, which means Agassi himself is in for about $1 million in
overhead costs, not to mention the countless hours.

Lots of jock charity events are freeloading boondoggles that
throw the caviar at the celebrities and leave the crackers for
the charity. Barry Bonds ran one in 1999 that raised $60,000,
with $45,000 used to pay an executive to do some work for an
inner-city organization. The executive that year? Barry's
mother, Patricia. The $14 million that Agassi has raised for
Vegas kids over the past six years has helped to build a
30,000-square-foot Boys and Girls Club and a state-of-the-art
charter school (Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy), and
also has funded a year-round tennis program at the Boys and
Girls Club. One of his girls won an age-group national doubles
title.

What's more, he doesn't give time only to his own charity
projects. Since his sister and mother were diagnosed with breast
cancer in early 2000, he has worked like a dervish in the fight
against the disease. Recently he boarded a commercial red-eye
from Vegas to Baltimore to appear at Pam Shriver's charity. He
refused a private jet. "The more money they spend on you, the
less goes to the charity," he says with a shrug.

All this from an eighth-grade dropout who used to give you the
idea that the only thing he cared about was his newest Humvee
and his latest dye job. Dripping with talent, he fell from No. 1
in the world to No. 141, then sweated all the way back to the
top. Somewhere in there, Agassi changed. The more his hands
became calloused, the less his heart did.

Tennis fans are hoping Jaden Agassi, Superbaby, can turn into
the kind of player his father is. That'll be easy. The hard part
will be turning into the same kind of man.

COLOR PHOTO: DANA FINEMAN/SYGMA
"The only hard part," says new dad Agassi, "is waiting for
[Jaden] to get old enough to play with."