The Agony of Agassi, Back at Wimbledon Celebrity Coaching Novak Djokovic - UBITENNIS
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The Agony of Agassi, Back at Wimbledon Celebrity Coaching Novak Djokovic

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The former prodigy once described a tennis academy as ‘Lord of the Flies’ with forehands, and wrestled a lot of demons. But he just can’t leave the game he claims to hate.

 

Andre Agassi (zimbio.com)

Written by Michael Mewshaw

WIMBLEDON—Andre Agassi has reinvented himself more often than Madonna. Beginning as what Ivan Lendl disparaged as “a kid with a haircut and a forehand,” he went bald early and secretly wore a flouncy blond wig. Worried his rug would fall off on court, he shaved his skull, grew a goatee and sported a piratical earring and bandana. Barbra Streisand praised him as “highly evolved, a Zen master.” But when the International Tennis Federation president Philippe Chatrier criticized his flamboyant wardrobe, Agassi replied less like Buddha and more like a sullen punk, calling Chatrier “a jerk.”

When Agassi married model/actress Brooke Shields, she persuaded him to put lifts into his shoes so she could wear heels at the wedding. Small wonder he lost focus and began losing matches. This was a prelude to a divorce and a made-for-TV comeback. In the end, Agassi won eight Grand Slam titles and by the time of his retirement had metamorphosed into a much-beloved sportsman.

Far from finished, though, he became the bestselling author of a memoir, Open, that was greeted as if it were the Confessions of St. Augustine. Truth to tell, it was a good book, much more insightful and substantive than most depictions of pro tennis. This may have had something to do with its ghostwriter, J.R. Moehringer, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. Peppered with references to Thomas Mann, Walt Whitman, and Alfred Lord Tennyson, its style sounded nothing like Agassi’s irreverent press conferences. Before one French Open final, he told reporters, “I’m as happy as a faggot in a submarine.”

But if Open’s literary achievement was surprising, the book’s theme was downright shocking. Again and again Agassi declared, “I hate tennis.” Then he catalogued why he detested the sport. Sold to the public as clean family fun, the game at its highest level is actually played by the products of a misery machine, and like most victims of abuse, they prefer not to talk about it. Breaking this cycle of silence, Agassi provided a grim portrait of his lost childhood, a Dickensian adolescence and his adult struggle with alcohol, drugs, and depression.

This suggested that he intended to abandon tennis and pursue other goals. Or perhaps become a champion of reform. Instead, he started competing in highly paid exhibition matches and Senior Tour events, and turned himself into a spokesman for various global brands, including Longines watches and Lavazza coffee.

In his newest incarnation he has now joined the ranks of celebrity coaches. During the French Open, he provided his services to Novak Djokovic, the Serbian star who’s attempting to regain his winning form, and during the Joker’s first-round win at Wimbledon, Agassi beamed from the Player’s Box, much as he does in commercial plugs for charter schools.

Djokovic praised Agassi as “someone with a very positive mindset about tennis and life in general… He likes to focus on the right frames and just get the best out of it.”

Since this didn’t correspond at all to what Agassi had revealed in Open, a reporter piped up, “Andre was a pretty puzzling kid. Drank a lot of whiskey at [Nick] Bolletieri’s [Tennis] Academy, bleached [his] hair and all that.”

“I didn’t hear about that,” Djokovic said.

“Read the book.”

Djokovic swore he had read it, yet he came away convinced the author was just the guy to get him back on track. The tennis press, suffering from the same amnesia as Djokovic, has published nary a word about how bizarre such an arrangement might strike any reasonable reader of Agassi’s autobiography.

Born in Las Vegas to a brutal father, a former Olympic boxer from Iran, Andre was frog-marched onto a tennis court as a toddler and forced to hit thousands of balls a day. Friendships and education were treated as distractions. He was his father’s whipping boy and was expected to whip other boys and the occasional adult deluded enough to bet that he could beat the kid. At junior tournaments Mr. Agassi fed his son caffeine-laced pills. Later he tried to turn him on to speed.

As a teenager, Agassi was dispatched to the Bolletieri Academy in Florida. His game flourished, but his life turned feral. He skipped school, drank, and smoked dope. Nobody cared as long as he kept winning. The Academy, in Agassi’s words, was “Lord of the Flies with forehands.” But it was no worse than other tennis factories, and Bolletieri had competition when it came to totalitarian trainers. Jim Pierce, a convicted felon and ex-inmate of an insane asylum, bullied and beat his daughter Mary into the Top Ten. Seven-time Wimbledon champ Pete Sampras spent his formative years with a coach later jailed for the sexual abuse of children. Peter Graf, father of Agassi’s current wife, Steffi, dressed his mistress in tennis clothes to resemble his daughter.

Agassi was quick to catch on to the sport’s prevailing cynicism. At the age of 15 he made it into the second round of a pro tournament. As an amateur, he couldn’t accept prize money. But he put in a fake claim for expenses in the exact amount a pro would receive. Amused by his deviousness, the tournament director gave him $2,000.

Some might argue that the delinquencies of junior tennis and national training centers have nothing to do with the pro tour. But the drug abuse, tanking, match fixing, and absence of ethical standards that plague pro tennis actually start at the junior level and get amplified as players rise in the rankings.

Nothing demonstrates this better than Agassi’s account of his mid-career swoon. A multi-millionaire with a ninth-grade education, he had a reputation for pulling out of tournaments with fake injuries or half-heartedly sleepwalking through matches. Even the U.S. Davis Cup coach accused him of tanking. Andre felt he had no identity except the one concocted by sportswriters. To fill up his emptiness, he drank and set fires. Nothing apocalyptic, just a little pyromania to take the edge off.

When this didn’t work, he snorted crystal meth. Whatever this reveals about Agassi, it says far more about tennis’ lackadaisical anti-doping program. When Andre tested positive, the result was covered up and never revealed to the public. Authorities bought his bogus excuse that he accidentally drank a spiked soda.

A few prominent former players speculated that there was more to Agassi’s drug use than he admitted. Ex-Wimbledon champion Pat Cash wrote in the London Sunday Times that insiders suspected Andre had been on anabolic steroids or some other illegal performance enhancer. Cash reported that Magnus Larson, once a top ten player and now a coach, had published a memoir in Sweden that was never translated into English. In it Larson alleged that Agassi was among the six never-named competitors who had tested positive for steroids in 2003. These men were exonerated, with the flabbergasting alibi that they had consumed contaminated supplements distributed by tournament officials.

Cash added that he himself had been dubious about Andre’s last-minute withdrawal from the 2002 Australian Open. He wrote that Agassi had huddled for hours with Aussie tournament officials before dropping out with the announcement that he had a wrist injury.

After all this, one might expect that Agassi would find himself persona non grata on the tour. At the very least, with Maria Sharapova still sidelined after her conviction for doping, one would think tennis authorities should query Agassi about his admitted drug use.

To the contrary, tennis has embraced him and he travels the world promoting his brand, accepting awards and handing out trophies. In 2011, he was inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame and is universally praised for his charity work, especially his sponsorship of charter schools in the United States. For sportswriters the upbeat irony is irresistible—high school drop-out bankrolls the education of underprivileged kids.

It fell to Diane Ravitch, an expert on American education, to point out that this is the least of the ironies about Agassi’s involvement with charter schools. In the New York Review of Books Ravitch produced a detailed critique of charter schools, accusing them of offering enormous federal tax credits, as high as 37 percent, and juicy enticements to foreign investors in the form of Eb-5 visas. Some charter operators buy buildings, lease them back to themselves and get rich from real estate. Others supply charter schools with goods and services and pocket a fortune. Ravitch goes on: “Andre Agassi entered into a profitable partnership with an equity investor to build and open charter schools across the country, even though the Las Vegas charter school that bears his name is one of the lowest performing schools in the state.”

So now that “the annual English garden party of Wimbledon” has started and there’s palaver about Andre Agassi giving back to the game by coaching Novak Djokovic, it might be wise to remain wary of the brash hustler from Vegas who always seems to have an ace up his sleeve.

 

DISCLAIMER: This story was originally published on The Daily Beast. Ubitennis has been allowed to publish the article with the consent of its author.

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Dominic Thiem Rules Federer Out Of GOAT Debate

The Austrian puts forward his theory on who should be regarded as the best player in history.

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Dominic Thiem; e-motion/Bildagentur Zolles KG/Martin Steiger, 27.10.2022

The honour of which player deserves to be regarded as the greatest of all time (GOAT) should be decided based on one factor, according to Dominic Thiem. 

 

The former world No.3 has weighed in on the debate by suggesting that the argument should be settled by the number of Grand Slam titles a player has won as they are the most prestigious tournaments in the sport. In tennis, the four major tournaments are the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open. 

Thiem’s GOAT criteria have therefore ruled Roger Federer out of contention. The Swiss maestro was at one stage the frontrunner due to the numerous records he has broken throughout his career. However, he retired from the sport last year with 20 Grand Slam trophies under his belt which is less than both Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic who are currently on 22 each. 

“In my opinion, the Grand Slam titles should be the defining criteria when determining the best of all time, they are the four most important tournaments in tennis,” Eurosport quotes Thiem as saying. 
“Everything else is fine, but it’s not the same. The Slams are what counts, so the GOAT will probably be the one with the most Grand Slams.”

Others will argue that more factors should be taken into account in the subjective debate. For example, Federer has won 103 ATP titles which are more than his two rivals, Djokovic holds the record for most weeks as world No.1 and Nadal has won more tournaments on clay than any other player in history. Furthermore, there is the players’ win-loss rate on the Tour and their records against the top 10 players. 

Recently at the Australian Open Djokovic won the men’s title for a historic 10th time in his career. An achievement that has been hailed by Thiem who was runner-up to the Serbian at Melbourne Park in 2021. 

“I am not very surprised, Djokovic still looks young,” he said. “Physically and mentally, because of the way he moves on the court. It’s like he was 25 years old.
“We have to be honest, he is the best, so his victory was not very surprising.”

Thiem has won one Grand Slam title which was at the 2020 US Open when he became the first man in the Open Era to come back from two sets down to win in the final. He has also been runner-up at the French Open twice, as well as the Australian Open once. 

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(VIDEO EXCLUSIVE) Australian Open: Steve Flink Talks Djokovic’s Fitness, Nearest Rivals And Future Of American Tennis

Tennis Hall of Famer Steve Flink joins Ubitennis founder Ubaldo Scanagatta to discuss Novak Djokovic’s tenth Australian Open title.

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Novak Djokovic (@DjokerNole - Twitter)

Novak Djokovic won his tenth Australian Open title last week but what does the future hold for the Serb?

 

This was something that was discussed between hall of fame writer Steve Flink and UbiTennis founder Ubaldo Scanagatta.

After Djokovic’s stunning straight sets win to claim a 22nd Grand Slam title, the pair discussed who the Serb’s future rivals may be for the rest of the season.

Flink stated that Alcaraz is Djokovic’s nearest challenger and would love to see them face off several times this season, “I think the smallest gap is between Djokovic and Alcaraz, I think we’ll found that out,” Flink explained.

“I think that’s what we need to see this year, Ubaldo. Is Alcaraz going to pick up where he left off last year, winning his first major, finishing the year number one. Has the temperament, has the game?

“I want to see Djokovic and Alcaraz play this year, I hope maybe 3-4 times at least and I think that could be great for the game and that maybe the biggest test would be to play the young Alcaraz who’s so fearless.”

Reflecting on the Australian Open Flink was very impressed with the way the world number one played over the two weeks especially managing his injury.

Flink thinks that Djokovic getting to world number one is a great achievement given the circumstances, “Just imagine how far ahead he would be in the rankings,” the Serb explained.

“If he had 2000 points for Wimbledon as he should have received, he’d be way way ahead of the pack. But just the fact he got back to number one which no one was really expecting since last fall is a great achievement.

“He was all along the overwhelming favourite to come back and win the Australian Open for the tenth time. However I honestly believe that he was genuinely very worried about his leg. Some people didn’t want to believe that but I definitely believed it because he got hurt in Adelaide and then you saw he was cancelling practice sessions in the middle of the leading up to the Australian Open.

“He was very worried and he kept wearing that strapping on his leg. Plus there was those medical time-outs he was taking in the earlier rounds and I don’t think it was until he played De Minaur in the fourth round that he was physically close to his best. And then from that point on he looked pretty invincible but I do think coming in he had deep concerns about his physical condition.”

Also in their chat, they discussed other rivals to Novak Djokovic such as Stefanos Tsitsipas, Casper Ruud, Daniil Medvedev, Felix Auger-Aliassime, Holger Rune and Sebastian Korda.

There was also much encouragement from Flink over the future of American men’s tennis with him comparing the current generation to the mid 1990’s, “This is the best group we’ve had since you have to go back, I mean we can look at the Roddick-Blake-Fish era and yes I mean Roddick was the last American man to win a major singles title at the 2003 US Open. And Blake was in the top five in the world and Fish had some great exploits but this group has more depth,” Flink explained.

“This is more like the mid-90’s, I’m not saying we’re going to have a Sampras, Courier, Chang, Agassi, you know the greatest American generation but all of these guys starting with Fritz and Tiafoe and then Korda who we already mentioned and Tommy Paul, his first major semi-finals despite the fact he lost to Djokovic in straight sets, Tommy Paul has burst into the top 20.

“And we’ve got an awful lot of talent in the top 50 now, I haven’t been this encouraged in a long time. I think it’s a very impressive American line-up.”

Below you can see the full video where they also discuss who has the most potential between Jannik Sinner, Matteo Berrettini and Lorenzo Musetti.

Video Breakdown:

00:00: Intro

00:26: Discussion over Djokovic’s level and injury concerns at Australian Open.

3:40: Reflecting on Djokovic’s post Wimbledon form

4:38: Reflecting on Djokovic’s physical state in comparison to Nadal and Djokovic’s competition

7:23: Discussion about Tsitsipas

12:45: Further discussion about Alcaraz  

14:55: Talk about Medvedev’s disappointing form

16:32: Talk about Ruud’s style of play

18:10: Talk about Auger-Aliassime

20:24: Discussion about Holger Rune, Sebastian Korda and American Tennis

24:26: Discussion about biggest potential amongst Sinner, Berrettini and Musetti

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Andreescu edges Kostyuk to reach semis in Hua Hin

Bianca Andreescu is into the semi-finals in Thailand.

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Bianca Andreescu (@BenLewisMPC - Twitter)

The Canadian is into the final four in Thailand after beating the Ukrainian in straight sets.

 

Bianca Andreescu booked her spot in the semifinal of the Thailand Open in Hua Hin after beating the Ukrainian Marta Kostyuk in straight sets 6-0, 7-6 in one hour and 28 minutes.

The number one seed hit 19 winners and won 69% of her first serve points in a match where she had an amazing start but was dealt some adversity in the second set.

“I don’t think I started playing bad in the second set,” Andreescu said. “I think she just raised her game and she is always a tough opponent so I wasn’t expecting anything easy.”

The Toronto native who was making her first trip to Thailand came out to a flying start breaking three times in the first set en route to serving a bagel 6-0 set in a mere 25 minutes on court.

Riding the momentum into the second set, the Canadian broke again in the first game and at 3-1 went up a double break and found herself up 5-1 and a game away from the semis.

That’s when the number five seed started fighting back and at 5-2 broke Andreescu for the first time in the match and won the next two games to level the set at 5-5, using her powerful forehand to do it.

The set and the match were ultimately decided by a tiebreaker where the top seed got the early lead at 4-2 and served out the set and match at 6-3 in the breaker to secure the win.

After the match in her on-court interview, she was asked about her chances in the next match.

“I am hoping to win the tournament and I really believe in myself and if I get the support I need hopefully I can win the next two matches.”

Andreescu will face another Ukrainian in the semi-finals Lesia Tsurenko who had no issues getting past the German Tatjana Maria in straight sets 6-1 6-1 in one hour and 16 minutes.

In the other two quarterfinal matches, Lin Zhu of China beat the Slovenian Tamara Zidansek in straight sets 6-2, 6-2 in one hour and 15 minutes to set up an all-Chinese semi-final with the number seven seed Xinju Wang.

Wang needed three sets to get past the Brit Heather Watson 6-3, 6-7, 6-4 in two hours and 40 minutes.

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