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Profiles of the Williams Sisters, Andre Agassi

Aired July 13, 2002 - 11:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: Next on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS, the sister act that's dominating the tennis world.


ARLEN KANTARIAN, CHIEF EXECUTIVE, USTA: I think Venus and Serena are to tennis what the Yankees are to baseball.


ANNOUNCER: They grew up on the mean streets of Compton, California.


SONJA STEPTOE, SENIOR EDITOR, "PEOPLE" MAGAZINE: There are drugs. There are gangs.


ANNOUNCER: They were raised to transcend the game's color lines, but their controversial father often overshadowed their success.


JON WERTHEIM, SENIOR WRITER "SPORTS ILLUSTRATED": Tennis has this rich history of tennis fathers from hell. This was the tennis father from outer space.

RICHARD WILLIAMS, FATHER: Well, I tell the world today I'm not crazy. I tell you one thing -- I got plenty of money though, but I'm not crazy.


ANNOUNCER: Slam after slam, their biggest challenge is facing each other.


SERENA WILLIAMS, PROFESSIONAL TENNIS PLAYER: You know the worst part of this rivalry is we're sisters and we live together and nothing like this has ever happened before.


ANNOUNCER: The dynamic dual of Venus and Serena Williams. Then, a tennis prodigy whose flash and flare brought him to center court.


ANDRE AGASSI, PROFESSIONAL TENNIS PLAYER: You have to have a certain amount of substance in order for any of the hype to really -- to mean anything.


ANNOUNCER: But his star-studded career and marriage could suddenly shatter.


AGASSI: You're looking at lives that -- they kind of crashed.


ANNOUNCER: Now, he's found a new match in fellow tennis great, Steffi Graf.


WERTHEIM: He's married now. He has a son. He's exceeded anything he could have hoped to do in tennis.


ANNOUNCER: From rowdy rebel to family man, the comeback career of Andre Agassi. Their stories now on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

PAULA ZAHN, HOST: Hi, welcome to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. I'm Paul Zahn. To tennis fans around the world, they are now simply "The Sisters," Venus and Serena Williams. So dominating, their only competition seems to be themselves. Venus and Serena have battled for the championship in three of the last four Grand Slam events, the latest of course, Wimbledon. It is a sister act defined by flamboyance and driven by a father as controversial as he is caring. Here's Kyra Phillips.


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They're the reigning queens of tennis.

STEPTOE: It's a level of power and finesse and athleticism that tennis has never seen.

PHILLIPS: Superstars known around the world on a first name basis.

KANTARIAN: I think Venus and Serena are to tennis what the Yankees are to baseball, what the Lakers are to basketball, what Tiger Woods is to golf.

PHILLIPS: Sisters who live together off the court...

S. WILLIAMS: We're almost like twins. We're a year apart and we do everything together.

PHILLIPS: ... and sisters who have battled controversy and their own emotions and facing each other on the court.

JOHN MCENROE, TENNIS COMMENTATOR: This is unheard of. It's never happened in tennis nor has it, I don't think, happened in sports where the number one and two ranked players in the world have to face off against each other who are so close.

PHILLIPS: Venus and Serena Williams were born in 1980 and 1981. They're the youngest of five daughters. Oracena and Richard Williams raised their girls in Compton, California, a notorious section of Los Angeles known for its gang wars and drive-by shootings.

R. WILLIAMS: I wanted them to be in a neighborhood that didn't have no other choice but to pull themselves out of themselves. And they was able to do it.

STEPTOE: There are drugs. There are gangs. And in the midst of it were these two little black girls with braids all over their hair and hair ribbons, who had long legs and long arms and incredible tennis talent.

R. WILLIAMS: As far as tennis courts in Compton, those tennis courts were rotten, no nets. And then when they did put some nets up, they put a steel nets up. All the time, you hear the net go "boom." You'd think another gun was shooting. Oh, look out. So it was just really terrible.

S. WILLIAMS: I just think it was just able to prepare me in a way for the situations in the future. I'm able to get through -- nothing really bothers me anymore.

PHILLIPS: While the surroundings were tough, Richard Williams had his daughter's destinies planned out.

WERTHEIM: These two were brought up to be tennis stars.

STEPTOE: He had a dream before they were born that this is what he wanted. And it's almost as if he willed it into being by sheer dent of his convection.

PHILLIPS: By age 10, Venus Williams had become the number one ranked 12 and under player in southern California. Her talent was apparent on and off the court.

RICK MACCI, FORMER COACH: I went to Compton in 1991, in the spring, and Venus asked to go to the bathroom and she walks out the gate and for the first 10 feet, she walks on her hands and then the next 10 feet, she did backward cart wheels. And I'm sitting there going, "I've never seen anything like this." And I told Richard -- I said, "You got the next female Michael Jordan on your hands." And he put his arm around me and said, "No brother, man, I got the next two female Michael Jordans on my hands."

PHILLIPS: That quest for unparalleled success was constantly reinforced.

MACCI: It was almost like breakfast, lunch, dinner and we'll be one and two in the world. This was almost like an arrogant, cocky, as a matter of fact, this is going to happen. There's no doubt. This is what was being talked about at 10, 11, 12, all the time.

PHILLIPS: It was a vision Richard Williams was more than happy to share with the world.

STEPTOE: In those days, I think we all sort of said, "Yes, Mr. Williams. OK. I'll write that down." And in the back of your mind, you're thinking, you know, what's he talking about?

WERTHEIM: Tennis has this rich history of the tennis fathers from hell. This wasn't an example of that. This was the tennis father from outer space.

PHILLIPS: That reputation grew when Richard Williams did something virtually unheard of. He didn't allow his daughters to play in junior tournaments.

R. WILLIAMS: When I look back and see all the kids now who came along with my daughter, no, I did the right thing. And I would say about 85 percent of those kids that came along, they no longer play tennis. But at the same time, they don't go to school either. I made the right decision.

PHILLIPS: Instead, the girls practiced with hitting partners and played only practice matches. Their training, however, was no walk in the park.

MACCI: Richard, one time said, I want Venus to play a match today with a boy who's the biggest cheater in your academy. So I put 12-year-old Venus on a court with some 17-year-old boy, one of the best players in Florida. There was about 40 kids on the fence watching the match. Anytime the ball was on the line, the guy cheated her. Venus got 6-0 -- got beat 6-0 and that's Richard Williams. He wants his daughters' skin to get thicker.

STEPTOE: He trained them to be tough. He said, "There are going to be people at these tournaments that are going to call you Niger. They're going to cheat. They're going to do everything they can. They're going to scream when you serve. They're going to try to make you think the balls are out and you better be tough."

PHILLIPS: At the same time, the Williams sisters were being taught tennis wasn't the only thing in their lives.

MACCI: He always treated them like kids and he always talked to me about that. We're not going to practice today. We're going to the mall. ORACENE WILLIAMS, MOTHER: The priorities first would be to God and then family and then, everything else was secondary.

PHILLIPS: In 1994, after going three years without playing in a competitive tournament...

ANNOUNCER: Venus Williams.

PHILLIPS: ... 14-year-old Venus Williams made her professional debut.

WERTHEIM: Everybody thought Venus would lose. She'd get her clock cleaned and then, this would sort of be a funny side chapter in tennis history.

PHILLIPS: Instead, Venus won, beating a player ranked in the top 60. That set up a showdown with Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, ranked number two in the world.

VENUS WILLIAMS, PROFESSIONAL TENNIS PLAYER: I think I had the game to beat anyone and I can't just accept that she's going to be better or she's going to win because that's not what I'm here to do. I'm here to play my hardest and not believe that someone's better.

PHILLIPS: Williams lost in three sets, but the word was out.

WERTHEIM: Everybody saw Venus Williams put a scare into this top five player and said, "You know, maybe this Richard Williams isn't so crazy after all."

PHILLIPS: By 1997, Serena had joined Venus in the professional ranks and the sisters made an immediate splash.

WERTHEIM: The problem is that white is the predominant color in tennis, not just the complexion of the players but the dress and the crowds. It's a very sort of gentile sport.

STEPTOE: Venus and Serena were the complete atheists of all of that. They're outfits were colorful. They were colorful. Their hair was different. It was colorful. And they played tennis in a colorful way.

WERTHEIM: They were hitting with power. Even when they came on all arms and legs, they were grunting. They were covering balls that no player would even try to get to. And the power, even at age 16, their power was nothing that anybody had seen before.

PHILLIPS: In 1997, 17-year-old Venus reached the finals of the U.S. Open in her first appearance in the tournament. Two years later, 17-year-old Serena won the 1999 U.S. Open, becoming the second black woman ever to win a Grand Slam singles event. And 2000 saw Venus win her first singles Grand Slam title at Wimbledon.

V. WILLIAMS: Well, I guess we kind of won two of the last four Grand Slam singles in the last year. So that's pretty good, you know. We want to take this one too. Either one of us. That would be nice. S. WILLIAMS: It's our ambition just to take over tennis and we're trying. We're doing a decent job of it now and hopefully we can keep it up.


PHILLIPS: When PEOPLE IN THE NEWS continues, the Williams sisters power their way to the top and face controversy when they square off against one another.


MCENROE: There's been certainly accusations that something's going on beforehand and I think in a couple cases, it probably was.


ANNOUNCER: Also ahead, four hand smashes and camera flashes. On the court, a career that's crashed and soared. Off the court, losing love and finding it again.


AGASSI: She's amazing and you know, I marvel at it.


ANNOUNCER: The comeback career of Andre Agassi later on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.




PHILLIPS (voice-over): By the beginning of 2001, the Williams sisters had won three of the last five Grand Slam tournaments. They had gotten gold at the Olympics, Venus in singles, together in doubles and their sights were set on reaching the top of the tennis rankings.

S. WILLIAMS: Obviously, I would love to be number one.

V. WILLIAMS: There's no way that I'm going to say, "Well, I'm happy at number three. I like it here." Definitely, I'm trying to move forward.

PHILLIPS: But striving to be the best would mean more head to head battles between the sisters, which would prove to be difficult and controversial. Growing up, the sisters spent countless hours playing and practicing on the court together.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now, is it true that when you used to play Serena as a kid, she was a bit of a cheater? She said she was.

V. WILLIAMS: Yes, it was true. It was true. She only cheated usually when she was down. She didn't cheat when she was up. She was ready to go.

S. WILLIAMS: I did have a problem with cheating when I was younger.

V. WILLIAMS: See, I just rolled with you. It's tough to argue against Serena because she was so good at arguing and so good at cheating that it was no use.

PHILLIPS: However, playing competitive matches against one another was something their father did not encourage.

MACCI: It'd almost be like a street fight, you know. It would be brutal and he didn't even want that type of confrontation between the sisters.

R. WILLIAMS: I know never have allowed it when they was little kids because I think it's a good way to tarnish the family. To be honest with you, I didn't want them playing each other head-to-head on the WTA tour either or should I say the -- competitive, the Williams' Tennis Association.

PHILLIPS: There was no mistaking the emotional strain the sisters experienced when they did face one another. Most notably in the 2000 Wimbledon semifinals where Serena walked off the court in tears after losing to her big sister.

S. WILLIAMS: She brought out her best game against me today and I just -- I don't know. I guess I wasn't all that ready.

R. WILLIAMS: Serena hates to lose. I mean losing to Serena is almost like dying.

V. WILLIAMS: Yes, it was really bitter, but someone had to move on and it was either me or Serena. And in this instance, it was me.

WERTHEIM: Venus told me the story once about how growing up in L.A., they would share a room and Serena refused to go asleep before Venus. So Venus had to wait until Serena fell asleep because Serena would get scared in the night.

How in the world is she going to get up to beat this player, to really get aggressive and really find the competitive instincts to beat this player on the other side of the net, this player who she had to once wait until she was asleep before she could then fall asleep?

PHILLIPS: In fact, the sisters' matches against one another were often lack luster at best, awful at worst.

WERTHEIM: They both played the same game. They both are power players, which usually leads to a lot of unforced errors. Also, though, they warm up with each other before their matches. So it's not as though one's got a secret weapon the other hasn't seen that she's ready to unleash.

PHILLIPS: It added up to questions about the sisters' willingness to play one another and came to a head in March 2001 at a tournament in Indian Wells, California. Just minutes before her scheduled semifinal match-up against Serena, Venus withdrew, citing an injury. Serena was booed during the finals, as were her father and sister as they took their seats. And Richard alleged fans had hurled a racial slur against them.

S. WILLIAMS: You would have to talk to my dad about that, I think. I'm not really trying to get involved in any type of controversy. I'm just trying to stay out of everything because I think unfairly I've been brought into a lot of things.

V. WILLIAMS: I think it's important for his point-of-view to be heard if he wants to speak. And as for me, I'm here to play tennis and that only and that makes me happy enough.

PHILLIPS: The controversy had also been fueled by fellow tennis player Elena Dementieva, who said she thought Richard would decide who would win the match-up between the girls. At the same time, "The National Enquirer" printed a story. It alleged that Richard had predetermined which sister would win their 2000 semifinal match-up at Wimbledon.

S. WILLIAMS: Come on, it's "The National Enquirer". I mean God. I'm having -- the next thing you know I'm going to be pregnant by some Martians.

R. WILLIAMS: If you do that, what's going to happen is you're going to lose the respect of one of your daughters. No, I would never tell my daughter to lose or to win under no circumstance. But I would tell my daughter this here -- "When you're out there, do the best you can do and represent all peoples very well in a special America."

WERTHEIM: I don't think the matches are fixed. And I don't think they ever were fixed. But I think people see how the level of play drops so dramatically when they compete against each other and you also have the Richard factor to contend with.

PHILLIPS: Richard Williams seemed to get more outrageous as his daughters became more successful. He badmouthed other players, held up signs and danced at tournaments. He supplied the press with a seemingly endless stream of outlandish comments and stories.

STEPTOE: Well, I think Richard a modern day P.T. Barnum. There's no question about him. He's full of bluster.

WERTHEIM: This is a man who just doesn't distinguish between fact and fiction. And he's buying Rockefeller Center for $3.9 billion. And he owns thousands of buses and he has a seat on the Shanghai Stock Exchange. And I'm not sure it's sort of controversy so much as it's amusement.

R. WILLIAMS: The only thing I have a tendency of saying is what I believe in. And I know noticed when Muhammad Ali said what he said, people say, "That guy's crazy." Well, any black person come along in this country and say anything, he's crazy. Well, I tell the world today I'm not crazy. I tell you one thing -- I have plenty of money though, but I'm not crazy. PHILLIPS: In September 2001, the sisters got the chance to show the world they were on the up and up with their first head-to-head match-up in a Grand Slam event at the U.S. Open.

S. WILLIAMS: I won't have any problem because this is the U.S. Open. And if you ever noticed, the winner gets, you know, $850,000.

V. WILLIAMS: It's been like two years for her since she's won. And it's been a year for me since I won here too.

PHILLIPS: The match was sloppy but hard fought, Venus beating her little sister. But more than that, it fulfilled their father's prophecy, two girls from Compton taking over the tennis world.

R. WILLIAMS: I've been dreaming about this all my life and when it happened, I wasn't ready again. I mean they keep catching me off guard. It's just such a thrill, such unbelievable -- something that just happened there, unreal.


PHILLIPS: When PEOPLE IN THE NEWS continues, the Williams sisters hit the books and their sibling rivalry finally sizzles.





UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Her serve was great.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Venus Williams is really playing nice looking tennis.

PHILLIPS (voice-over): Venus and Serena Williams have transcended sports; become two of the most visible women in the world. Venus has a $40 million endorsement deal with Reebok, the richest ever for a female athlete. Serena has a lucrative contract with Puma. And the sisters also pitch everything from their own dolls...

S. WILLIAMS: Well, I think they're very, very cute to say the least.

PHILLIPS: ... to Wrigley gum.

S. WILLIAMS: We just happen to think that Wrigley's is the best.

PHILLIPS: They're ranked on Fortune's list of power celebrities and their popularity ratings are huge.

KEVIN WOLFF, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER, WTA: And I do think their marketability off the court will continue to grow. And I think you're going to see, potentially, them breaking the top ten and top five, which has been held by the Tigers and the Michael Jordans of the world.

PHILLIPS: Any tournament that features a Williams sister guarantees more attention, more fans and more money.

KANTARIAN: I think Venus and Serena have brought a tremendous amount of non-tennis sports fans into the mix. Win or lose, love them and hate them, Venus Williams and Serena Williams are bringing more people into the game than anything else we could possibly be doing.

STEPTOE: You know you're not only going to get, you know, whatever hair do they're sporting this month, you're also going to get like an amazing outfit of colors that are not found in the natural hue. And you're going to get just breathtaking tennis.

PHILLIPS: Their influence is trickling down to youth tennis as well.

KANTARIAN: We saw that phenomena with Michael Jordan. We're seeing it with Tiger Woods in golf. Hopefully, this will encourages a lot of the inner city kids growing up in public parks to pick up a racquet, emulate the Williams sisters, understand that that -- your dreams can be achieved. And we think that phenomena is being felt throughout the entire country right now.

PHILLIPS: For all their riches, success and fame, the Williams sisters and their family continue to make life outside tennis a priority.

O. WILLIAMS: And that's been -- always been a major focus of ours for the transition out of tennis because you're only a star for so long and then what do you have next. So you have to make preparations early for that.

R. WILLIAMS: And I think people think that we're supposed to take tennis as if it's the last thing on earth. And I'm supposed to go "I'm going hit you over your head if you don't get that." No, I might hit you over your head if you don't read that book now.

PHILLIPS: The girls have been taking fashion design courses at a college near their Florida home, even scheduling tournaments around their classes.

JANE ESPINOZA ALVARADO, PROFESSOR, ART INSTITUTE OF FT. LAUDERDALE: Usually, if they were away at one of the tournaments, they'll say, "Well, can we FedEx this to you? We don't want to be late. We want to have our project in on time."

V. WILLIAMS: I was always involved in fashion and before I knew it, I was just submitting some designs to Reebok. And it was pretty flexible and that's how it all got involved.

S. WILLIAMS: I do my own designs of dresses. I do like evening wear. And I've worn my dress a few times with some different designs.

ROBERT MASSENGILL, CHAIR OF FASHION DEPARTMENT, ART INSTITUTE OF FT. LAUDERDALE: Both of them have a very strong fashion sense. They love clothes and they can wear clothes beautifully. And so, the interest is definitely there. They feel like that of all the possible second careers for them, this was the area that they loved and they felt like that -- they would want to participate in.

PHILLIPS: This June, the sisters' domination of the women's tour became official as they reached numbers one and two in the rankings. But they still faced the challenge of showing that brilliance against one another. The battle in the finals of the French Open wasn't pretty with Serena winning a contest that featured 101 unforced errors.

MCENROE: For the sport of tennis, it would be better if they figured out a way where they play their best tennis against each other. And I don't know if you need a little animosity or what you need, but whatever the ingredient is I'd like to see it added to the mix because that would be really great for tennis.

PHILLIPS: Then last weekend at Wimbledon, they finally brought their A games with them. Serena beat Venus in a match this featured power, dazzling shot making and nearly as many winners as errors.

RICHARD PAGLIARO, "TENNIS WEEK" MAGAZINE: I absolutely think it was the most exciting match that they've played the nine times they have played. Venus has won five of the nine. And I think they're getting increasingly more comfortable facing each other.

PHILLIPS: The sisters have now captured seven of the last 12 Grand Slam singles' titles and are looking for more.

S. WILLIAMS: I can't become satisfied because, you know if I get satisfied, I'll be like, "Oh, I've won Wimbledon. I've won the U.S. Open and now, I can relax. But now people are really going to be fighting to beat me now.

V. WILLIAMS: It's not fun losing, no matter who you lose to. It doesn't matter. It's not something that I'm going to get used to or try to adjust to because I'm not one for losing at all. So naturally, I'm going to go out there and try to win the very next time.

PHILLIPS: Even if it means beating her sister.

S. WILLIAMS: It has potential to be a great rivalry. We have a lot of fun out there and you know, the best part about this rivalry is we're sisters and we live together. And nothing like this has ever happened before.


ZAHN: Venus and Serena may be the tennis world's new stars, but he is one of the game's legends. Coming up, Andre Agassi. Despite his early exit from Wimbledon this year, don't count him out. He has flash and a future on the court and at home with Steffi Graf when PEOPLE IN THE NEWS continues, but first, here's this week's "Passages."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oscar-winning actor Rod Steiger died Tuesday in a Los Angeles hospital of pneumonia and kidney failure. Known for memorable roles in his more than 100 films, he would take home the "Best Actor" award playing the red neck southern police chief opposite Sidney Poitier in "In The Heat of The Night."

Born on Long Island, Steiger started acting with a drama group from his office. During the 1980s, Steiger did little movie work because of his bouts with depression. But he would come back in the 90s with roles in movies like "Crazy in Alabama" and "End of Days." Rod Steiger was 77.

America's favorite game show host is recuperating from a routine operation. Bob Barker came on down to a Washington, D.C. hospital Wednesday to relieve discomfort from an enlarged prostate. The 78- year-old will recover at home during the summer hiatus from taping "The Price is Right." And Barker hopes to leave the hospital with a clean bill of health, a year's supply of turtle wax and of course some lovely parting gifts.

Forget about Hammer time, it's Reno time. Former Attorney General Janet Reno will be hosting a real dance party, taking a cue from the popular "Saturday Night Live" spoof. The shindig will take part in a trendy Miami club on South Beach and will serve as a fund- raiser for Reno's' run for Florida governor. And while Damon Wayans and Denzel Washington are on the dance card, no word if Jonathan Taylor Thomas will be breaking out the Macarena.

Do a little dance, read a little celebrity news and get on down and pick up a copy of "People" magazine this week. We'll be right back.


ZAHN: Welcome back to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. This year marked the tenth anniversary of Andre Agassi's improbably Grand Slam victory at Wimbledon. Ten years, we have seen Agassi rise and fall, only to rise again, divorce Brooke Shields, marry Steffi Graf and become a father. And though his stunning early round exit from Wimbledon raises questions about his future at the net, Agassi is on top of his game at home. Here is Daryn Kagan.


DARYN KAGAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Don't tell Andre Agassi that he's an old man for professional tennis. A series of wins this year, including the 2002 tennis Masters series in Rome, has fueled his climb to the top of the rankings. But a stunning early round loss at Wimbledon proved it's tough to stay on top.

AGASSI: I don't look at it as a reflection of where my game is. I mean today, I wasn't as good as the guy played.

KAGAN: At 32, he's one of the oldest players on the men's tour, but Agassi doesn't plan on retiring any time soon. He may look a little different from that upstart player whose image was everything. Gone are the flashy outfits, the shaggy hair. The flamboyant tennis star is sporting a new look these days, one he also shares with 8- month-old son, Jaden Gil. The former tennis rebel is now a family man. Agassi married long-time girlfriend and fellow tennis great Steffi Graf this past October.

WERTHEIM: He's married now. He has a son. He's exceeded anything he could have hoped to do in tennis. He's going to be in the Hall of Fame. What Andre does is really pretty amazing.

AGASSI: I feel like I'm moving better. I'm fitter and I'm bringing experience. So that allows for a pretty airtight package.

KAGAN: Five years ago, it was a very different story. Though he seemed to have it all, married to one of Hollywood's most beautiful actresses, Brooke Shields.

AGASSI: Oh yeah.

KAGAN: Raking in millions in endorsements.

AGASSI: Training is such a bore.

KAGAN: But his tennis career had slumped to its lowest point ever, number 141 in the rankings.

AGASSI: There was no margin for error anymore. It's like I had to either play or stop.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you're looking at Andre Agassi and -- just 6 years old...

KAGAN: A difficult decision for someone who was practically born playing tennis.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Andre, how do you like the game of tennis?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who taught you tennis?

AGASSI: My dad.

KAGAN: His father, Mike, taped a racket to Andre's hand as soon as he could walk and hung a tennis ball over his crib.

AGASSI: He was convinced that if my eyes are going to move around as a little baby, it might as well be looking at a tennis ball.

KAGAN: Mike Agassi was himself, no stranger to competition. He was a Golden Gloves champ who boxed for Iran in the 1948 and '52 Olympics. He settled in Las Vegas where he found work as a tennis pro at the Tropicana. But his main job was pushing his four kids on the tennis court.

NICK BOLLETTIERI, AGASSI'S FORMER COACH: Mr. Agassi, he was very domineering. I mean he -- you know, tennis, tennis, tennis, tennis. He had the ball machines out in the back and ball machines in the living room.

KAGAN: He even cranked up the machines to a higher speed. From an early age, all Andre knew was tennis.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you want to be a tennis player when you get big?


PERRY ROGERS, FRIEND: He practiced every afternoon, all afternoon, practiced every weekend all weekend, practiced every holiday that I can recall. It was just what they did.

KAGAN: While his brothers and sisters all excelled, Andre was a tennis prodigy.

AGASSI: When I was seven, I played in my first tournament and won like the first seven tournaments I played, you know. I was -- started playing up more and challenging myself more. But yes, I was always a little bit ahead of my years.

KAGAN: By the age of 10, he was winning tournaments against some of the same players he would later face in Grand Slams, Pete Sampras, Jim Courier, Michael Chang.

When Andre was just 13, his father shipped him off to Bradenton, Florida...

BOLLETTIERI: They're done in a big swing.

KAGAN: ... to the tennis academy of legendary coach Nick Bollettieri.

BOLLETTIERI: No mistakes. No mistakes.

And in his raspy voice, he called, "Now, Mr. Bollettieri, this is Mr. Agassi, Mike Agassi." And he said, "I have a little problem." He said, "I have a son. He doesn't listen to me and I know that you can get my son to the top."

KAGAN: The tennis academy was a tough adjustment for Andre.

AGASSI: So it was, at the time, probably closer to a boot camp than it was a tennis academy, but, you know, it helped me on the court and I had to learn to survive when it comes to, you know, living away -- 3,000 miles away from your home.

ROGERS: That was really hard. And what was thrusting into that environment was the game of tennis. And so, suddenly, your feelings about the game of tennis aren't as positive.

KAGAN: The young teenager began to rebel.

ROGERS: That's when he starred to grow the hair long. He actually showed up for one tournament in jeans. I recall that. And he just didn't really want to follow the rules that they had at Nick's.

BOLLETTIERI: Oh, he pushed everything. He -- Andre pushed everything.

KAGAN: Three years later, at the age of 16, Andre Agassi decided to turn pro.

AGASSI: I just kind of started thinking, you know, what else am I going to do? I mean, school and going to college wasn't a consideration. I was -- always planned on being professional and I figured I might as well just get out there and do it.

ROGERS: Part of that was to get out of the academy, to leave the environment. He got one "Get out of Jail Free Card" and this was it.


KAGAN: When the story of Andre Agassi continues, how the flash and fame took a toll on and off the court.


AGASSI: You're looking at lives that -- they kind of crashed.





KAGAN (voice-over): In 1987, Andre Agassi hit the pro tour in a blaze of hype.

AGASSI: Image is everything.

KAGAN (on camera): You took off as a personality faster than you took off as a tennis player. You got some huge endorsements long before you ever even won a Grand Slam.

AGASSI: Yes, I definitely had a lot of attention. But you have to have a certain amount of substance in order to for any of the hype to really -- to mean anything.

KAGAN (voice-over): With the help of his coach, Nick Bollettieri, Agassi rose to number three in the world in just two years. He had a bad boy reputation, plenty of endorsements, but no Grand Slam.

BOLLETTIERI: So that was tough for Andre -- you know the billboards, the money and everything else that went along with it, and then you have to win, too.

KAGAN: When Wimbledon came around in 1992, Agassi only decided to go at the last minute. BOLLETTIERI: Go over to England, had a press conference and the press said, "Andre, how do you prepare for it?" "Oh," he said, "I've been to Boca Raton, man, hitting on the grass for two weeks." And he'd be winking like that. He hadn't even seen a blade of grass.

KAGAN: He advanced to the finals as the twelfth seed against all odds.

AGASSI: I didn't need that pressure to feel the pressure because I was already putting it on myself. I was -- I wanted to win. I wanted to not just make it to the finals. I wanted to see what it felt like to win.

KAGAN: Then in the final match against Goran Ivanisevic...


AGASSI: I just remember being incredibly overwhelmed and relieved, you know. It was like a combination. It felt impacting and, at the same time, it felt like a lot came off my shoulders.

BOLLETTIERI: No one expected that. I mean, he didn't even want to go.

ANNOUNCER: Andre Agassi in tears has won Wimbledon!

KAGAN: The elation didn't last. Bollettieri had become a father figure to Agassi, but that relationship began to unravel. Bollettieri says he felt Agassi was trying to squeeze him out of coaching.

BOLLETTIERI: Things began to get a little uneasy. I think Andre began to tighten up a little bit more with his team, maybe had a concept -- maybe "I should get another coach to help."

KAGAN: After 10 years together, Bollettieri wrote Agassi a resignation letter.

(on-camera): What about the split with Nick?

AGASSI: Difficult time, you know. We've had our ups and our downs, but he helped my career a lot. And there just came a time when it needed to be different. For what reasons, I'm not sure I even completely understand today.

KAGAN (voice-over): Agassi turned to fellow player Brad Gilbert to coach him and he hit a hot streak. The player with a bad rap of never winning the big one, clinched the U.S. Open in 1994, the Australian Open in 1995 and an Olympic gold medal in '96.

Things also began to heat up off the court. In 1993, the tennis idol began dating actress, Brooke Shields.

KENNY G: And this is my wife...

KAGAN: Saxophone player, Kenny G's wife had suggested the two get together. Shields was on location, so she faxed Agassi a letter. The two talked on the phone everyday for six weeks before they ever met.

BRAD GILBERT, FORMER COACH: And they could completely relate to each other. They both were working on getting their careers where they wanted. They both had been acknowledged as being famous before necessarily they had earned all of the merits that go along with that. And so, they really were supportive of each other.

KAGAN: On April 19, 1997, the two were married in Carmel, California. But love is also a tennis term, as Agassi discovered. Shields' career got a boost with the sitcom "Suddenly Susan." His career was starting to slump. The Hollywood dazzle was distracting. He lost his focus and his confidence.

AGASSI: So I was just losing every time I played and I couldn't beat anybody anymore, I mean anybody in the main draws, that's for sure.

KAGAN: In November 1997, Agassi sank to number 141 in the rankings, the lowest point in his career. His new nickname, Andre Agony and Andre Aghastly.

GILBERT: He got to 141 because of his head. He went through a tough year in '97. I mean he just wasn't at the right place. He barely played and when he did play, his mind wasn't into it and he was out of shape.

KAGAN: The struggle with his career began to put a strain on his marriage.

AGASSI: There are realities you can't get around. I mean, my life was in Vegas, but then it was in L.A. And then, you know, to succeed it at an incredible level, you need an incredible amount of focus and you need an incredible amount of support. And I think in many ways we tried to support each other, but you're looking at lives that -- they kind of crashed.

KAGAN: Ten days short of their second wedding anniversary, Agassi filed for divorce.

ROGERS: You know, he clearly put a lot into the marriage and sacrificed a lot of his career. But there was this sense of "What do I want from my career at the same time that I'm trying to balance my life and the relationships in my life."


KAGAN: When Agassi's story continues, a career comeback and a personal setback.


AGASSI: It was a difficult time. I was -- it was pretty eye opening.





KAGAN (voice-over): By 1999, Andre Agassi had reached a low point. His marriage to Brooke Shields was shattered. His career had sunk so low; he had to play in qualifying events for the first time in a decade. It was like being sent back to the minors.

IVAN BLUMBERG, AGASSI'S AGENT: He was either going to back it in -- I've had a relatively successful career -- or he was going to rededicate himself to the sport of tennis.

KAGAN: Agassi's coach at the time, Brad Gilbert, sat him down for a tough talk.

GILBERT: If you're going to play like this, I mean, this is not you. It's like if you want to rededicate yourself, I'm there with you, you know. If you don't want to rededicate yourself, I mean we're not doing each other any good.

KAGAN: Agassi decided to stay in the game.

AGASSI: That decision was pretty easy. The work that followed wasn't, but the decision was pretty easy. I still wanted to play.

KAGAN: Before, Agassi's reputation as a junk food junky was even portrayed in a Nike commercial.

AGASSI: My favorite doughnut is a rainbow sprinkle. It has all of the colors on it and it puts me in a good mood.

Two years ago, my game was going nowhere.

KAGAN: He started a new healthy diet and Madison Avenue began marketing his gut-wrenching training routine.

AGASSI: It's a combination of a lot of weight training, a lot of cardio, you know, sprint work on hills, combined with the tennis court.

GIL REYES, AGASSI'S TRAINER: He's running so hard. His body is aching so much. His legs are on fire. His -- you can hear his lungs screaming as he's sprinting up a hill. And on his face, you see the look of pain, but you also see the look of purpose.

KAGAN: The hard work began to pay off. Agassi whipped himself and his game back into shape.

In 1999, he set out to win the only Grand Slam tournament that had eluded him so far, the French Open. In the final match, he was down two sets to nothing, but Agassi stayed a remarkable comeback and he became the first man since Rod Laver in the '60s, to win all four Grand Slam events in his career. BOLLETTIERI: It shows me that if a person gets knocked down -- I judge a champion when everything goes wrong -- can you get up and get yourself back up? He's done it.

KAGAN: After climbing from 141 to number one in just two years, Agassi's triumph met tragedy. Both his mother and sister were diagnosed with breast cancer.

AGASSI: Well, it was a difficult time. I mean it was pretty eye opening, in many ways, personally.

KAGAN: Two days after he publicly revealed the shattering news, Agassi lost in the second round of the 2000 U.S. Open. He decided to spend time with his family in Las Vegas and put his career on hold for a while.

ROGERS: Clearly, there was nothing more important than his mom's health and his sister's health. And so, tennis, not only was it not in the back seat, it wasn't in the car.

KAGAN: The tennis star shared his family's pain and then took what he learned back on the court.

(on-camera): How are they doing?

AGASSI: They're doing great. My sister is done with all of her chemo. She's shown me, in a few ways now, what it means to really fight and to really be -- really be great at asking more of yourself and she's been an inspiration.

KAGAN (voice-over): Another inspiration in his life right now, a tennis great in her own right, wife, Steffi Graf.

AGASSI: She's an amazing woman. So she does -- while she might have been very accomplished and very strong, she's amazing and you know, I marvel at it.

ANNOUNCER: Steffi Graf.

KAGAN: Agassi had always admired the way that Graf conducted herself on and off the court. Their courtship began in 1999 after Graf retired with an amazing 22 Grand Slams. They soon moved in together, sharing Agassi's Las Vegas mansion and sparking rumors of a wedding. Those rumors heated up this past July, after the couple confirmed that they were expecting a baby. A month later, the tennis superstars staged an ultra quiet at-home wedding. With only their mothers looking on, Agassi and Graf tied the knot.

Just four days later, the newlyweds had another reason to celebrate, the birth of their son, Jaden Gil.

ROGERS: He's always tried to walk the balance between his life and his tennis. And here is someone that supports both. So there is this complete balance. It just funnels right down together.

KAGAN: Agassi also balances his life by giving back to the community where he was raised. His foundation has given nearly $1 million to far this year to help at-risk kids in Las Vegas, including Child Haven, a shelter for neglected children, a new charter school, and the Agassi Boys and Girls Club.

AGASSI: I heard that saying one time, you know, when somebody expects a lot from you, that means they think a lot of you. And our foundation is designed to not just give to children, but to expect a lot from them.

KAGAN: If image was once everything for Agassi, now, it appears substance is everything.

ROGERS: I think that at first, he was viewed as this rebellious guy who only wanted to wreak havoc. And now, I think people understand that he's a thoughtful man who is very compassionate.

GILBERT: I have never met anybody that is more honest and is more forthright. And he's got the kindest heart I've ever met.

KAGAN: Agassi had a successful eight-year run with Gilbert. But after an amicable breakup last year, he joined forces with new coach, Darren Cahill. His new partnership has helped pushed Agassi back to the top of the rankings. The question now -- at 32, how long can he keep it up?

WERTHEIM: As long as he has his focus, as long as he has this drive, I think he can play a few more years if he wants to.

AGASSI: I don't know how long I can do it for and I really don't know how long I'm going to choose to do it for. I hope that it's for a number of more years, you know. Hopefully, I'll always bring more to a sport and to a life that gives more than it takes. And that's fair enough for me.


ZAHN: And that is it for this edition of PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. Coming up next week, from Han Solo to Indiana Jones, Harrison Ford has brought to the screen some of Hollywood's most memorable heroes. But you won't believe how he first paid his dues.

I'm Paula Zahn. Thanks so much for joining us and be sure to join me every weekday morning for "AMERICAN MORNING" right here on CNN. Thanks again for joining us.




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