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Open Court Meets Past, Future Olympic Gold Medallists

Aired July 19, 2012 - 05:30:00   ET


PAT CASH, FORMER TENNIS CHAMPION: It's a gold medal edition of Open Court. The biggest names in tennis are back in London to retune their grass court game in time for the Olympics. The all-England club of Wimbledon hosts the tennis event this year, with Roger, Raffa and Serena hoping to add more medals to their Olympic legacy.

Coming up on the show, a CNN Exclusive. Andre Agassi and Stephie Graf. The golden couple of tennis tells Open Court what its like to win gold.

STEPHIE GRAF, FORMER TENNIS CHAMPION: To me this was bigger than a Grand Slam.

ANDRE AGASSI, FORMER TENNIS CHAMPION: It is an out of body experience, it is surreal.

CASH: Plus, reining Olympic doubles gold medallist Stan Wawrinka knows how to pick a partner. And we travel to Tunisia to bring you a story of Malek Jazeri who is carrying the hopes of Africa and the Arab World to the Olympic tennis tournament.

MALEK JAZERI, OLYMPIC TENNIS PRO: It is a dream for everyone, so I will be part of the dream.

CASH: Tennis and the Olympics have had a hot and cold relationship over the years. It was an event in the first modern Olympics in Athens. But a dispute over amateur status meant that it was excluded for over six decades. Well, the big come back came in Seoul in '88, the same year that Stephie Graf won all four Grand Slam titles and the Olympic gold medal.

Well, as we know she married the legendary Andre Agassi and they now call Las Vegas home. Patrick got a chance to catch up with the couple in this Open Court exclusive.

PATRICK SNELL, WORLD SPORTS ANCHOR: She was known as Fraulein Forehand for her trademark shot. Stephie Graf won twenty two Grand Slams singles titles, second on the all time list.

He brought flair, flash and style to the men's game. Andre Agassi won every Slam there was to win. And in 1988 she was grand, winning all four Slams and an Olympic gold medal in Seoul. He followed suit in 1996, winning an Olympic gold medal in Atlanta. I caught up with the pair inside the gym where Agassi trained for that gold.

Both of you are so decorated in your field of expertise. Thirty Slam titles between you. How does that stack up against all of those Slam titles?

GRAFF: To me that was bigger than a Grand Slam, this was more special, you know, standing on the podium and listening to the National Anthem, having the medal around your neck, having other athletes there to support you, it is a different feeling, it is very unique and definitely more special.

AGASSI: I think it puts your life and your hard work and your profession, it puts everything into perspective. When you are stuck in the context of all these amazing athletes who dedicate their lives for this sort of, one moment.

GRAF: I have a lot of great memories, starting with, I left Frankfurt on that flight with a lot of athletes, and I grew up admiring track and field, that was one of the sports we watched a lot of on television, and I loved track and field myself. There were a lot of track and field athletes on board and it was just, for me, just being part of the Olympics. I stayed in the village for quite a few days but it got too loud and noisy and then I had to move back to the hotel, and just experiencing being among everybody and I was out with some of the boxing - I went to see some of the track and field, the swimming competitions, I really was trying to take it all in, but also tried to play and be able to get through the first few rounds and playing for the gold medal, it was extraordinary.

AGASSI: I remember how much I was so thankful for the preparation I put in, and I remember being on that podium, I remember feeling - seeing so many times over the years what someone might be feeling when that gold medal is around their neck and tears came to my eyes. My father in the crowd was an Olympic boxer so I was enjoying it on a lot of levels.

SNELL: You mentioned your father and his past Olympic experiences, how special was that to actually have him there on that occasion?

AGASSI: It was a real big deal for me, it was a big deal because tennis is a sport that is so lonely and to be able to play it for someone else, for something else, for something bigger than you, yet still connected to you, it is a great sense of fulfillment. It was an out of body experience. When I was a boy, tennis was not in the Olympics, but it was one of the many things that my father had predicted in my life, that tennis should be in the Olympics, will be in the Olympics and you are going to win a gold medal. So being on that podium was a boyhood dream in many respects.

SNELL: And nothing like a bit of pressure from Dad to spur you on.

AGASSI: Well, I guess fear could be a great motivator.

SNELL: This is my first trip to Las Vegas and I like what I see, but you are born and raised here, your kids are growing up here, how special a place is this?

AGASSI: Well if you like what you see just arriving, stick around. I love living here. First of all, where you live pails in comparison to who you live with.

GRAF: Yes, having my mom here and my brother and his kids, having my family and Andre's family around us, on the weekends, even last night, having a barbecue, and having all the kids together, all the cousins together, it is just very comforting and something that we share of importance, a close family.

SNELL: I noticed something Andre, around your neck, Daddy Rocks! I can guess where that may have come from, talk about that.

AGASSI: My son made it for me when he was four and a half years old and the only help he asked for was to help him spell it at the time because he wanted to do a necklace and he had all the beads there, and I said what are you going to write? And he said, Daddy Rocks. So I spelled it for him, he put it on and I haven't taken it off in about six years.

GRAF: And you can barely read the letters.

SNELL: Is mom getting an equivalent? Tell us a little bit about your kids. How are they?

AGASSI: Unbelievable. Healthy, strong.

GRAF: A lot of different interests.


GRAF: Very active, they keep us on our toes.

AGASSI: Ten and eight years old. We are officially professional chauffeurs, we are professional cooks, we are professional babysitters,

GRAF: The best job in the world.


SNELL: Do they ever pick up a racquet?

AGASSI: A couple times a week.

GRAF: Jazz will play a little bit, and Jayden is very focused on his baseball. When we go over to grandpa's he will get on the court and play a little bit, he has a lot of talent, but baseball is his sport and Jazz will play a little bit, she is the one that will try everything, a little tennis a little hip hop, a little horseback riding, piano, she hasn't made up her mind which direction she is going.

SNELL: Just before we go, a bit of trivia for you. I have been doing my homework. I spent hours researching who you beat on route to the '96 Olympic gold, I am not going to ask you specifically to name names, but let me just throw a few at you.

AGASSI: (ph) 7-6, 7-6.

SNELL: Cadenzi?

AGASSI: Cadenzi I was down a set at the break and I beat him 6-3 in the third. Quarter finals went forever, he served for the match, 5-4 in the third and I ended up beating him 7-5 in the third. Leander Paes, who I beat in two rough sets, 7-6, 6-4, and then Sergi Bruguera-

GRAF: You should have just called him, why did you need to do all that research?

SNELL: I shouldn't have spent all that time doing my research, it is right here.

GRAF: I cant tell you the results, I can tell you the names.

AGASSI: She can tell you who won.

SNELL; Let me at least have my moment. Leyla Misckey from the Republic and then-

GRAF: Catherine (ph) then Lindsay Savchenko, that was a tough one and then I think it was Zina Garrison and then Gabby Sabatini in the final.

SNELL: Yes. It has been a real pleasure. Thank you very much.

CASH: Still to come on Open Court, Chile has competed in the Olympics since 1896, winning a total of thirteen medals. Almost a quarter of them belong to one man, Fernando Gonzalez. I meet him, after the break.


CASH: One of Chile's best known sportsman, a legend in Latin America. Fernando Gonzalez has won three Olympic tennis medals, a box set of gold, silver and bronze. In Beijing he shared the podium with Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. In Athens he won the doubles gold with Countryman Nicolas Massu. I got a chance to catch up with him during a short stop in London.

You are very special, we have three cameras. For Pete Sampras we only had two.

FERNANDO GONZALEZ, TENNIS PRO: I wish to the play the Olympics because in Sydney I couldn't qualify, and then I was very excited to go to Athens and I knew Chile never got so many medals in the history. There is only thirteen in the history (ph) and I was very proud of myself.

CASH: What was it like going home, having those gold medals? Did you have a party?

GONZALEZ: Yeah, all the people was on the streets (ph) palace and we had breakfast with him and we went on the balcony, a very popular balcony that only a few people went out there and there was a lot of people, a few thousand people. The square was full of people and it was very exciting. I never dreamed that tennis can get the chance to have that experience.

CASH: Tell me about this magnificent forehand, how did you develop it?

GONZALEZ: I grew up on a clay court, I lived right across the street from the tennis club and I was playing against older people, when someone doesn't have somebody to play, they go and knock on the door of my house and I go out and sometimes I didn't want to play, but it was an embarrassment for me to say I don't want to play tennis, so I go anyway. So I hit every single time as hard as I can.

CASH: Powered by his trademark forehand, Gonzalez reached number five in the world. He faced Roger Federer in the 2007 Australian Open final. He came up short, but played some of the best tennis of his life. Earlier this year Gonzalez retired from professional tennis to return to Santiago. He is hopeful; that his Olympic success will inspire young Chileans to play tennis.

Where are the medals now?

GONZALEZ: In my house, in a closet.

CASH: You know where they are though?

GONZALEZ: I know exactly, some people go to my house and say, hey show me them. They don't care about the rest, they care about the medals.

CASH: One of the players I have long admired is Stan Wawrinka is a great all-around player, one of the best back hands on tour. Stan has also got good taste in doubles partners. He teamed up with his fellow countryman Roger Federer to win a gold medal at the Beijing Olympics. And as Stan told me, that was the highlight of his career so far.

ALEX THOMAS, REPORTER: There are only a few Olympic gold medallists making their way to London to defend their titles. Stan Wawrinka is one of them. In 2008 he partnered with Roger Federer and won the doubles gold for Switzerland.

STAN WAWRINKA, TENNIS PRO: That was the best moment of my career for sure.

THOMAS: We all know the Swiss number one, but who is the Swiss number two? Wawrinka started his playing career here and still remembers the first time he practiced with Federer.

WAWRINKA: I remember I was sixteen and he was practicing for the (ph), he was already I think, sixth in the world and after ten minutes I was completely wrecked, completely dead tired because I was so nervous to play with him.

THOMAS: The pair became good friends and started playing Davis Cup for Switzerland. IN 2008, the call came in. Federer had chosen Wawrinka to be his Olympic doubles partner.

WAWRINKA: That day he lost to Blake and he was not in a good mood, it was not easy for him and inside I was like I need to show him that he can trust me and we were playing good (ph) he was happy and inside it was like Okay, let's get something going now. At that moment we were both almost crying, so we (ph) to make fun joke and then again we were laughing and just enjoying the moment. We have the medal together and for life.

THOMAS: Now, let's see how our own Pat Cash matches up with an Olympic gold medallist.

CASH: You don't see too many beautiful single handed backhands. Oh yey, that is nasty. Stan is known for his big backhand but the rest of his game is incredibly solid. He has got a very big serve, watch him boom these ones down the middle. Great serve. I am giving up rallying with this guy. I am going to serve volley him, it's my only chance. He is in trouble now. I give up, thanks mate and good luck at the Olympics.

WAWRINKA: Thanks. I will try.


CASH: we have heard from previous Olympic winners just what the Olympics means to them. But what about somebody competing for the first time? Well, Tunisia's Malek Jaziri is the only male player from Africa and the Arab World. As Neil Curry reports, his story is a remarkable one.

NEIL CURRY, REPORTER: A little more than eighteen months ago Tunisia was in the throws the people's revolution what began what became known as the Arab Spring. The uncertainty of a revolution is far from the ideal preparation for a tennis tournament but it has coincided with a remarkable progression through the rankings from Malek Jaziri. He has risen almost three hundred places to number sixty seven in the world I found Malek relaxing at home watching the Wimbledon Men's final. He was playing in the tournament himself a week earlier when he heard he had made the cut for the Olympics.

MALEK JAZIRI, OLYMPIC TENNIS PLAYER: After my match they told me I was going to the Olympics, so like, I was quite happy, I was happy for my win my match, first time in Wimbledon, and to have the chance to play the Olympics, I am very proud to represent Africa and all African Countries. I received a lot of wishes from Africans, and people that support me.

This is the city of my dream, my love here. My family is here, it is a very interesting city. (inaudible) of Africa. When I am here and in my city, I am at home.

CURRY: if you win the Olympics are you going to jump in there?

JAZIRI: If I win it I will do it.

CURRY: Malek was just two years old when he got his hands on his first racquet, and it wasn't long before he was spending time at his local tennis club.

JAZIRI: This is the club, Club de Champion, it means club of the champions. So you are welcome.

CURRY: Thank you very much. Oh, it is clay court.

JAZARI: Yes, clay court.

CURRY: Is that the French influence?

JAZARI: Yes, this club in 1928, it is a very old club and always has been clay all these years. It is a very nice club.

CURRY: What is special about this court, Malek, I wonder?

JAZARI: This court has a lot of memories for me. This court where I started to play, it is a gift for me from the club and from the city to name this court as my name.

CURRY: (inaudible) has another French connection, the aviator and keen tennis player Roland Garros whose name is given to the French Open was the first pilot to cross the Mediterranean and he landed here.

JAZARI: This is the place where Roland Garros crashed his plane in my city here in the war, so it is in memory of Roland Garros, they make him a place in my city and so you can see 1888, he died in 1918.

CURRY: Roland Garros who gives his bane to the French Open. It has a big connection with you and your city. That is amazing.

Malek's recent success followed a series of setbacks. Injuries cost him two years of his career. Without sponsorship he has traveled the tennis circuit alone, relying on the support of his family. But since breaking the top one hundred, that is beginning to change. Both coach and fitness strainer are on hand to hello him through a punishing four hour workout with scorching temperatures above 43 degrees.

JAZARI: I was practicing so it was very very hot to practice and to play and to travel, the airport was closed, we had helicopter shooting so very hard to play.

CURRY: So Malek, on the 14th of January last year I was standing here surrounded by thousands of people demanding that President Ben Ali leave the country. And by the end of the day, he had done. Things are so different now, aren't they?

JAZARI: Yes, it's true. A lot of things are changing. The people before they could not say whatever they want so they don't have freedom, now the people in the street they can talk, they aren't afraid, before you had to turn left or right before they said something. Now the people can speak whatever they want, they have more freedom and rights. A lot of tourists come here for the shopping, it is very good.

CURRY: Whenever Tunisians meet, talk inevitably turns to football. But many will turn to tennis this summer as one of their own represents his country, his continent and the Arab world in pursuit of an Olympic medal.

Well, I know that Malek got through five liters of water during that practice session in forty five degree heat. That is all we have for this month's show. I hope you enjoy the Olympics. Next month we will be coming to you from New York and the U.S. Open. So until then, goodbye.

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