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12 Things I Recently Learned About Andre Agassi

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Mental_floss co-founder Mangesh Hattikudur is at the US Open today. Between matches, he'll be serving up some tennis history and random knowledge.

When Andre Agassi’s autobiography Open came out in 2010, all of the hype I heard about it surrounded the fact that the tennis great had done meth and wore a hairpiece. I had low expectations. But while reading the book last week, I learned a whole lot more about him. Here are a few of those things.

1. His Dad Has Anger Issues

In the first chapter, Agassi describes how his father—a former Olympic boxer—got angry a lot. During a spot of road rage, a trucker pulls over his rig to fight, and Agassi’s dad knocks him out. In another road rage incident, he pulls a gun on someone whose driving displeases him, then he lets young Andre know it would be better if he didn’t tell his mom about this whole thing. In a later chapter, the first time Agassi’s dad and fellow hothead Steffi Graf’s father meet, they nearly get in a fistfight.

2. Agassi Was Born to Be a Tennis Player (Whether he liked it or not)

Agassi’s father tried to make pro tennis players of his three older siblings, but he knew Andre was the one. As a baby, his father taped ping pong paddles to his wrists and had him swat at a mobile made of tennis balls. By the time Andre was 6, he was forcing him to hit 2500 tennis balls a day (he wanted Andre hitting a million balls a year) on a tennis court he built himself. He also rigged up a terrifying ball machine called “The Dragon” that spat out balls at the youngster at 110mph.

3. And He Didn’t Like It

The first sentence of the first chapter has Agassi telling you he hates tennis. And he keeps trying to convince people throughout his career!

4. He was a 9-year-old Tennis Shark

As a kid in Vegas, Agassi learned how to hustle on the courts. He'd win a hundred bucks here and there, but his dad was happy to bet on him as well. When football great Jim Brown came to town, he bet Brown $10k that his 9 year old could beat him. The cocky Brown hastily accepted, before a tennis club manager repeatedly begged him to lower the stakes. In the end, Agassi schooled the athletic Brown and made his wallet $500 lighter.

5. He’s Kind of a Cheeseball! (When it comes to Music)

For someone whose image was so punk, the young Agassi wasn’t really into raucous music. He knows the words to Grease. He likes Barry Manilow. He and Brooke Shields loved to make googly eyes at one another to the Celine Dion song from Titanic. And he’s good friends with Kenny G. and Michael Bolton.

6. He Got a Car for Being Hungover

During a Davis Cup match in 1992, Agassi wore Oakley sunglasses to cover up his bloodshot eyes and protect his reputation. He cruised past his opponent (who was also hungover in the meaningless match), and neither thought much of it. But when Agassi got home, and a deliveryman asked him to sign for a package, he got a bit of a shock. The founder of Oakley, Jim Jannard, had sent him a red Dodge Viper to thank him for his endorsement. Apparently, the photo of Agassi in Oakleys was picked up in Tennis magazine, and in just a week he’d moved enough product that Jannard wanted to buy him a car.

7. Jorts Could Have Been McEnroe's Look!

Nike offered the jeans shorts to John McEnroe, but when he laughed at the clothing option, Agassi quickly snagged them and made them his own.

8. Ivan Lendl is Kind of a Jerk

According to Agassi, Lendl liked to intimidate other players by lounging around the locker room before matches buck naked except for his tennis shoes. When asked about Agassi’s talents, Lendl told reporters he was just “a haircut and a forehand.”

9. But Courier and Connors were Worse!

After beating Agassi in Grand Slam matches, Courier would invite reporters into the locker room, put on a fresh pair of sneakers, and then announce that he was going for a jog—just so he could get a real workout! Connors was even worse—when he lost to Agassi, the older Connors tried to get under Agassi’s skin by telling reporters “I enjoy playing guys who could be my children. Maybe he’s one of them. I spent a lot of time in Vegas.”

10. His Trainer Seems Like the Sweetest Man Alive

Agassi’s barrel-chested trainer Gil is a self-taught genius when it comes to understanding the human body. The former trainer for the National Chapionship UNLV basketball team, Gil makes Agassi homemade elixirs called Gil Water to keep him hydrated. He makes him mix tapes, and exercise equipment that he welds himself. He ends up being one of Agassi’s best friends and helps Agassi play until late into his career. But his first speech to him is the best. When asked to join Agassi’s team, he tells the young player, “We’re in a fight, and you can count on me until the last man is standing. Somewhere up there is a star with your name on it. I might not be able to help you find it, but I’ve got pretty strong shoulders, and you can stand on my shoulders while you’re looking for that star.” Also, he basically steps into every situation where someone is going to cold cock Agassi, including protecting the tennis player from an entire rugby team. (You want him as a friend!)

11. Andre Agassi Really Loves Steffi Graf

Throughout the book, Agassi is a master storyteller, clearly showing why family and his entourage mean so much to him. But the way he talks about Steffi Graf and how he appreciates her as a wife is unbelievably sincere—how she used to pick the perfect Elmo songs to keep the kids quiet on the way to matches so he could concentrate, or how their third date basically turned into them living together. But the sweetest is how nervous he gets, and how honored he is, to introduce his wife as she’s inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame. (Oh, and for the record, neither of them want their kids to play tennis.)

12. Agassi Never Wore Pink

The color was actually Hot Lava.

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What Tennis Shoes Looked Like in the Early 1900s
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Mental_floss co-founder Mangesh Hattikudur is at the US Open today. Between matches, he'll be serving up some tennis history and random knowledge.

Image credit: whatsalltheracquet.com

In the pre-Swoosh era, the best shoes for lawn tennis had giant treads and looked like they could be worn to church.

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The Benefits of Grunting During Tennis
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Mental_floss co-founder Mangesh Hattikudur is at the US Open today. Between matches, he'll be serving up some tennis history and random knowledge.

Emitting a Monica Seles-style grunt as you wallop a ball across the court has more than a few benefits. Most people link the biggest advantage to breath control—kind of like yelling hi-ya when a karate expert chops a board in half. And in fact, studies have shown that you do get extra oomph from a short, sharp yell, helping you exert more focused energy than you would without it.

But there’s another advantage to letting out a belly groan with every shot: distraction!

For highly skilled tennis players, hearing how a ball comes off a racket is useful information in processing a quick response. A grunt obscures that information, and it isn’t just the world’s best who get affected. According to a 2012 study from the University of Hawaii and the University of British Columbia, players are significantly worse at anticipating the ball’s direction and speed when a hitter grunts. As The Conversation puts it, “if a shot is traveling at 50mph, the relatively small delay in response that grunting causes (about 30ms) would result in the ball traveling an extra two feet by the time the opponent responds.” That might not sound like a lot, but a little grunt could actually throw off your opponent’s footwork and help you eke out a win.


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