Nov/19

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Did Agassi’s Pride Cause Him To Ignore Advice On How To Overcome Sampras?

Jim Courier has said that if you take away the serve of Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi was the better player.

It’s a curious game to play this fantasy mix and matching of the weapons of great champions. But in the end it’s silly. If Frank Bruno had Mike Tyson’s punching power…

If Marcelo Rios had Lleyton Hewitt’s fighting spirit…

If Nick Kyrgios had Rafael Nadal’s work ethic and burning desire to be the best…

If Martina Hingis had Serena Williams’ serve…she’d still be playing on the WTA Tour, as the former Swiss Miss said this week in China.

The fact of the matter is that Pete Sampras had that serve and worked awful hard at it and the rest of his game. And most of all, Pete had the courage and bravery to manufacture his best serves when he needed them most. Nobody gave Pete Sampras anything in his career, he earned every point, every set, every match, every title he won by talent, fight, guts and shotmaking under pressure.

It was Agassi that was consistently shown to be the inferior of Sampras, over and over and over, except for a few isolated but memorable matches where the showman from Las Vegas managed to outplay Pistol Pete.

Now that the history books have been written, we can wonder…could Agassi have improved some aspects of his game to have given Sampras a more formidable challenge, such as improving his serve and his returns and volleys, three areas that he struggled with against Sampras.

Recently, I have learned an interesting bit of inside information. That Andre Agassi, along with Brad Gilbert, together rejected specific coaching advice to employ against Sampras. Journalist Richard Pagliaro told me that Agassi’s father Mike revealed to him that he attempted to offer his son Andre some tips and advices to improve his serve and return and volley.

What were those tips from Mike Agassi to Andre Agassi that were ignored?

“Toss the ball more in front and use a smaller racquet head. The larger head that Andre used was too big for generating snap on the serve. Also as one of the best pure ball strikers, Andre didn’t need an oversize head anyway. On the volley, Mike told them Pancho Gonzalez drilled two against one with young players, not Brad Gilbert. Mike said he told Brad Gilbert, if you could hit with Andre you would still be on the Tour.”

“It’s simple physics: Larger head racquets create more drag through the air, that’s why all great players except for Serena who plays oversize, mainly use mid-size heads or smaller.”

Mike Agassi’s ideas are intriguing.

So what would have happened had Andre Agassi had an open mind and added his father to his coaching team? How much improvement would Andre’s game have been elevated by the man who knew and understood his son better than anybody? What would have happened in the Sampras vs Agassi rivalry if Agassi used a smaller head racquet which would have enhanced his serve, strokes, volleys and returns?

We will never know the answers to these questions.

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8 comments

  • Jon King · November 2, 2019 at 8:58 am

    I would not put one ounce into anything Mike says or ever said. We have no idea if it is true or to what extent it is exaggerated. Mike Agassi mentally, emotionally, physically abused Andre his entire childhood. Its up to folks to decide whether the end result was worth it. But its not hard to see why Andre would have rebelled and not listened for a while.

    Seriously, lots of people have grown up and disowned family members for a lot less than what Mike Agassi did. So not adding him to the coaching team is the least of what he might have deserved. Had Andre simply cut him off once he got famous and never spoke to him again it would certainly be understandable.

    Mike Agassi’s experiment could have ended much differently. Luckily Andre made it through his drug use where many other ultra pressured kids with no childhood have not. But that was due to dumb luck and perhaps other people who helped him along the way…and nothing to do with his father.

    So frankly, I have zero use for

  • Jon King · November 2, 2019 at 8:59 am

    anything Mike Agassi says happened, especially when it further toots his own horn.

  • Scoop Malinowski · November 2, 2019 at 9:09 am

    Jon, in defense of Mike Agassi, I think he gets a bum rap. whatever his methods, he created a Hall of Fame champion. He did something right, sure there was a price. We won’t talk about all the other Grand Slam champions of the modern era who were beaten by their fathers, both make and female. There’s a considerable number, let me tell you. There are other examples of mental abuse, not talking to the kid for four days after a loss. Making the kid jog home 20 miles after a loss at 14. We won’t name names. Mike Agassi knows tennis, though he doesn’t get any credit for it. He put Andre on the path to the Hall of Fame, he built the foundation. Mike Agassi was actually at the last US Open of Andre but sat outside Ashe on a bench by the water fountains. We sat with him for a few minutes, the man knows tennis inside and out. But the media image of him is as a slave master nutjob tennis parent. Jon, you are totally disqualifying Mike’s advice without even thinking about it. Just because you have a mental bias against Mike Agassi.

  • Dan Markowitz · November 2, 2019 at 10:26 am

    Scoop,

    Enlighten me! Which player was beaten by his father? I’ve never heard anything like that. Mike Agassi by all accounts was abusive. Andre switching racquet types? You don’t think he didn’t try different racquets, sizes, at times? Hitting two on one, you don’t think he didn’t try this practice set-up?

    Come on, these aren’t revolutionary changes that would’ve put him over the top against Sampras. Pete just was a bigger athlete with a bigger game and he was a better big-match player. That’s what it came down to. You think Mike Agassi knew more about tennis than Brad Gilbert or even Andre?

  • Andrew Miller · November 3, 2019 at 1:47 am

    Mike Agassi. Yeah, Agassi wrote a whole book on the issues he spent a lifetime working on because of his childhood.

    No, I’m sure Agassi tried a lot of things. Apparently Agassi didn’t stretch as much as he should have.

    Not to discredit Mike Agassi, but his son did a lot. This sounds like the talk of a dad who will forever be disappointed – remember when Agassi called him after a slam win and his dad said he should have won it faster. Agassi was crushed…by his dad.

    We already know Agassi had major personal issues – he had a period with a wrist injury as well and it’s possible he wouldn’t have been “Agassi” without his earth shattering comeback in 1998+1999, beginning with his loss to the young Hewitt.

  • Andrew Miller · November 3, 2019 at 1:49 am

    Agassi knows Pete’s better. He said it was easier to play Sampras than Federer.

  • Scoop Malinowski · November 3, 2019 at 8:25 am

    It’s a good point Andrew, no matter what Andre achieved, you get the sense Mike was never quite satisfied and proud, he always demanded and expected more. We never saw those quotes in the media of Mike expressing pride and satisfaction for what Andre did. Unless I missed it.

  • Scoop Malinowski · November 3, 2019 at 8:26 am

    Yes Sampras was better than Agassi, most of the matches, but Andre showed he could beat him. If Andre applied the Mike Agassi fine tunes earlier in his career, we don’t know how the rivalry would have played out.

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