In his 2010 book Open, eight-time Grand Slam winner Andre Agassi got astonishingly real — admitting that he hated tennis, used meth, and his one-time-signature fluffy mullet was a hairpiece. The former champion seemed as candid as ever the other day at Nike’s pop-up tennis court, where he was in town as the inspiration for the brand’s newest Court Air Tech Challenge II sneakers. He talked to the Cut about being a “fashion savant,” how he “wouldn’t take hair right now if you gave it to me,” and the highly unusual way he realized that his wife of 12 years, Steffi Graf, was the one.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
There’s a 1995 L.A. Times article that called you an “accidental icon” and a “fashion savant.” What did you think of that?
Wow [laughs], that’s kind of a backhanded compliment. But everything I did in 1995 was an accident. I was very accident-prone. I stumbled into one hell of a life. So, I think that it was a fair comment. A lot of people at the time thought I was expressing myself, but I was really exploring myself. And I wasn’t scared to take people along for that ride. If it meant something greater in a certain industry, it was definitely by accident.
From a psychological perspective at the time, I was in a constant rebellion in my life. I rebelled against a lot of things, one of them being the dress code in tennis.
Why do you think you chose fashion as a conduit?
It was just one way, but it wasn’t the only way. Our sport, when I came into it, was very rigid and confined as it related to how one should be and dress. It seemed like a perfect canvas to disturb the peace.
What do you think you learned about yourself through that process?
I learned that we are all living different experiences but the same journey. It’s important for us to all feel connected. I am proud to be of that evolution over all those years. I’m proud to be back home, where I belong. At the end of it, you get one shot at this thing called life. I’ve always tried to treasure that in my own way, even if I was confused. I learned about how important it is to be connected to something greater than you and that outlives you. And that took me in the direction of education and school and motivates me to get the tennis racquets in these kids’ hands.
Given your experience, do you view fashion as a connector?
It’s a vehicle. I don’t know if it’s the thermostat or the barometer. Sometimes we can use it to set the temperature, and sometimes fashion can reflect the temperature.
Devon Burt, Nike’s creative director of apparel at the time, said of a Nike collection you designed, “It is supposed to be ugly.”
Interesting [laughs]. Well, I figured that no better way to make yourself better-looking than to wear something that is really ugly and rise above your colors [laughs]. The goal was never to be ugly in my mind. It was to be clear. I was always clear. I was anti-establishment for a long time, which morphed into other perspectives.
In your book and interviews, you spend a lot of time talking about your hair, and your hair seems tied to a lot of the emotions you have at the time. Why do you think that is?
It was a big stage in my life. My hair was another vehicle to hide who I really was or communicate what I was trying to figure out about myself. Eventually, it grew into what I believed made me have the business I had outside the tennis court. I was associated with my hair, but I lost it at an early age. And you wonder what is going to go with it — your career, your livelihood? I had a lot of false sense of importance on it. Getting rid of it was one healthy step toward becoming more of who I really was.
When it came to getting rid of it, what was the process like?
I lived with a hairpiece for a long time and then eventually, just got exhausted with the preoccupation with all of it. At the time, my soon-to-be wife told me to get rid of it and cut it off. When a supermodel tells you you are still good-looking with it gone, it gives you the confidence.
I wouldn’t take hair right now if you gave it to me. It seems like a lot of time that you can use doing other things. The thought of spending 15 minutes on my hair right now seems like 15 minutes I’m not doing something else. It’s a relief. And from a practical standpoint, I thought I would be more aerodynamic without it.
Tiger-mom parenting or aggressive parenting has gotten attention recently. In your book, you were vocal in detailing your dad’s aggressive approach to your sports career. As a dad yourself now, how have your feelings about parenting styles changed?
I wouldn’t call my dad aggressive; I would call him intense. I think people don’t know what they don’t know. I watch my children go after their goals and objectives, and I see many parents wishing for their kids to go after their goals and objectives.
There’s a real illusion that succeeding at sports is something that occurs and after it occurs, your life is set. A lot of people underestimate what they are in for. The percentage making it and having a career that is sustainable is something else. The thought of having all of it and not having someone steal it from you is another thing. Also, not having an injury and not having it be taken away is an additional consideration. On top of it all, in sports, you spend a third of your life not preparing for two thirds of your life.
I’m pretty realistic about how much importance or emphasis should be placed on your children’s engagement with sports. But through sports, you can gain so much self-awareness and discipline. There are so many things to take from it. But that can happen today at any age.
What was your first scent memory?
I don’t know if it was the first, but the scent of bacon, cooking, sizzling. I love bacon. It smells good, the scent goes down the hall and wakes you up. Once a week, we were lucky to have it.
How did you know that Steffi Graff was “the one”?
Well, I figured there was a fifty-fifty shot. I already made one bad call; I thought maybe my chances could go up to 75. But sometimes the universe whispers, sometimes it screams. I respected her from a distance and marveled at her. We all search to connect with people in life who have what we don’t and who are what we aren’t. I tried to learn from it. From a distance, she seemed like the complete opposite of me and I thank God she is because I get to learn from her every day.
It was apparent from early on that she only grows in her convictions and the way she chooses to live.
So the universe screamed?
Yes, I assure you it was screaming. When you’re in the process of getting a divorce and your wife is preparing for single life by putting up a picture in a heart-shaped magnet on the fridge of the most-ideal legs she wants to strive for and it happens to be your future wife’s legs, that’s the universe screaming. It’s a bullhorn.