Sunday, December 5

‘Mike’ Agassi dies, the father who demanded little Andr to win “the Dragon”


Born in Iran, immigrated to the United States and employee of the Tropicana hotel in Las Vegas, he pushed his four children to be tennis stars by forcing them to hit 5,000 balls a day.

Andr Agassi, in an interview for EL MUNDO, in 2016.

In his stark autobiography, Open, Andr Agassi He wrote: “My father yells at me twice, sometimes three, sometimes 10. Louder, he tells me, louder. Faster. Damn, Andr, he hits faster. He hurries me. He yells at me. I hit all the balls the Dragon shoots at me; he wants me to hit harder and faster than the machine. He wants me to beat the Dragon. “

Against the machine they nicknamed the Dragon, and at the age of seven, in 1977, Agassi, one of the best tennis players ever, began a career in a sport that he ended up hating for work – both things – of his father, Emmanuel ‘Mike’ Agassi, a difficult man, died last Friday at the age of 90 in Las Vegas.

The life of ‘Mike’ Agassi is the successes and the demons of his son Andr and the published story, no doubt, but also a story of his own flight, survival, life. From his very birth in 1930. ‘Mike’ was born Aghassian, but the family decided to change his surname to Agassi to avoid persecution of the Ottoman Muslims. His parents came from Armenia and had moved to Tehern, in Iran, where they lived in a shack and shared a bathroom with around thirty relatives. According to later narration, in those years ‘Mike’ discovered sports such as tennis and boxing thanks to the American and British military who controlled the city and on a ring he participated in the Olympic Games in London 1948 and Helsinki 1952, where he did not get to add a win.

His desire to prosper led him to the United States, to Chicago, where one of his brothers already lives, and later to Las Vegas, where he found work at the Tropicana hotel-casino. Married to Elizabeth ‘Betty’ Dudley, soon began to train his older children, Rita, Phillip, Tami, on the hotel’s disused tennis courts, but it was the little boy, Andr, to whom he devoted more time and demand. Without much technical knowledge, his method was repetition, repetition, repetition: the young man had to return every day some 5,000 balls spat out by the machine, by the Dragon.

Andr did it despite the psychological exhaustion and then swallowed the pressure of winning all the children’s tournaments, and then agreed to go away to train with Nick Bolletieri to Florida … and so even when he was already a champion. In ‘Open’, for example, Andr Agassi remembers his father’s first words when in 1992 he won his first Grand Slam at Wimbledon. After the victory in five sets against Goran Ivanisevic, ‘Mike’s’ comment was: “You shouldn’t have lost that fourth set.”

The relationship between them resisted, evidently, although not as much as ‘Mike’ with his eldest daughter Rita, “a guinea pig” for him, with whom he did not speak for years. After his son’s success, he became an ambassador for the MGM Grand Las Vegas hotel-casino and dedicated the end of his days to it.

“Despite his adverse childhood in Iran, Mike Agassi made his way to the United States to raise four extraordinary children, all tennis players, and especially Andr, who changed the game of tennis,” commented this week the director of the Tennis Association. Nevada tennis, Ryan Wolfington, about his passing.

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