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Porsche - Break the rules!

Break the rules!

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Maria Sharapova and Andre Agassi present a show match in front of the Porsche Museum.

When tennis superstar Andre Agassi meets Porsche sports cars in Stuttgart, there are essentially only three topics: sports, life, and legends.

Competition, tactics, a fighting spirit, stamina—might these four terms from sports describe an entire sports career, metaphorically speaking? For Andre Agassi they have always served as a guide. They have accompanied him throughout his unique 21-year career on the world’s most prestigious center courts to a well-earned—yet no less active—retirement from professional play. However, as he stands in front of the Porsche Museum ready for a show match against tennis “leading lady” Maria Sharapova as part of the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix, he has to admit that his tactics will not help him this time. “The first thing I ever learned in tennis is that you should never take your eyes off the ball. But that might be hard today,” he says with a glance at his tall, attractive opponent. Sharapova, for her part, acknowledges his talent even before the first ball is served—“What a gentleman!”

Andre Agassi at 45 is as quick and cool as ever. What could possibly disturb the composure of this one-time tennis rebel who has since become a loving father? In the mid-1980s, he began to rile up the traditional tennis circuit with his wild hairstyle and loud apparel. At Wimbledon, the stronghold of tradition, they insisted on the dress code and refused to let him play. But at some point the two camps came to appreciate one another. Agassi spent a total of 101 weeks ranked number one; he won eight Grand Slam tournaments and is one of only a few stars who have managed to win all four Grand Slams. He took sixty individual titles. He is a tennis hero, and a legend.

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Maria Sharapova and Andre Agassi.

He is now in the best society at the Porsche Museum, surrounded by racing legends on wheels. Just like the motorsport experts at Porsche, he knows that you can blaze your own trail to victory. But the status of legend is bestowed upon you from outside. What is the crucial difference here? Agassi thinks for a moment and then nails his entire career in a single sentence: “You have to break the rules.” There were many great players in his time. Some were strong at patiently playing the baseline, others won with their serves, and still others stormed the net. Agassi played differently, taking risks from the baseline, playing aggressively in an unusual way. “I showed a type of tennis that the spectators had never seen before,” he says. “I was a pioneer in what people had thought was familiar territory; I did things differently—and was successful at it.” Actually, he had virtually no choice than to take all manner of risks from the back of the court. “I had the feeling that the others were technically somewhat better.”

He was constantly driven by the urge to compete, which means you also have to be able to handle defeat. He doesn’t believe that victories or defeats as such say much about an individual. But “what says a lot about you is the way you deal with them.” This aspect itself is like a very risky match, especially when one considers the aftermath of his greatest loss. At the end of a marvelous season in 1995, he had reached the finals of the US Open, a clear favorite against challenger Pete Sampras—and lost in four sets.

“It took me nearly two years to recover from that,” he recalls. “I was completely burned out.” He came back, because he regained the attitude that had made him great. As he describes his philosophy of success, he might just as well be holding a motivational speech for the racing engineers. “You always have to want to improve. You know that the others are chasing you. It’s your job to work on yourself every single day.”

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Andre Agassi is a gentleman driver—and that’s just as true when he’s behind the wheel of a 911 GT3 on the test track in Weissach.

The comparison to racing and sports cars makes sense, according to Agassi, simply because all athletes love high-tech machines. “Athletes’ tools are their bodies,” he says. “We know in our own bodies how hard it is to put in top performances. That’s why we like powerful machines.” As a young boy his dream car was a Porsche 928 GTS. “It was the perfect combination of luxury and sports for me.” And the desire for this combination never really disappears.

During his visit to Stuttgart this desire prompted him to take a detour to visit the Weissach Research and Development Center. On the test track he enjoyed experiencing “what these cars can do today” in the passenger seat of a 911 GT3. But despite all of his passion, fatherhood has changed his priorities. He lives with his wife—and tennis legend—Steffi Graf and their children Jaden Gil (13) and Jaz Elle (11) in his hometown of Las Vegas. He started the Andre Agassi Foundation for Education in order to promote education for children in the United States, especially in Nevada. Steffi Graf launched the Children for Tomorrow foundation for youngsters from around the world who have been traumatized by war. Children and family are the focus of Agassi’s life. Steffi is simply perfect, he says, and laughs as he adds that his life is perfectly organized. “Steffi has a plan for everything,” he says. “The only thing I regret is seeing how fast the children are growing up.”

Oh, yes, the show match. Agassi the gentleman loses to Sharapova 1:5. It could be the force of habit. For when he plays with his wife in Las Vegas, he’s always happier when Steffi wins. “Lucky wife, lucky life,” he says. That, too, is a successful tactic.

By Reiner Schloz
Photos by Dennis Orel