How the heck did Andre Agassi, one of the most popular and successful American tennis players, end up using crystal meth during the heart of his career, a year before he won the French Open?
Agassi stepped onto the stage of American popular culture with his 1992 Wimbledon victory. With rockstar appeal and a series of bold looks, he was a phenomenon in the early and mid-90s.
One of only six men to complete the career grand slam, Agassi is doubtless among the greatest tennis players of all time. Even amid a slump, as he suffered in 1997, it’s nearly incomprehensible that he’d turn to a hard drug. But his actual motivation for doing so had less to do with tennis and more to do with the looming marriage to actress Brooke Shields.
Writing his autobiography, Open, more than a decade later, Andre Agassi told his tale of turning to meth and then crafting an outrageous lie (which worked) to the sport’s governing bodies and dodging a ban.
First, the specific moment when Agassi did meth for the first time, as detailed in his book.
“Slim [Agassi’s assistant] dumps a small pile of powder on the coffee table. He cuts it, snorts it. He cuts it again. I snort some. I ease back on the couch and consider the Rubicon I’ve just crossed.
“There is a moment of regret, followed by vast sadness. Then comes a tidal wave of euphoria that sweeps away every negative thought in my head. I’ve never felt so alive, so hopeful — and I’ve never felt such energy.”
A Rubicon crossed, indeed. Agassi arrived at the pivotal moment with Slim amid a downturn in form and the conviction that his marriage to Brooke Shields would never last. The tennis star was reportedly worried he’d impregnated Shields with a child he didn’t want. “Why not merely call off the marriage,” most would ask. But it seems Agassi went deep down the drug rabbit hole at a speed faster than his powerful serves.
During his initial meth binge, Agassi stayed up for two days straight cleaning maniacally. He crashes after the 48-hour session and ultimately pulls out of the French Open and Wimbledon, giving up the game almost completely. He goes through with the marriage to Shields, but doesn’t spend any time with her, instead doing meth with his assistant in Las Vegas.
“I get an undeniable satisfaction from harming myself,” he writes of the time period.
Crazy stuff. Of course, he eventually returns a positive drug test, and the ATP levies a three-month suspension. His career and reputation in shambles, insanely, Agassi plots a course to avoid the ban, concocting an outrageous lie.
“I say that recently I drank accidentally from one of Slim’s spiked sodas,” he writes. “unwittingly ingesting his drugs. I ask for understanding and leniency and hastily sign it: Sincerely. I feel ashamed, of course. I promise myself that this lie is the end of it.”
Perhaps because they wanted to believe it, the ATP dropped the ban, and Agassi went on to a resurgent campaign, making the largest single-season jump in the ATP rankings in 1998. He went on to win the French Open in 1998 and the U.S. Open in 1999.
The meth story was dead and buried until Agassi either felt the need to confess with his autobiography, or was advised revealing his meth use would have a methamphetamine-like effect on the book’s sales.