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April 17, 2014

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Andre Agassi: Jimmy Connors serves up ‘narcissism’ in ‘The Outsider’

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Mark Phillips) / AP

Jimmy Connors pumps himself up during the final set of his U.S. Open match, Sept. 7, 1989 in New York. He lost the quarterfinal to Andre Agassi, 1-6, 6-4, 6-0, 3-6, 4-6.

Agassi vs. Conners

Andre Agassi, U.S. open sixth seed, takes a swing at the ball as he plays in the quarterfinals in New York, Thursday, Sept. 7, 1989. He faces Jimmy Connors, seeded thirteenth. Launch slideshow »
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Tennis champion Andre Agassi chats with colleagues in the lobby while waiting for his trainer Gil Reyes to arrive to demonstrate their BILT training equipment, designed by Agassi and Reyes, at the BILT Headquarters in Las Vegas Friday, April 26, 2013.

During his playing career, Andre Agassi was one of great returners of service in tennis history.

And even today, he fires back with great velocity.

Agassi unleashed a two-handed backhand this week after he was asked about the harsh comments made about him in Jimmy Connors’ new memoir, “The Outsider – A Memoir,” which was released in May. While on vacation in Germany with his wife, Stefanie Graf, (the two are also playing an exhibition match in Zug, Switzerland this weekend) Agassi was asked via text if he’d read Connors’ book. He has. His response:

“As Jimmy said, he wrote his book after or during two hip surgeries. Maybe he should have cleared his head before memorializing his total narcissism. I guess I can only hope the fog lifts.”

Connors underwent a total hip replacement surgery in 2005, a procedure about which he spoke at length. In his book, Connors writes of Agassi: “Tennis gave Agassi everything -- his fame, his money, his reputation, even his current wife -- and he went on to knock it in his book. All that playing up to the fans who provided him with an exceptional living -- it was a bluff. For me tennis was all about standing out there and being honest, not pretending to be something I wasn’t. People admire Agassi for fighting his way back after dropping down the rankings in 1997. I get that. But you can also look at it like this. He should have never allowed himself to sink so low. He had a huge talent but when things got tough for a while, he put his head in his hands and let it beat him.”

There is no mention of Agassi’s enormous popularity among tennis fans around the world or the millions he doubtless lured to the sport. There is no reference, either, to Agassi’s on-court achievements (most notably his eight major titles, his Olympic gold medal and his career Grand Slam), or his philanthropic efforts that have raised tens of millions of dollars to establish the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy. Jimbo found no room for that information.

Connors’ book has drawn mixed response. Many reviewers find the tome inherently self-aggrandizing (shocker) and say that it falls short of the unvarnished introspection Agassi offered in his own riveting 2009 memoir, “Open.” In that book, Agassi recalls hitting with Connors when he was a child (Agassi’s father, Mike, once strung Connors’ racquets for events in Las Vegas) and was irked by the superstar’s boorish attitude toward him and his father. Connors refused to offer applause to Agassi in the Arthur Ashe Stadium locker room after Agassi’s inspired run at the U.S. Open in 2006, which marked the end of his great playing career. It is not a stretch to say the two tennis legends have never gotten along.

As New York Times reviewer Peter Lattman writes in his review of “The Outsider” from earlier this month: “ ‘Open,’ was groundbreaking in its raw, complex, dark examination of a major athlete’s life. ‘The Outsider’ tries to dig deep — Connors reveals lifelong struggles with gambling and obsessive-compulsive disorder — but lacks the insight and nuance of Agassi’s book. If Connors changed the game of tennis, then Agassi changed the game of tennis memoirs.”

Regardless, “Outsider” debuted at No. 8 on the New York Times’ Best Sellers upon its release and spent three weeks in the Top 10.

The 60-year-old Connors is scheduled to appear in Las Vegas on August 23 (three days before the start of the U.S. Open), for a presentation at Reynolds Hall at Smith Center for the Performing Arts titled "What it Takes to Win.” He is to share tales of his life and career and take questions from the audience. How his act plays on Andre Agassi’s home court will be something to behold.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow Kats With The Dish at twitter.com/KatsWithTheDish.

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