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Recounting the story of Andre Agassi's crystal meth indulgence

A look back at Andre Agassi's brush with crystal methamphetamine, which he wrote about in his autobiography 'Open'.

Recovered methamphetamine addict Andre Agassi, pictured in 1997, at the height of his drug use

Andre Agassi’s brush with drug use is no secret. In his 2009 autobiography ‘Open’, the 8-time Grand Slam champion admitted to using the highly addictive drug crystal methamphetamine, known colloquially as crystal meth, during a tumultuous 1997. The use reached its peak just a year before he won the 1999 French Open.

Agassi even confessed that he lied to tennis governing body ATP when a positive report came out against him, so as to avoid a ban. He revealed in his autobiography that he took the highly addictive drug to keep his mind away from his poor performances and his impending marriage to supermodel Brooke Shields. The American’s addiction would be a factor in the breakdown of their marriage.

The Career Slam winner was hooked to crystal meth during his slump in form in 1997, which reached its nadir when his ranking plummeted to a lowly No. 141. And the way Agassi describes his first tryst with substance abuse is as chilling as it is stark.

"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,” Agassi wrote in the book, which has been serialized by British newspaper The Times.

"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," Agassi added. 

The story is even murkier when you parse the details. In an attmept to absolve himself of all blame, Agassi would write a letter to the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP), stating that he had ingested the drugs by mistake after taking a sip from assistant Slim’s spiked soft drink.

In the book, Agassi recounts, "My name, my career, everything is now on the line. Whatever I've achieved, whatever I've worked for, might soon mean nothing. Days later I sit in a hard-backed chair, a legal pad in my lap, and write a letter to the ATP.”

"It's filled with lies interwoven with bits of truth. I say Slim, whom I've since fired, is a known drug user, and that he often spikes his sodas with meth – which is true. Then I come to the central lie of the letter.

“I say that recently I drank accidentally from one of Slim's spiked sodas, 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," Agassi goes on.

After Agassi sent in his letter, the ATP, who took it to be true, dropped the case. Given a second lease of life, Agassi would proceed to clean up his act. He committed himself to getting back among the tennis elite, and that’s exactly what he achieved.

After using meth during the 1997 season, he pulled out of that year’s French Open and did not even practise for Wimbledon. But he saw a turnaround in form the following year, winning two Grand Slams. He claimed the French Open in 1999 and added the US Open title – the second of his career – the same year.

A legend of the sport, Agassi is married to one of the greatest players of all time – 22-time Grand Slam winner Steffi Graf. His ex-wife, supermodel Brooke Shields, also spoke publicly about her displeasure with Agassi’s drug use.

Agassi  also revealed in his autobiography that he hated tennis and was forced into it by his father, whom he described as a monster and someone who was “always angry”.

Despite his bombshell revelations, the ATP did not take action against Agassi, and chose instead to cover the whole story up. The Agassi crystal meth saga highlights everything that’s wrong with the drug-testing process in sports, and the need for a much higher level of transparency. 

At the same time, Agassi’s tale of highs and lows is a stark reminder of how even superstar athletes can sometimes take the worst possible decisions, which have a terrible effect on their professional as well as personal lives. How they come out of such troughs speaks volumes about the resilience of the human spirit, and also the importance of self-assessment.

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