Scoring from Agassi's service game

Scoring from Agassi's service game
Tennis legend Andre Agassi.

Sporting a mullet and denim shorts, as well as skipping Wimbledon from 1988 to 1990 - one theory is that it was because of the All England Club's all-white dress code - might have contributed to Andre Agassi being dubbed a rebel without a cause.

But while the former world No. 1 is no longer a rebel, he certainly represents a cause - providing education to underprivileged youths across the United States.

The tennis legend has already helped build 27 charter schools in America. Charter schools are publicly funded but independently governed. Agassi's vision is based on the belief that the private sector, rather than the government, holds the key to education reform.

By August, that figure will rise to 39, with 36 in economically vulnerable areas. And the 44-year-old is not done yet.

"Your job is never done, you know. We have 1,300 kids in this school but 2,500 on the waiting list, so you tell me when it's over," he said, referring to the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy, the US$40 million (S$50 million) signature project of the non-profit Andre Agassi Foundation for Education.

"It doesn't matter what was in the past," he said.

Yet, it is important to note that this kindergarten to 12th grade tuition-free school in his native Las Vegas was where it all started. It was made possible with the help of donations and a slice of the US$31 million in prize money that Agassi received during his 20-year tennis career.

Since then, he has found another way to help him enact more social change at a faster rate.

A for-profit private capital fund - the Canyon-Agassi Charter School Facilities fund - was set up in June 2011 to deploy US$550 million across the United States, with the aim of building schools for some 40,000 students by September 2015.

Once the infrastructure is up, the charter school operators that he partners then run the institution.

In the next few months, a second fund will distribute about US$800 million, revealed Agassi, an ambassador for Swiss watchmaker Longines.

And how does this winner of eight Grand Slam singles crowns, 60 titles, an Olympic gold medal, and three Davis Cups, view his present role?

"I'm prouder of the work in education because that is really work," Agassi said, when asked in an interview organised by Longines if he was more proud of his tennis achievements than what he has done for American education.

"But the tennis led to it, so I respect it. I'm just prouder of this."

linxinyi@sph.com.sg

This article was published on May 18 in The Straits Times.

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