Game on for Agassi after S'pore IPTL dates re-jigged

LAS VEGAS - Just weeks after casting doubt over participation in the International Premier Tennis League (IPTL), Andre Agassi said he would "absolutely" be in Singapore for the inaugural event.

The eight-time Grand Slam champion was drafted into the Singapore team alongside world No. 1 Serena Williams, Czech star Tomas Berdych and former top-ranked Lleyton Hewitt. But Agassi had suggested he would not play if it meant he had to miss the Nov 27 Thanksgiving holiday.

At the time, the Singapore leg was scheduled for Nov 28-30, to kick-start the off-season league with subsequent legs in Dubai, Bangkok and Mumbai.

With the opening leg now slated to take place in Bangkok on Nov 28-30, Singapore will host the second leg from Dec 2-4 and Agassi is committed to making a trip to the Republic.

"That's the game plan," the 44-year-old told The Straits Times yesterday in an interview organised by Swiss watchmaker Longines.

"It seems like it's all happening. I just can't make promises I can't control. What I can't control (is) if (the event) really exists or not. But if it's happening, I'm absolutely going to be there and I will spend time leading up (to the event) playing."

Doubts over the IPTL, started by Indian doubles star Mahesh Bhupathi, have continued even after a reported US$24 million (S$29.9 million) was spent in March drafting top stars including Rafael Nadal (Mumbai), Novak Djokovic (Dubai) and Andy Murray (Bangkok).

Among other question marks hanging over the series is whether the biggest names will be available for all four legs.

Agassi will play only in Singapore while it is understood that reigning Wimbledon champion Murray will play only in Bangkok.

All four teams will compete in each city. The round-robin format will be made up of a men's singles, a women's singles, a men's doubles, a mixed doubles and a legends singles set.

Agassi decided to get involved in the league in a limited capacity because it is one way of remaining connected to a sport he retired from in 2006. But he remains unsure if he will ever take on a coaching role.

"I love talking about the game but coaching is a different animal. It's full-time. I just don't see how that's achievable at least in the next few years," said the American. Much of that is because he has two young children - son Jaden Gil, 12, and daughter Jaz Elle, 10 - with wife and fellow tennis great Steffi Graf.

If and when Agassi does become a coach, however, he will join Ivan Lendl (Murray's former coach), Stefan Edberg (Roger Federer's coach), Boris Becker (Novak Djokovic), Goran Ivanisevic (Marin Cilic) and Michael Chang (Kei Nishikori) as past Major champions on the sidelines.

While there seems to be a trend of top players turning to former Grand Slam winners, Agassi does not believe that such appointments will necessarily give players the edge they are looking for.

"If I'm a player, I'm not interested in a Grand Slam champion. What I'm interested in is a coach that is an overachiever. There's a real important distinction," said the Longines ambassador.

"Lendl was a Grand Slam champion multiple times (eight). But the respect I've for him is more than just being a Grand Slam champion because I believe he maximised everything.

"You could argue that he is an overachiever because of his work ethic, so I think that translates good into a coach.

"I look at a John McEnroe, who won almost as many Grand Slams (seven), but he was just so talented. I don't know how he would translate as a coach," added Agassi of his fellow American, who has been tipped as one of the candidates to succeed Lendl as Murray's new coach.

"Magnus Norman is having great success with (Stanislas) Wawrinka. To me, he is one of the great overachievers. He worked so hard, and he figured out a way to give himself the maximum.

"Brad Gilbert was my coach - absolutely incredible. (So is) Darren Cahill, who has had 12 knee surgeries and still had the career he had. I think it's more important to have somebody who knows how to get the most out of themselves, and I think people think being a Grand Slam winner means you know how to do that.

"And I don't think that's always the case."

This article was published on May 8 in The Straits Times.

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