Coming Into Focus; GARY SMITH Sports Illustrated 07-17-2006 It took startling transformations--from callow prodigy to thoughtful champion, from punk to philanthropist, from conflicted son to devoted father--for Andre Agassi to finally see the big picture, and he's still searching for answers You knew the end was near. You knew the screen would soon go black and leave you in the dark, wondering what the hell you'd just seen. One Andre, two Andres, three Andres, four. Five Andres, six Andres, seven Andres, more. Has any athlete ever changed as much as Andre Agassi? Sure, you'd watched Tiger Woods change his swing, Michael Jordan change his sport. But who changes himself? Metamorphosis is the rarest achievement in sports. Why would a man bother to change when he's got the American dream by the throat? Maybe it's just too damn risky; what if it puts out the fire that forged his steel? You traveled to a lake in Texas 20 years ago to find George Foreman, fished with him for bass and for the story of how he went from sullen ****** to grinning Buddha. But even George's transformation got an asterisk, because it came during his 10-year hibernation from his sport. All those years you kept watching the Andre show, rebel becoming humanitarian, showman becoming machine, style becoming essence. But something about all those images of him--there were just too many, too different, too quick--made you keep waiting. To trust the change. To be sure. Finally, 10 months before his announcement that he would retire after the 2006 U.S. Open, you realized that the time to find out how Andre Agassi went all the way from there to here was nearly gone. So you started moving closer. Somebody at last year's U.S. Open would surely know. "He's changed as much as anyone I've ever seen," said Jim Courier, a four-time Grand Slam singles champion who'd known Andre since they were teenagers. "It's almost like an atonement," said Patrick McEnroe, the U.S. Davis Cup captain. "He decided to be a grown-up," said commentator Mary Carillo. "He didn't have to do that. He had all the money and fame. He didn't have to become a great champion, either. But he did both. Now you really feel there's a soul in that guy." When you asked them how and why that occurred, they said, Well, he married a good woman, he had kids, he grew up. But plenty of athletes do those things. Those answers were like all those images of Andre: They made you think you knew what happened to the man when you didn't have a clue. So you went closer. You were 50 feet away, watching him talk to the media after winning easily in the first round at the 2005 U.S. Open. Years ago, after a victory, he said, I'm as happy as a *** in a submarine. Years ago he growled at an audience in his home state, Nevada, for cheering an opponent's shot. Now, asked why he'd felt nervous in a first-rounder at age 35, he said, Because everyone here took a day out of their lives to come watch me play. Did he feel badly for his opponent as he destroyed him? No, he said, you don't cheat anybody out of their experience, whatever it is. I promise you, it's all part of what makes you who you are down the road. And if a match is getting blown out one way or the other, you've got to learn from it and you've got to understand it for what it is. I've been on the other side of that. I wouldn't want to cheat anybody out of that experience. You smelled it there, a whiff of what you were seeking. So you went closer.