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Page last updated at 15:27 GMT, Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Agassi admits use of crystal meth

Andre Agassi
29 April, 1970: Born in Las Vegas, Nevada
1992: Wins first Grand Slam title, Wimbledon
1994: Wins first US Open
1995: Wins first Australia Open
1997: Marries Brooke Shields; uses crystal meth
1999: Divorces Brooke Shields
1999: Wins first French Open
2001: Marries Steffi Graf
2003: Wins last Grand Slam, Australian Open
2006: Agassi retires

American Andre Agassi has admitted in his new autobiography he lied to tennis authorities about his use of crystal methamphetamine to escape a ban.

Eight-time Grand Slam winner Agassi said he wanted to share "my bad decisions which, in a few instances, nearly ended in catastrophe".

The 39-year-old, who retired in 2006, also stated it was "not easy being so candid" and "brutally honest".

Agassi admitted he used the drug with ex-assistant "Slim" in 1997.

"I felt my story was one from which many people could learn," he added in a video promoting the book.

Meanwhile, he also confessed in the book itself to a surprise lifelong hatred of the sport.

"I play tennis for a living, even though I hate tennis, hate it with a dark and secret passion, and always have," he wrote.

The Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) said it could not comment on Agassi's drug-taking revelation because it had withdrawn its doping case against him.

Agassi had lied to them that the use of the drug was accidental - and the failed test was kept secret by the ATP.

In response, the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) called on the association to "shed light" on the case.

Meanwhile, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) said it was "surprised and disappointed" by Agassi's remarks.

Writing about the first time he used crystal meth, Agassi said: "Vast sadness and regret" followed his taking of the drug.

"Slim dumps a small pile of powder on the coffee table," writes Agassi in his book, which the Times is serialising.

Jonathan Overend's blog

"He cuts it, snorts it. He cuts it again. I snort some.

"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."

Crystal meth is classified in the UK as a class A drug - the category for those considered to be the most harmful and which attract the most serious punishments and fines.

It looks like small ice crystals and is a very powerful and addictive form of the stimulant speed, which can be eaten, inhaled through the nose or injected.

Agassi, who is widely considered to be among the greatest tennis players of all time, recounts in the book, which is called 'Open', about his introduction to the drug.

He was enduring the worst year of his professional career in 1997 as he struggled with a wrist injury, and his world ranking slumped to a low of 141 that November.

Agassi, who is married to former women's world number one Steffi Graf, explained how he had received a call from an ATP at that time to inform him he had failed a drugs test.

I say [in a letter] Slim, whom I've since fired, is a known drug user, and that he often spikes his sodas with meth - which is true

Former tennis star Andre Agassi

The Las Vegas-born star wrote a letter to the ATP to argue the use was accidental, blaming his former assistant Slim.

"My name, my career, everything is now on the line. Whatever I've achieved, whatever I've worked for, might soon mean nothing," Agassi writes.

"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, who is often cited as one of the most charismatic players ever, writes that the ATP reviewed his case and, while he faced a minimum three-month ban, decided to believe his account and withdraw the charges.

His subsequent rise back through the rankings over the following two years, on the back of a gruelling fitness programme and the ignominy of playing on the lesser Challenger circuit, has gone down in tennis history.

Archive video: Agassi and wife Steffi Graf on Inside Sport, May 2009

In 1999 Agassi became only the fifth man to win all four Grand Slam titles with victory at the French Open. Three months later he added a second US Open crown and he ended the year back at number one in the world.

Former Wimbledon champion Michael Stich told BBC Radio 5 live the revelations raised questions about the ATP's handling of the matter.

He suggested Agassi was not suspended "because he was so important to the game".

The German said: "The fact that he was using it [crystal meth], escaped drugs tests and said he used it accidentally raises a lot of questions towards the ATP.

"Why was Andre Agassi not suspended if he tested positive and why was it never brought to the attention of the media and the players? Nobody ever heard about it."

An ATP spokesman said it commented on the results of drugs tests only when a violation had occurred, and so could not speak about the Agassi situation because it withdrew the case against him.

"Under the tennis anti-doping programme it is, and has always been, an independent panel that makes a decision on whether a doping violation has been found," he stated.

"The ATP has always followed this rule and no executive at the ATP has therefore had the authority or ability to decide the outcome of an anti-doping matter."

Expressing his disappointment about the revelation, Wada president John Fahey said Agassi was seen as a role model who should alert youths to the dangers of doping.

This raises a lot of questions towards the ATP. Why was Agassi not suspended if he tested positive?

Former Wimbledon champion Michael Stich

Fahey said he expected the ATP to "shed light on this allegation."

The ITF said tennis authorities were determined to keep drugs out of the sport.

"This should not be overshadowed by an incident that took place over 12 years ago," said president Francesco Ricci Bitti.

"The statements by Mr Agassi do, however, provide confirmation that a tough anti-doping programme is needed."

BBC Radio 5 live's tennis correspondent Jonathan Overend feels Agassi's legacy could be ruined by the revelations and will also damage tennis's reputation.

"This is sure to severely tarnish the reputation of one of the great champions," said Overend.

"I think it will have underlying implications for the sport in terms of the suspicion about some of the athletes and whether or not they are on drugs.

"The fact that Agassi lied and the authorities believed him has enormous repercussions. How many other cases may there have been like this?"

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see also
Stars pay tribute to Agassi
04 Sep 06 |  Tennis
Agassi bows out with no regrets
03 Sep 06 |  Tennis
Legend Agassi makes tearful exit
03 Sep 06 |  Tennis
Andre Agassi's career in pictures
04 Sep 06 |  Tennis
Agassi farewell as it happened
03 Sep 06 |  Tennis

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