By Jack Cunniff
On Saturday, July 9th, just a few hours before their inductions into the Tennis Hall of Fame, 2011 inductees Andre Agassi and Fern â€œPeachyâ€ Kellmeyer met with the media to share thoughts on their careers, Hall of Fame inductions, and futures.Â Â Christopher Clouser, Chairman of the Tennis Hall of Fame, moderated the discussion in the Casino Theater at the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island.
The morning featured some light-hearted moments. Â Kellmeyer, as she acknowledged in her Hall of Fame speech later that afternoon, recognized she wasnâ€™t the headliner of the day.Â When the early part of the press conference focused on Agassi, Kellmeyer showed her appreciation when posed a question: â€œThanks for asking me a question; Iâ€™m so happy!â€Â And Agassi said the Hall of Fame tribute helped him put his career in perspective: â€œthe journey, the choices, bad choices,â€¦ outfits, hair.â€Â But both of them were obviously moved by the honor of becoming the latest Tennis Hall of Fame inductees.
Agassi spoke about the important role that the Stratton, VT event played in his career.Â In 1986, the then sixteen-year-old Agassi upset world No. 12 Tim Mayotte, en route to a quarterfinal contest against John McEnroe.Â When rain delays interfered with match scheduling, the Agassi-McEnroe quarterfinal match started play on an outside court. Â In response, some of the Stadium Court crowd marched to the outside court, began to shake the fence around it, and demanded the match be moved to the Stadium Court. Eventually, the match was moved and McEnroe completed a victory over his young opponent. Â When he returned to Stratton in 1987, Agassi admitted he was struggling with his game and nervous because of the ranking points he had to defend from the prior year.Â But he came through a big second round match, defeating the reigning Wimbledon champion, Pat Cash, before losing a close match to world No. 1 Ivan Lendl in the semifinals. Â Stratton helped put Agassi on the map.
Kellmeyer reminisced about her first day on the job for the Womenâ€™s Tennis Association. It was in Houston, the site of the first WTA event.Â And oddly, it was snowing in Houston.Â Being a brand new tour, it was missing some basic items: there was no rule book and no prize money breakdown.Â So while Kellmeyer and the late Gladys Heldman worked to write a rule book and calculate prize money, Gladysâ€™ two cats brought in dead birds from the Houston cold. â€œThat was my first day on the job, watching a bunch of dead birds come in.â€
Growing Up With Tennis
The pressure Agassi was under to succeed in tennis started when he was very young.Â When he first played, he was playing for others, not himself.Â It wasnâ€™t until Agassi was 27 that he says he finally â€œchose tennisâ€ for himself.Â Agassi explained he was in Germany, having dropped down to No. 141 in the world, and he gave himself permission to quit the sport.Â And once he did that, Agassi chose tennis and started to play for himself.Â For his last nine years in professional tennis he was able to play and love the sport.
Kellmeyer spoke about growing up in Charleston, West Virginia with a father and brother who played multiple sports.Â A self-described tomboy, Kellmeyer would follow her brother to the tennis courts after school; her passion for tennis started at a very young age.
Agassi mentioned the 1999 French Open victory as one of his most satisfying moments.Â It was not only the fact that he won the event, and secured the final Grand Slam event in his portfolio, but he also completed his comeback from â€œrock bottomâ€. In winning the event, he lifted his ranking up from No. 141 back into the top ten, and secured one of his biggest titles of his career just weeks after his divorce (to actress Brooke Shields).Â Agassi also noted that his last match, at the 2006 U.S. Open, was a moment he will never forget.Â The reception of 23,000 New Yorkers cheering him for his career accomplishments was a moving experience.
Kellmeyer said one career highlight was working closely with her hero Billie Jean King. But the moment in her career that was most meaningful to Kellmeyer came in 2007, when Roland Garros and Wimbledon followed the Australian and U.S. Opens in granting equal prize money to the women players, meaning all four Grand Slam events would reward equal prize money to men and women.
The Honor of Being Inducted
When asked about the reception of family and friends to the Hall of Fame announcements, Agassi provided an immediate example by reading from his phone a congratulatory text message from former pro Justin Gimelstob.Â Agassi said his induction is even more special because he has experienced the Hall of Fame from the fanâ€™s perspective when he witnessed wife Steffi Grafâ€™s induction in 2004. When asked for his reaction to the new section of the Tennis Museum dedicated to Agassiâ€™s career, Agassiâ€™s first thought was â€œGosh, thereâ€™s a lot of cameras in here!â€
Kellmeyer also received accolades in response to her Hall of Fame announcement. She shared that she never before had as many flowers in her room.Â She nicknamed Chris Clouser her â€œSanta Clausâ€, because it was immediately following the holidays that Clouser flew down to Melbourne to announce Peachyâ€™s entry into the Hall of Fame at a player meeting.
What the Future Holds
Agassi has gone on record many times to share that tennis is a means to an end.Â Itâ€™s enabled him to do his lifeâ€™s work, the ability to change otherâ€™s lives for the better though the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy in Las Vegas.Â Agassi finds his work today more rewarding than anything heâ€™s experienced on the tennis court.Â As for the future of tennis, Agassi hopes junior players are pursuing their own passion and not someone elseâ€™s.
While Kellmeyer still works for the WTA as a consultant, she intends to stay involved in the sport by planning alumni reunions for former WTA players.Â She also feels itâ€™s important for tennis to remain the number one sport in the world for women professional athletes.Â While sheâ€™s proud of her role in paving the way for Title IX, that work has opened up multiple different sport opportunities for women. Kellmeyer feels itâ€™s the responsibility of the tennis establishment to continue to promote the sport, and itâ€™s important that she play a role in that.
And Some Final Wordsâ€¦
When asked about his tagline from the 80s, â€œImage is Everything,â€ Agassi said he doesnâ€™t think he could come up with a new slogan for his life today.Â When â€œEducation is Everythingâ€ was suggested, Andre acknowledged â€œThat works for me at the moment.â€
It was noted that Kellmeyer has a court named after her at the Charleston WV Tennis Club, and she shared a story in response.Â Kellmeyer returns to her hometown once a year, and when she does, she drives by the club to make sure they havenâ€™t taken her name down, chuckling â€œI donâ€™t have many things named after me.â€