Just last month, Andre Agassi won his second Australian Open title in a row, snatching the victory from opponent Arnaud Clement — the same player who beat him just five months earlier at the U.S. Open.
But at the earlier match, Agassi had weightier issues on his mind: his family.
The tennis star’s first tennis partners were his family. And one of those early partners was his sister Tami, who at 31 is just one year older than Andre. Last year, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
The family faced it together: with their brother Philip, Andre shaved Tami’s head when she started chemotherapy.
“It’s quite symbolic of how she’s treated the whole fight,” Agassi told Good Morning America. “You know whatever stage it’s been, it’s been 'I’m gonna hit this head on.' And it’s hard enough for a man to lose their hair you know. I can assure you that. But for a woman and they’re 30 years old to go through it, for her to deal with it that way I think just is a testament. And it speaks volumes for who she is as a person.”
A Fun Little Head-Shaving Ceremony
And who is that person? A woman with a good sense of humor.
“We had a fun little head-shaving ceremony in Las Vegas,” Tami Agassi said. “It was a good way to lose it.”
In fact, Philip and Andre joined their sister and shaved their heads in the name of brotherhood — and sisterhood. “They went into the bathroom and they came out and surprised me with bald heads, but they didn’t have much to lose,” Tami Agassi said. “I definitely had a lot to lose in that ordeal. But it was a sweet gesture,” she said.
Just six months later, their mother, Elizabeth, was diagnosed with the very same disease. Like her daughter, Tami, she faced a mastectomy and chemotherapy.
“I flew out to Las Vegas and slept with her in the hospital room, and just took care of her,” Tami Agassi said. “Which she did for me when I went through it.”
What It Means to Be a Fighter From all this, the tennis phenomenon said he has learned how to be tough in the face of obstacles.
“They’ve shown me what it really means to be a fighter,” Andre Agassi said. “They’ve shown me what it means to step up, and assess an enemy, and understand their strengths and know the weaknesses, and to go after it.”
And his girlfriend, tennis star Steffi Graf, has also been a great comfort through the whole thing, he said.
“Well she’s an amazing woman. I mean she’s a strong ... she’s a woman who chooses to speak through her actions, you know,” he said. “And I admire that a lot. And she’s shown me a great deal of support, she’s shown my family a great deal of support.”
Now that mother and daughter have been declared cancer-free, Tami Agassi is fighting the disease on a new front: she’s planning a fund-raiser next fall to raise research money and awareness.
“There are so many things that I want to do,” Tami Agassi said. “So many things! Right now my top priority work-wise is this fund-raiser. I’d like to make it a huge success and hopefully, hopefully find a cure.”
No Stranger to Charity Work
Andre Agassi is impressed with his family’s determination. “I’m amazed by the strength that it takes to step up and to accept more responsibility than one needs to,” he said. “What they’ve been through should be enough, but it’s not for them. They want to help others.”
At the same time that she is taking time to help others, Tami is rejoicing in her current good health.
“Probably internally my goals are to just enjoy every day, and every moment I’m not on treatment. And every moment I have hair!” she said, laughing. “No more bad hair days! I have no right to complain about a bad hair day, I’ll tell you that.”
Tami Agassi’s little brother is no stranger to charity work. In fact, he is the one responsible for the construction of a children’s shelter, the start of a program to clothe needy kids, the startup of a Las Vegas Boys and Girls Club and the impetus behind another new construction, a charter school to help students who are at risk for dropping out of high school prepare for college.
“ You start to realizing OK, you’re sticking Band-Aids,” Andre Agassi said. “You know we’ve got to get to the heart of the problem, get ahead of the curve, and educate these kids to expect more for themselves.”
Children have always tugged at the tennis star’s heart.
“You know, somebody would have to explain to me how a child doesn’t tug at their heart,” Agassi said. “I believe that it is the only way to change our future — dealing with a child’s life.”
And now, with his family, he’s committed to helping the fight against breast cancer.
He acknowledged it has changed him.
“Well I think the thing that it’s done mostly, it’s allowed us to focus and to get a reminder as to what makes life worth living,” Agassi said. “And cutting away the things and the pettiness in the things that happen inside a family throughout the many years and getting to the heart of it all which is your love for each other.”