Agassi Joins World TeamTennis Match

Friday, July 19th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CITRUS HEIGHTS, Calif. (AP) _ The latest stop for seven-time Grand Slam champion Andre Agassi was the parking lot of a suburban Sacramento mall.

Agassi made his only appearance of the season with the Sacramento Capitals of the World TeamTennis on Thursday night on the asphalt at the Sunrise Mall for a match against the Springfield Lasers.

``This is what it's about for me,'' Agassi said. ``It's bringing tennis straight to the parking lot. I've never played in a parking lot before _ at least not tennis.''

While the Capitals regularly sell out home matches, the 3,600 spectators got a special show Thursday. Agassi has played in the annual WTT Smash Hits charity event with Billie Jean King for a number of years, and he plans to play WTT matches for Sacramento in 2003 and 2004.

``It's twofold. First of all, it's about enhancing the game of tennis,'' Agassi said of his reasons for playing. ``It's also a reward for me. To get this close to the fans is an opportunity I don't get too often.

``You play in some of these big arenas, and you never really get the intimacy of the sound of cars driving behind you. This is getting close to the people that enjoy it the most.''

Agassi also was on hand to promote breast cancer awareness. Both his mother and sister were stricken with the disease in recent years, but both overcame it.

``It's a disease that's close to my heart,'' Agassi said. ``It's a terrible thing that people shouldn't have to live with, and it's something we can solve.''

Agassi, 32, is currently No. 5 in the world. He's the highest-ranked men's player to join TeamTennis in his prime _ even if it's only for one match this summer.

``I'm here to promote tennis in a way that it doesn't always get a chance to be seen,'' Agassi said. ``Taking it straight out to the street is perfect. For me, playing in this format is something I consider to be a great step for the sport of tennis. You get to play in front of those who love it the most.''

Agassi has developed a special bond with Northern California. He lives in a huge home in the tony San Francisco Bay area suburb of Tiburon with his wife, Steffi Graf, and their son Jaden Gil. Agassi's former coach, Brad Gilbert, lives in the area as well.

``It is an area of the world that I've fallen in love with,'' Agassi said. ``I fell in love with the Bay area over the last eight years with Brad living in the area, and it's a joy for me to play for Sacramento.''