The Economic Times
Stock Analysis, IPO, Mutual Funds, Bonds & More

Tennis superstar Andre Agassi talks about his recent investments, tales around his playing years

"It’s interesting because if you look at it globally, the sport is growing," said Andre Agassi.

, ET Bureau|
Feb 21, 2019, 09.17 AM IST
AgassiHelps (1)
"I have my more high risk investments that I personally engage with."
You know Andre Agassi, the tennis superstar. Now meet Agassi, the investor. The 48-year-old former world number one, with eight grand slam titles, doesn’t lose sleep over volatile stock markets. Agassi, and his investment team, keeps a well-diversified investment portfolio with clear risk tolerance – "which may not see 10-12% returns every year, but also not drop in value by 20%."

Agassi, who was in Mumbai to promote his investee company Square Panda, a California headquartered startup that creates artificial intelligence based literacy products, spoke to ET about his investment habits, his incomplete education, work at the Agassi Early Learner Neuroscience Foundation and of course, tennis.

"I bet on people," the tennis ace told ET, when asked about his start-up investments. "Good ideas can get screwed up and an average idea can really become something special because of people," he added.

Sporting a grey T-shirt, black denim, and a funky bead neckpiece, Agassi reiterated the need for primary education. "My lack of education was probably the greatest vehicle to my commitment and interest in education," he said about his investments in education sector.

Apart from his investment in Square Panda, Agassi has set up 90 charter schools in the US, investing over a billion dollars over the past five years. "Education changes the trajectory of a child’s life. Am trying to reach out to as many as possible – be it in America or India," he said. Edited excerpts:

Q. Primary education seems to be on top of your ‘cause’ list…
Ans. I was an eighth grade drop-out… no education, forced to play tennis, and no choice. So I always correlate no-education with no-choice. This led me to disconnect with my own sport, even though I was the best in the world. Education endows you with choice… You’re successful in sports, but you spent a third of your life not prepared for the remaining two-third. This doesn’t make sense even if you’re successful in sports.

Q. Do you repent dropping out of academics early in life?
Ans. See, you only get to know about successful athletes… compare this to how many, who try to get there, and how many who manage to maintain their career long enough to sustain their lives economically. And even if they sustain their lives economically, how many of them have an outlet that connects them to a passion. They spend their whole lives on one thing… That’s not ideal.

Q. When did you realize, you were not “educated enough”? Was it in your playing years?
Ans. It was right about the half-way point in my career - at the very coming off from the ‘world number-one’ spot to a real low point. This low point was the transition for me trying to figure out my reason for continuing to play tennis. So my lack of education was probably the greatest vehicle to my commitment and interest in education. Lack of education is what sent me on a downward spiral... It was around this time that I came to know about charter schools… I saw two Americans changing the lives of kids systemically by teaching them. I built my own charter school in the most economically-challenged areas of Las Vegas. This charter school was not because I was an educator but because I facilitated this dream. I have built 90 plus charter schools in the last five years and we put in over a billion dollars.

Q. What about your investment in Square Panda? Is it more opportunistic, and less philanthropic?
Ans. I tried Square Panda for efficacy study in my school - seeing the difference and seeing what it did at that point, I was compelled to invest my dollars which was significant but also my brand, my time and my energy to sit on the board. We have seen great results from what Square Panda can do to recognize the problem of dyslexia among children at an early age... ‘Cost’ of dyslexia being detected at sixth grade versus detection when a child is five years old, has many economic implications. Speaking about America, the economic burden of this is $14,000 a year versus $500 for life, if you can catch it early.

Q. How do you pick start-ups for investments?
Ans. I have a portfolio that is well diversified… I have my more high risk investments that I personally engage with. Outside of that I am happy to listen to any investment as a passive investor. But there are one or two areas that I really connect with – like maybe education or sports – where I take much more aggressive position – investing my time as well as money. I bet on people, not on things… A good idea can get screwed up and an average idea can really become something special because of people.

Q. Talking about good and bad, tennis is facing a lot of integrity issues – illegal betting, use of performance-enhancing drugs, et al…
Ans. People are always looking to take short cuts…. You can put governances in place, but people will always find a way. But you have to understand the only possibility of that happening is at very low level. There’s no way you could bet enough to win the tournament. I don’t worry of it (illegal betting) affecting the integrity of the game but I do believe some people at the lowest level are trying to get away with something.

Q. How would you qualify tennis? Is it a 'growing sport'?
Ans. It’s interesting, because if you look at it globally, the sport is growing. But if you look at America, tennis is not growing. This is because we don’t have any American champions anymore, and interest levels have come down. I was recently in Australia, and there the infrastructure changes every playing season. The facilities, the interest, the players – it’s all growing consistently there. The main determining factor to know if tennis is growing is ‘tennis ball sales’: It’s growing globally, but not in America. The three toughest challenges for American tennis are Federer, Nadal and Djokovic.

Q. So, who do you rate the best – Federer, Nadal or Djokovic?
Ans. Am not talking about the best-of-all-times here, but if you take versatility, Federer has most options on the tennis court. Nadal is a very unique player; some opponents trouble him, but he is dominant against 98% of other types of players. If you have to beat seven guys to win, Federer can find more ways to beat the seven guys… But then Novak may have the final say because he is the youngest and healthiest of the three - and he has winning records against both Federer and Nadal. Novak’s game at the highest level can accomplish everything.

Q You played against India’s Leander Paes a couple of times…
Ans. He just flew around the court, and had some of the best shots that tennis has ever seen… Leander really had a way of disrupting your rhythm. Thank goodness, he did not believe in himself against me… but then he caused me a lot of ‘aggravation’ throughout the match.

Q. Paes is 45, and he's still active in the professional circuit....
Ans. As a doubles player, you can play longer (than singles player). It’s just half the court... But in tennis, age has gone up. You don’t see young ones anymore. You don’t see 19 year olds winning tournaments. We used to be 19 and we used to win big tournaments; now you can’t think about winning a big tourney before 23 or 24.

Also Read

Federer, Nadal, Djokovic: The best era of tennis, and of tennis dads

Australian bushfire: Serena Williams auctions signed-tennis dress, tennis ball to raise money for firefighters

Tennis: India's tech capital to host Bengaluru Open from February 10

Where tennis and cricket meet: Friendly banter, camaraderie & the unbreakable bond between Gavaskar & Amritraj

On his way to Tokyo: Tennis star Bopanna on preparing for 2020 Olympics, physiotherapy & love for his daughter

Add Your Comments
Commenting feature is disabled in your country/region.

Other useful Links

Copyright © 2020 Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd. All rights reserved. For reprint rights: Times Syndication Service