LONDON (Reuters) - As a player Andre Agassi relied as much on a razor-sharp tennis brain as brute force to collect eight major titles and join a select band of players to complete a career grand slam.
There was nothing he relished more, it seemed, than out-witting the heavy hitters with his lightning fast reflexes, early-struck returns and superior strategies.
At times he appeared to be playing a high-speed game of chess on a tennis court, constantly one or two moves ahead of the man on the other side of the net.
No wonder then that the 43-year-old’s eyes lit up at the prospect of following the likes of Ivan Lendl and Boris Becker into coaching.
With American men’s tennis experiencing lean times compared to the days of Agassi, Pete Sampras, Jim Courier and before that Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe, the Las Vegan’s brainpower would be sought after in the locker room and practice courts.
He even named his perfect scenario on Monday - identifying current American No.1 John Isner as the kind of riddle he would enjoy trying to solve - albeit at a later date.
“Coaching is a heavy responsibility,” Agassi told Reuters as he geared up to take on old rival Sampras in an exhibition match for World Tennis Day in London.
”Somebody gets one chance at their career and they trust you with that. I love the problem solving side of the game, it’s the part that’s most unique and most motivating to me.
“But at the end of the day I‘m years away from even considering that based on my schedule and my responsibilities at this time with my family.”
Agassi, who is married to Steffi Graf and has two young children, is not discounting moving into coaching in the future once he has an “empty nest” at home.
“At a different stage I could see myself enjoying it,” said Agassi, who won the last of his grand slam titles at the 2003 Australian Open.
”Fundamentally I appreciate the game, I respect the game, I like the game as long as I‘m not subjected to the drama.
“I love the inter-action with players, problem solving. I see the inspiration to do it but probably not at this stage.”
Unlike Lendl, who coaches Andy Murray, or Becker, now working with Novak Djokovic, Agassi said he would only consider coaching a player struggling to realize his potential - someone like world No.13 Isner who is yet to get beyond the quarter-finals of a grand slam tournament.
“I would love to focus on someone who is not maximizing their game really,” Agassi said.
”I think of interesting players, like a John Isner, a player who plays at that level and has that much to bring to the table and really help them cover some distance that’s he’s yet to do.
“You have to get inside someone’s head, figure out getting them from point A to point B but that’s time and that’s a big commitment and at this stage of my life I don’t have that luxury,” he said.
Fourteen-times grand slam champion Sampras, who won 20 of his 34 matches against Agassi, said he has renewed enthusiasm for the game after not picking up a racket for four years following his retirement in 2003.
While not interested in joining the ranks of former No.1s to join the coaching ranks, he picked out Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov as a player he would like to work with.
”Maybe help, not coach,“ Sampras said of Dimitrov who has long been tipped as a grand slam winner. ”Coaching is a big commitment but maybe shed a little light on the game.
“He has the raw talent, he hits it well and has a good future. He’s the real deal.”
Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Pritha Sarkar