Andre Agassi has been through so many transformations, revivals and conversions that the joking reference to him as "the new, new, new Andre Agassi" has become passe. He knows this, so even he doesn't really attempt to present himself as made-over anymore. Just evolved.
"I've certainly gone through many stages in my life, and I appreciate the tolerance on that," he said. "Now I only speak for each day as it comes, and today I feel pretty good."
At 29 years old, Agassi is being referred to as the "old guy" at the French Open, his 36th career Grand Slam. It's not what a balding man on the brink of 30 wants to hear, but considering his recent life off the court -- a very public divorce from Brooke Shields he lightly refers to as "the misery of the rest of my life" -- it's not the worst thing he has been called. Besides, he's still around to hear it. And these days, that's enough.
On Tuesday, Agassi will face unseeded Marcelo Filippini of Uruguay in the quarterfinals, a berth Agassi gained by unseating defending French Open champion Carlos Moya on Sunday. Today Brazilians Gustavo Kuerten and Fernando Meligeni also advanced to the quarters, along with Andrei Medvedev and Alex Corretja. Kuerten's 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 win over Bohdan Ulihrach of the Czech Republic was notable for its seemingly effortless precision, while Meligeni's 6-1, 5-7, 7-5, 7-6 victory toppled No. 14 Felix Mantilla of Spain.
Kuerten has emerged as the favorite here, although after facing him today Ulihrach named Agassi as the lone player who can stand in Kuerten's way. To advance to the final and a possible matchup with Kuerten, Agassi would have to get past Filippini, 31, and Chilean Marcelo Rios, the other seeded player in his bracket. Those are not great odds for a player who didn't even make it out of the first round here last year, although Agassi is more ready to face the rest of the field now, he says, because he has faced himself.
"It seems there's a lot of mirrors out there, and the man in the mirror can't lie in the heat of battle out there -- it's brutal," Agassi said. "If you don't feel like you are prepared, it will show. If you don't feel confident, it will show. [In the past,] I just don't think I've been quite as prepared as I could have been, or that I even had the belief I could do it even if I was prepared.
"Now I'm feeling much better than I have in the past three years, and that's because I feel physically stronger than I've been in a while. My eagerness is there for the necessary grinding that's required to tough out some of these matches."
Agassi's physical condition was in some question as recently as two days before this tournament, when he was rehabilitating the inflamed tendon in his shoulder that he aggravated after playing in Rome three weeks ago. Working with his coach, Brad Gilbert, in San Francisco, Agassi decided it was strong enough to play, and the dry weather here has been kind by easing the ball along on his strokes. He still is having some trouble on serves, stopping short at the end of the follow-through, but otherwise the injury has yet to bother him.
The mental aspect has been more difficult. He always was one of the game's most talented players, but Agassi's career has taken so many dips and turns that the bookies in his home town of Las Vegas can barely keep up with him. After reaching the finals of four Grand Slams from 1990 to '92, he fell out of the ranking's top 20 in 1993. His inconsistency increased with age. In 1994 and 1995 he won two Slams -- the U.S. and Australian opens, respectively -- and reached the final of another; by the end of 1997 he had dropped to No. 122 in the world. He made the biggest jump in the history of the ATP rankings last year by bounding back up to No. 8, but he didn't do well in the Grand Slams.
He hasn't done particularly well in the French Open in a while, actually, with his high point at Roland Garros coming as runner-up in '90 and '91. But suddenly, the titan of the turnaround looks better here than he has in years, and his upset of clay-court expert Moya -- "you don't want to be playing a guy whose name ends in a vowel on the clay," Agassi said last week -- was a wake-up call to the rest of the field.
"I was surprised because Moya was leading quite easily at the beginning, with a big opportunity to pass through," Kuerten said. "Then after the first set, in the middle of the second, I was surprised Agassi could come back that strong.
"But for sure he's a great player, and when he's playing, well, inspired, he can beat everybody."
That's what Agassi is hoping for, although losing to virtual unknowns a round after ousting top seeds always has been the emblem of Agassi's inconsistency, making him ripe for a fall against Filippini. Still, he is in the quarterfinals, which is always a good sign for his game. And the fact that he's 29 -- well, he has thought about that, too.
"I get better with each match," he said. "I get more confident. I start playing more aggressively. My game can change dramatically in just a few days, so getting through the early rounds was very crucial for me, probably more so than most players.
"The satisfaction of feeling like I can still do it is important. You can believe it all you want, but until you do it, it's just a bunch of talk. I don't think about my age until my body is in pain, but I feel real strong right now. Twenty-nine years old with the right focus is still in the wheelhouse."
When: Through Sunday.
Where: Roland Garros, Paris.
Defending Champions: Carlos Moya and Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario.
Today's TV: 9 a.m., USA.
Yesterday's Key Results: Men -- Alex Corretja (6), Spain, def. Stefan Koubek, Austria, 6-2, 6-3, 7-5; Gustavo Kuerten (8), Brazil, def. Bohdan Ulihrach, Czech Republic, 6-4, 6-4, 6-2; Fernando Meligeni, Brazil, def. Felix Mantilla (14), Spain, 6-1, 5-7, 7-5, 7-6 (7-1); Andrei Medvedev, Ukraine, def. Arnaud Di Pasquale, France, 7-6 (7-5), 7-6 (7-3), 6-1.
Today's Featured Matches: Men -- Dominik Hrbaty, Slovakia, vs. Marcelo Rios (9), Chile; Andre Agassi (13), Las Vegas, vs. Marcelo Filippini, Uruguay. Women -- Martina Hingis (1), Switzerland, vs. Barbara Schwartz, Austria; Steffi Graf (6), Germany, vs. Lindsay Davenport (2), Newport Beach, Calif.; Conchita Martinez, Spain, vs. Monica Seles (3), Sarasota, Fla.; Sylvia Plischke, Austria, vs. Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario (7), Spain.
CAPTION: "Now I only speak for each day as it comes..." says Andre Agassi, who plays Marcelo Filippini today.
CAPTION: Andre Agassi, right, is in quarterfinals as result of beating defending French Open champion Carlos Moya on Sunday.