Andre Agassi is widely perceived to be one of the greatest male tennis players of all time.
The 5ft 11in American was an eight-time grand slam champion and winner of the gold medal at the 1996 Olympic Games. He was the first men’s tennis player to win all four grand slams. In the 1990s and 2000s he held the no. 1 world ranking for 101 weeks.
Agassi was a sporting mega-star, with achievement on the court matched by his lifestyle off it. In the 1990s, he was married to the actress and model Brooke Shields, and had numerous high profile and lucrative endorsements such as that with Nike.
On the surface, Agassi had it all. However, inside he was suffering from a mental trauma. The source of the distress was hair loss. It was in 1997 that Agassi revealed his extraordinary battle with hair loss in his autobiography titled “Open”.
'Every morning I would get up and find another piece of my identity on the pillow, in the wash basin, down the plughole."
The autobiography revealed the acute sensitivity of Agassi to losing his hair. He began suffering from hair loss in his early twenties, and in response turned to wearing a wig in the style of a mullet, a fashionable hair style back then. The mullet was distinctive and became a defining feature of Agassi.
Staggeringly, Agassi wore his wig on court, whilst playing professional tennis. In the autobiography, Agassi’s obsession with his hair, to the detriment of tennis, is detailed by his experience at the French Open in 1990. He had worn the wig on court throughout the entire tournament, and had reached the final, his first in a Grand Slam tournament.
Just before the final, Agassi relayed that his hairpiece began to disintegrate when he was in the shower. Instead of focusing on the match, he and his brother were frantically sticking the hair piece back together, with lots of clips as a last resort.
Agassi managed to fix the wig, and played the match with it on, but ended up losing the final, against fourth seed, Andrés Gómez. Agassi blamed his concerns that it would fall apart for losing the match. Before the match he prayed, "not for victory, but that my hairpiece would not fall off."
"With each leap, I imagine it falling into the sand. I imagine millions of spectators move closer to their TV sets, their eyes widening and, in dozens of dialects and languages, ask how Andre Agassi's hair has fallen from his head."
It’s an amazing story, and a vivid example of the mental toll that hair loss can take on men, even high achieving sports superstars.
Agassi’s battle with hair loss continued after the defeat, but would end in 1994, at which point he had won Wimbledon and the US Open.
At the time, he was living with Brooke Shields who pushed him just to shave it off. Agassi took the plunge, decided to quit the wig, and shaved his head all over. After the initial shock of "looking into the mirror at a different man" he never looked back.
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