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Friday, January 25, 2013
Andre Agassi angered by Armstrong

By Bonnie D. Ford
ESPN.com

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Andre Agassi visited the Australian Open, a tournament he won four times, on Friday for the first time since his 2006 retirement.

His news conference went the verbal equivalent of five sets.

Agassi discussed his admiration for the quality of men's tennis with Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal at the top. His most emotional response came in regard to a question about Lance Armstrong's doping confession, which has helped increase demand for more stringent testing in tennis, among other sports.

The eight-time Grand Slam champion said his reaction to Armstrong's confession in an interview last week with Oprah Winfrey was "shock, hard to stomach, sadness, disappointment. I think 'anger' is a fair word.

"I was certainly one of those that flat-out believed him that long period of time,'' said Agassi, who met Armstrong on numerous occasions. "The thought of it not being the case was unconscionable to me.''

Agassi and Armstrong shared a common sponsor, Nike, and were among a group of prominent athletes involved in charity work who founded Athletes for Hope, although Armstrong's name no longer appears on the website. Agassi, who has focused on his educational foundation since retirement, said he hopes the Livestrong foundation, which has severed its ties with Armstrong, weathers the storm of Armstrong's admissions.

The 42-year-old Agassi said better drug-testing oversight earlier in his own career, which spanned 20 years, "would have kept me from destroying a few years of my life. That's what I did to myself with the use of the recreational, destructive substance of crystal meth. It would have saved me on a lot of fronts.''

Agassi was referring to an incident revealed in his 2009 autobiography, "Open,'' in which he said he tested positive for crystal methamphetamine but succeeded in having the case dropped after writing an alibi letter claiming his soda had been spiked.

The ATP, which began drug-testing players in the mid-1980s, then oversaw the anti-doping program, a system that changed after the current international anti-doping infrastructure was born in 1999 with the creation of the World Anti-Doping Agency.

The International Tennis Federation oversees testing for both the men's and women's tours now. Although Agassi asserted that tennis "has always led the way,'' the sport has faced increasing calls from inside and outside to step up out-of-competition testing and blood testing.

"Anything that can protect the integrity of the sport and those that aren't cheating should absolutely be considered,'' Agassi said. "I mean, what is the downside? You start looking at the inconvenience of players. Maybe that turns into an issue at some point, I would imagine. But unfortunately, you know, we're at a day and age where the more transparency you have in all of it, the better off it all is and the better off these athletes are.

"The more the better, as far as I'm concerned. The stricter, the better; the more transparency, the better; the more accountability, the better.''