Andre Agassi holds court in Chigwell

PUBLISHED: 19:57 16 March 2015 | UPDATED: 19:57 16 March 2015



Matt Alexander

Andre Agassi is one of the world’s most iconic sporting stars, so when Nick Dines got the chance to meet the eight-time Grand Slam tennis champion in Chigwell, there was no holding him back

Without the spectacular explosion of talent seen through Messrs Federer, Nadal and Djokovic over the past decade, the diminutive Andre Agassi would still be considered perhaps the greatest tennis player of all time in many eyes.

Boasting a highly decorated career, littered with accolades and a prize money bounty exceeding $30m, the now 44-year-old belongs to tennis’ pantheon of great champions, a select group of players to have secured all four Grand Slam titles.

After flying in from his home in Las Vegas to negotiate a rather stringent airport customs encounter, followed by that cruel mistress the M25, undeterred, here he was, Andre Agassi in… Chigwell.

This was his inaugural visit to this neck of the woods and he began, lightheartedly, quipping: ‘Rumour has it, I can’t afford to live around here.’

Playing host to Andre, those at Chigwell’s Roding Lane David Lloyd Leisure Club were the envy of many, welcoming the tennis icon for the official European launch of BILT by Agassi & Reyes, his exciting state-of-the-art range of gym fitness equipment.

With his UK visits known to be extremely rare, this was quite the coup to welcome Andre to Essex for his grand unveiling. The feeling was mutual as Andre was evidently thrilled to bring his brand, established in 2012, to the masses in what appears to be an ideal doubles partnership with a pioneer in the UK’s premium fitness sector.

Comprised of The Olympic Flat Bench, The Change of Direction squat machine, The Power Stride and The Quad, our county’s fitness fanatics will be among the first in the UK and Europe to benefit from the very latest in gym innovation, a mini-circuit range modeled on Agassi’s own custom-made equipment, painstakingly honed over two decades.

Under the guidance of his loyal fitness coach, Gil Reyes, strength, conditioning and safety proved the key factors behind a productive 20-year virtually injury-free career. Subsequently, it’s these core elements that play an integral role behind the creation of Andre’s range of equipment, providing ideal strength and conditioning training across all sports, helping beginners to professionals.

‘It’s no secret that I wasn’t the best athlete on the tennis court,’ Andre confessed. ‘I had to work to find ways to be better and strength was a huge component to my success and also my longevity.

‘I credit my trainer Gil who cared about me for over two decades, so much so that he designed equipment on napkins while sitting on flights, with the aim of trying to get fitter. As far as equipment goes, this is everything that I needed.

‘I’m delighted that the hard work and passion that has gone into many years of development has been recognised by David Lloyd Leisure. The greatest seal of approval that the BILT By Agassi & Reyes could get, they know the business here and it’s a testament to what we’ve done, so it was worth coming over and celebrating it.’

Once he’d proudly shown off his cutting-edge line of fitness equipment, the charming American, forever smiling, spent time with the burgeoning tennis talent David Lloyd has training at this facility.

Many of them weren’t even around during his star-studded career and hadn’t been born upon his retirement in 2006, yet the juniors, no doubt with the help of their parents, were made to feel like this master class experience was a highly momentous one.

A Wimbledon darling during his heyday, Andre, still handy with a racquet by the way, was clearly impressed with what he had to see. ‘It’s a real thrill to come here and see the grassroots and witness the sport capture these kids’ imagination, where they can get involved with the game.’

The chance to rally with one of the game’s greats provided the beaming kids with a mightily impressive show-and-tell school anecdote for the following morning.

‘I wasn’t prepared to play but couldn’t resist the temptation, sweating up a storm and having a lot of fun. Although it appears it’s not a big deal beating me anymore, because everyone can do that,’ Andre jested.

A natural presence with children, the former world number one, a father of two himself, welcomed all questions, however irrelevant, serving up insightful replies to each topic, enlightening his audience on his upbringing, inspirations and career.

‘When you’re growing up and learning the game, if you’re the best tennis player on the court, you should pick another tennis court,’ he advised. ‘The only way you improve is if you push yourself. Force yourself to play people better than you, so you can be down break point and match point and feel the pressure. Then every now and then play someone you’re better than, just to make you feel good!’

With the courts a hive of activity, most of the excitable children summed up their experience in the customary reply, ‘Amazing’. It was left to the equally spellbound parents to convey just what Andre’s visit meant to their youngsters.

With their 10-year-old son Sean highly thought of by his coaches and the owner of a more than useful forehand, local parent’s Karen and Simon Meyer feel that Andre will now join Rafael Nadal as one of their son’s heroes.

‘Sean comes down here on a Saturday playing in the All Star squad and he’s also played for David Lloyd Chigwell in the National Championships. He enters quite a few tournaments, around three a month, he just loves it, so this evening will definitely make a difference to him. Andre gave some fantastic words of advice, proving an inspirational speaker for the children, but it was as much fun for the parents as it was for the kids,’ Simon joked.

Andre Agassi was speaking at the European launch of his BILT by Andre Agassi & Gil Reyes fitness range, which is available at selected David Lloyd Leisure clubs.

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