Son of Agassi, Graf could be a future ace

Jaden, rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, committed to USC

May 28th, 2020

To answer your first question, no, Jaden Agassi never really got into tennis.

Oh, he’s dabbled in the sport associated with his world-famous parents, Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf. But that usually just results in Jaden smacking the ball as hard as he can, with no regard for the rules or the lines.

His mom and dad can have their 30 combined Grand Slam singles titles. Jaden just wants to hit grand slams.

“I love baseball,” he says. “I love the teammates, surviving and fighting with your brothers. Every game comes with a new set of challenges, and I really love figuring those out.”

The 18-year-old Agassi is following that love and forging his own athletic path. He’s a home-schooled third baseman and right-handed pitcher in the home stretch of his rehab from Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow. And he’s planning to begin his collegiate career at the University of Southern California in the fall after standout summers with Las Vegas Recruits, a college prep baseball academy.

With the Draft shortened due to the coronavirus pandemic, the 6-foot-3, 212-pound Agassi probably won’t be going pro just yet. He says he views the Draft as “Plan B” and knows -- especially coming off an injury -- that he still has plenty to prove on the field, just as his parents once proved it on the court.

“I come from a sport where you eat what you kill,” Andre Agassi says. “You don’t hope someone believes in you -- you earn your way. Not much has really changed with him. When your parents have lived at the highest level of a sport, you’re not captivated by the grandeur hiding behind the curtain.”

So for now, the younger Agassi appears to be captivated more by the idea of playing for the Trojans and seeing where that leads.

But his is definitely a name worth keeping an eye on -- and not just because that name is so familiar to sports fans.

“He is a freaky strong kid,” says an evaluator from one Major League team, “with raw power.”

That power comes both at the plate and on the mound. Agassi has been ranked by Perfect Game as the No. 2 Draft prospect in Nevada because of his easy, low-90s velocity as a pitcher, his high ceiling with the bat and his good hands in the field. Agassi didn’t inherit his parents’ tennis tack, but he did inherit their hand-eye coordination and their ability to shine in the big moment.

The plan is for him to put all those skill sets to work at USC as a two-way player. At some point, though, he might have to pick a lane.

“Sooner or later, baseball will make that decision for him,” Andre says. “But objectively, with his composure and control of a game, he seems to really shine on the bump.”

Jaden’s longtime coach -- former Minor League pitcher Evan Greusel, who has worked with him since he was 8 -- agrees.

“He has a pitcher’s personality,” Greusel says. “He’s got funny jokes, quirks. He also has the best pickoff move and is the best at holding runners that I’ve ever seen at any level. And I’ve never seen him get rattled on the mound.”

Agassi can rattle opposing batters with what qualifies, at his age, as the rare ability to throw a changeup.

“A lot of kids can throw a breaking ball, but his changeup is as good as I’ve seen,” says Brad Maloff, another of Agassi’s Las Vegas Recruits coaches. “That’s his out pitch.”

So Andre Agassi and Graf might have served the world an ace of a different sort. It’s an unlikely outcome for the International Tennis Hall of Famers, neither of whom have any prior association with baseball. Graf grew up in Germany, and Agassi says the only baseball he’s ever played was in a Nike commercial that cast various star athletes in roles outside their realm. Randy Johnson was a bowler, Serena Williams was a volleyball player, Lance Armstrong was a boxer and Agassi was the shortstop for the Red Sox.

“I had no lateral movement and just awful, awful, awful arm strength,” Andre says with a laugh. “You weren’t going to be able to hide me anywhere.”

For Jaden, there’s no hiding from his famous name. Though he did prefer to don the nickname “Rock” on the back of his jersey early in his baseball career so as not to draw attention to himself, he wears “Agassi” proudly now. And he views his parents not as a lofty legacy to live up to but as a framework to follow.

“One thing that’s really rubbed off on me is their work ethic,” he says. “It’s really a blessing to get taught that at such a young age. I truly appreciate how much it takes to be the best at something.”

In his autobiography, “Open,” the elder Agassi wrote about his resentment of the sport that made him a star, how tennis was forced upon him by his own father and how lonely it ultimately is.

“Of all the games men and women play,” he wrote, “tennis is the closest to solitary confinement.”

Baseball has given Jaden the opposite experience. He and his younger sister Jaz, who has participated in competitive hip-hop, were free to find and follow their own passions. Jaden took up T-ball at age 5 and became serious about the sport quickly. He’s been a part of travel and tournament teams most of his life.

“It’s funny, because Andre never wanted Jaden to fully pursue sports,” says Greusel, “because he knows how hard the journey is and the percentage of people who actually succeed.”

Ultimately, though, Jaden’s baseball talent was too strong to be denied. And his conscientious approach has helped him make the most of that talent and properly adhere to his elbow rehab schedule.

“I’m really proud of who he is,” Andre says. “He was always a measure-twice, cut-once kind of kid. He would size up his engagements. He’s learned how to earn his own path, and he’ll go the extra mile to do that. I’m just proud watching him. He doesn’t have to be great for me to enjoy watching him.”

Tennis greatness is in his blood. But Jaden shunned the court for the diamond and found a love all his own.