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Agassis charity is in full swing

In town for Superset event, he ruminates on family and philanthropy

Andre Agassi isn't through with what will be a Hall of Fame career in tennis, but he's making just as big a mark in philanthropy.

The Andre Agassi Charitable Foundation, founded in 1994, assists at-risk youths in his hometown of Las Vegas. His eighth 'Grand Slam for Children' one-night benefit concert raised a record $12.6 million last month, bringing the total to more than $40 million.

Five years ago, the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy was established in Las Vegas. Spots in the $35 million charter school, partly state-funded, are distributed by lottery, with full scholarships meted to 50 children in each grade.

'We started with a third-grade class, and now we have third through seventh,' says Agassi, in Portland to compete in Saturday night's Superset Tennis event at the Rose Garden. 'Every year we will add a grade, and eventually we will go kindergarten through 12.

'I'm overwhelmed by what the children can accomplish. To see what a child who has been written off by society can do with a little hope and opportunity is an incredible thing to watch.'

Agassi also donated $1.25 million to open a new Boys & Girls Club in Las Vegas in 1997.

'I always knew I wanted to give back,' he says. 'The question was when and how. Nine years ago, I decided it was going to be by giving to children. That is the way to change the world. There are kids who have no opportunities in life. They need clothes, they need education, they need love. And eventually, education is what we sort of focused on. The academy is our pride and joy.'

Agassi's role as father to -2-year-old son Jaden and daughter Jaz, born Oct. 3, hasn't stifled his interest in continuing as a regular on the ATP Tour.

'I am committed to training and playing as hard as I can for as long as I can still win,' he says.

Being a dad has made it tougher in some respects and easier in others, says Agassi, who is married to Steffi Graf. 'The traveling gets harder Ñliving out of a suitcase, being away from Jaden and Steffi. But it is an incredible thing to be able to come home, put the racket away, be with them and forget completely about tennis.'

There probably will be another offspring, but not in the immediate future.

'It wouldn't be a great subject for Stef right now, but I'm planning on talking her into it later,' Agassi says. 'Just don't say anything.'

Graf, who retired in 1999 at age 30 as one of the greats in women's tennis, won't be making a comeback.

'She misses it zero,' Agassi says. 'She enjoys stroking and hitting the ball, which we still get to do. She is a very focused, very goal-oriented person, and that part of her life is clearly done. It's sort of a beautiful thing to watch.'

Agassi's only other Portland appearance came in 1986 as a 16-year-old prodigy in a Nike-sponsored exhibition that included John McEnroe and a pair of Soviet pros.

On Saturday, Agassi has a chance to win $250,000 for three sets.

'It gives me an opportunity to keep my game sharp and competitive against some of the world's great players,' he says. 'And it's nice to be able to play in a city that doesn't get much opportunity to see big-time tennis.'

This year, Agassi became the oldest player ever to be ranked fourth in the world and won four tournaments, including the Australian Open.

'It was a great year any way you dice it up,' he says. 'It started off a heck of a lot better than it ended, though. I felt like I was constantly nursing little nicks in my body that never quite made me feel great. But to do what I did at 33, I feel like I have a lot more to dig into next year.

'I would love to be able to play at the top level for a lot longer, but the question is, Will my body hold up? I just don't know. I take it year by year. So far, so good.'