By Michael A. Lipton
March 25, 1996 12:00 PM

BROOKE SHIELDS HADN’T EVEN met Andre Agassi when they exchanged their first love letters. The time was October 1993, and Shields was in South Africa shooting a movie. For months, Lyndie Benson, the wife of saxophonist Kenny G and a mutual friend of the actress and the tennis star, had been trying in vain to match up the two young—and very busy—singles. But now Shields, with some time between takes, got off a fax to Agassi, who was then home in Las Vegas, sidelined by tendinitis in his wrist. Feeling a bit Victorian that day, and because, as she says, “he struck me as sort of shy,” the actress sent him what she calls a “comical” letter. “With every breath you take, my heart skips a beat…sorry, wrong century,” she wrote. But what Agassi faxed back, she says, was “a beautiful, serious-person letter. I thought, ‘Oh, my God, he’s going to think I’m vapid.’ ”

Apparently not. Three months later, they had their first date, and over the next two years—commuting between her East Side Manhattan brownstone and his modest, two-story house in Vegas—the two became inseparable. On Feb. 28, while they were vacationing in Hawaii, Agassi proposed marriage, and she accepted. For him, it was all about finding the right moment. For her, it was about time. “He had talked a lot about getting engaged,” she says. “But I’d heard that kind of talk before. As far as I was concerned, it was a daydream.”

Although Shields had several previous romances—including one with future TV Superman Dean Cain when both were undergrads at Princeton in 1987 and another with actor Liam Neeson in 1992—all had ended far short of the altar. (She and Michael Jackson “were never more than friends,” she says.) Her 1990 interlude with John Kennedy Jr. was, she said, “brief—a good diary entry, that’s all.”

Agassi, meanwhile, dated college student Wendy Stewart for over a year, and in 1993 had a widely publicized friendship with Barbra Streisand. He and Shields finally met when she came to L.A. on business on Dec. 26, 1993, and they had dinner at Pasta Maria. “I’d been talking to him on paper,” Shields says. “I had no idea if we could be that close face to face.”

As it turned out, they could, perhaps because they had some things in common. Both were child prodigies (at 4, he was smacking tennis balls with Jimmy Connors; at 2, she was appearing in Ivory Snow ads). Both have struggled with bumpy careers (though Agassi came into his own by winning Wimbledon in 1992 and took the U.S. Open two years later, and she starred in the Broadway revival of Grease). Both are religious (she’s Catholic; he’s born-again Christian). “We’re so in tune,” Shields has said, “it’s surreal.”

A week after they first dined together, Agassi invited her to Vegas, where he lives near his parents, Mike, 65, and Betty, 57. Shields agreed, and as Agassi was driving her to catch her flight to New York, she suddenly said, “I love you.” Agassi didn’t respond in kind, but he was obviously smitten. The next month, when Shields entered a New York hospital for foot surgery, he was at her side for 10 days, even carrying her from her bed to the bathroom. In February 1994, when Agassi won a tournament in Scottsdale, Ariz., Shields was cheering in the stands.

And he was there for her when, later that year, she made what she calls the “rough” decision to fire her mother, Teri, 62, as her manager and replaced her with Agassi’s manager Perry Rogers. That fall, Shields began her stint in Grease, and Agassi became a backstage fixture.

As for the couple’s next big production—their wedding—”I haven’t had time to think when or where,” sighs Shields, “or whether it will be huge or small.” She has left the details to her mother, who, she says, is “pleased” with her engagement. “It’s taken a while,” says Shields, “but she does love Andre.” His father, mean-while, has visions of little Agassis storming the courts, says Brooke, who has only lately taken up the game herself. She describes Agassi as a patient, if tireless, instructor. Says his future Mrs.: “He definitely puts me through the wringer.”