June 28, 1999 12:00 PM

No sooner had Andre Agassi stormed back from two sets down to win the demanding French Open on June 6 than he took a moment to do the unthinkable—still drenched with sweat and red-eyed from crying, he rushed to the nearest phone and called his ex-wife with the news.

So ended yet another chapter in the curious saga of tennis’s most talented enigma and TV star Brooke Shields—this one spanning an emotional 10-week stretch that began with the announcement of their divorce and culminated in Agassi’s inspired heroics in Paris. Mired in a two-year swoon that saw the onetime Top 10 player drop to No. 141 in the world—a slump some blamed on his devotion to Shields, whom he married in 1997—Agassi, 29, beat Ukrainian Andrei Medvedev in five gritty sets, becoming only the fifth player to win all four of tennis’s major championships in a career. The victory also makes him a favorite to win at historical Wimbledon, starting June 21. “He never stopped fighting,” says Agassi’s friend and trainer Gil Reyes. “The fans in Paris embraced him. They saw his passion.”

How could they miss it? Agassi wept openly for several minutes after the match, to rousing cheers at Roland Garros stadium. Then he made his first postmatch call—to Brooke. “She was just thrilled,” says her father, Frank Shields, who remains a big fan of his former son-in-law’s. “Andre has been extremely, extremely considerate as far as Brooke is concerned. That’s a real support group they’ve got going.”

Were it not for divorce papers filed by Agassi on April 9, it might be hard to tell the couple had even split. “Nothing’s changed,” according to Shields’s friend, comedian Maryellen Hooper. “They still talk to each other every night.” Accustomed to being apart (Agassi travels the world playing tennis, while Shields films Suddenly Susan in L.A.), the two spoke by phone throughout the French Open and shared a call during a surprise 34th birthday party friends threw for Shields in May. “They don’t have a lot in common,” notes Hooper. “She likes to go antiquing; he likes to play video games. But they care about each other deeply.”

It may be coincidence, but Agassi’s friendly divorce seems to have reawakened the baseline beast within. “He was just happy it was over and he could finally concentrate on tennis,” says his sometime practice partner and tour pro Sargis Sargsian. “He’s as focused as ever.” Though Agassi won Wimbledon in 1992, the U.S. Open in 1994 and the Australian Open the next year, he had developed a reputation for losing interest and falling out of shape. But in January, Agassi began a punishing fitness routine, spending up to five hours a day sprinting uphill, lifting weights and hitting balls. “His lungs screamed, and his legs burned,” says Reyes. “But he’s in the best shape of his life.” Agassi also seemed to surge with emotion during the French Open final, as if he were channeling the pain of divorce into the sport he loves. “Tennis was there for him,” said his coach and good friend Brad Gilbert. “Sometimes when you’re down, you need it more.”

Afterward, the champ needed a little rest and relaxation, decamping with Gilbert for the exclusive Fisher Island Club off Florida’s Miami Beach. “He worked out a little, he went to the beach, he just regrouped,” says Gilbert. Before long, though, it was back to tennis boot camp for Agassi. “There is more greatness to come,” predicts Reyes.

Those who know the exacting Agassi don’t doubt his potential—when he’s properly focused. “Whatever he does, he does incredibly well,” says Sargsian. “If he’s making a sandwich or folding laundry, he takes care of it 100 percent. He makes the best margaritas in the world.” Judging from the friendship he still shares with Shields, Agassi is also well on his way to making a far better than average ex-husband.

Alex Tresniowski

Karen Brailsford and Lyndon Stambler in Las Vegas, and Don Sider in Miami

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