Home Podcasts and Interview Podcast with Craig Shapiro

Podcast with Craig Shapiro

by Jonas Eriksson

Craig Shapiro is a bit of a media icon on the tennis scene. He has been around the tour since the 90s, when he travelled as Andre Agassi’s personal racquet tech.

Craig runs an excellent podcast where he interviews many professional tennis players. You can subscribe to it on the usual audio platforms.

He also runs something he tongue-in-cheek calls an academy, which is more of an intense travel tribute to tennis. The next trip is to the Rome Masters tournament.

When we connect, he has just returned to New York from the Sunshine Double, so we talk about his experiences there, the state of tennis, his career, interviewing pro players and much more.

Where to listen to our podcast

You can listen to my podcast with Craig Shapiro below or on your favorite audio platform. It will also be live on our YouTube channel tonight. Check out other Tennisnerd podcast episodes on our page.

Time stamps

00:00 Intro
01:00 How much tennis do you watch?
03:52 How is tennis doing as a sport?
14:31 The origin story
23:14 The Craig Shapiro Podcast
30:23 Interviewing pro tennis players can be tricky
37:05 Summarizing the Sunshine double and looking forward to the clay
54:38 Rafa’s return and clay rulership
1:01:17 Tennis elbow
1:08:07 The State of Tennis

Excellent excerpt from Craig Shapiro’s newsletter

Craig writes an excellent newsletter. The latest one is a treat for tennis history buffs and gear nerds. You can subscribe on the official website.

Andre, Pete, The Baroness, and The Agassi Roll: My Time at the ’98 Monte Carlo Masters

“Hey. What are you doing?”
“Packing the machine. Are we going home?”
“No, we’ll go to Munich tomorrow. Brad says you found a sushi place.”
“I did.”
“How is it?”
“It’s good, man. These guys are Japanese. I think.”
“OK, we’ll scoop you at your hotel.”

It was the evening of April 22, 1998. Earlier that day, Andre had given back an early break in the first set and then blew a 5-3, 30-0 lead in the second to lose to Pete in straight sets in the second round of the Monte Carlo Masters.

I was 26 years old and immature far beneath my years. The five years since graduating college had zipped by without affecting much change in my behavior, although I had moved in with my girlfriend to an apartment she had bought on 51st Street between Second and Third avenues, and had comfortably eased into the role as one of Andre’s traveling racquet technicians. Andre had melted down in Stuttgart, Germany, at the back end of 1997, had a come-to-Jesus moment with Brad in the hotel, recalibrated and recommitted, played a couple Challengers, and was climbing his way back to prominence. I was in Germany with them when that happened.

He was climbing back into form and was No. 21 in the world and unseeded in Monte Carlo.

In hindsight, I was too comfortable.

Five giant bags

I traveled with five giant tennis bags that held: a Babolat stringing machine, the base of which was ridiculously heavy; a giant bag filled with 20 of Andre’s Head Radical racquets; a few reels of kevlar for the mains; a giant bag of portioned half sets of his Babolat gut for the crosses; a bunch of big rolls of Tourna Grip; probably some Head leather grips; double-stick tape; a staple gun; his special Head stencil that, unlike all the others on tour, got a red dot in the middle; black and red ink sticks for said stencil; a pack of the trademark Jay’s Custom Stringing plastic bags that the fresh racquets were delivered in; and a big bag of rubber bands that secured the bags and also were tied around Andre’s two centered mains and bottom cross and served as his vibration dampener. You had to be prepared to stay over there. It was unlikely, but if Andre got on a roll, who knows if he’d take a wildcard somewhere. Packing, unpacking, setting up, calibrating, and breaking down the machine, and being organized at the airport and in customs, were almost as important as getting Andre his racquets every day. Before the tournament got underway, it was a few sticks with a couple different tensions, 60, 62, 64, something like that, and then once he dialed in his tension, it was one racquet for practice and then one racquet per set.

I was staying at the Loews Hotel, pronounced luffs (the W in French is called double-v, doobla veh)—while Andre and Brad were at the Hotel de Paris. I don’t recall all the specifics, but we must have arrived five days before the second-round matchup. Andre had killed Todd Martin in the first round, but I had already had a swell adventure by then. I had visited France with the high school French Club when I was in high school, and we had had a day or two in Monaco, so I wasn’t completely out to lunch. I knew some things.

The weather was super nice, and after picking up my credential, where the young women at the credential desk mistook me for a player (NGL, that joueur badge is my favorite of all my credentials), I made my way to the hotel pool and got talking to a woman who reminded me of Zsa Zsa Gabor. She was super nice and glamorous with the giant Carrera shades, spoke with a glorious austere accent, and explained that she lived in the hotel.

“Je suis Le Baroness Marianne von Brandstetter,” she proclaimed.

“I’m Craig Shapiro. Nice to meet you, Baroness.”

The Baroness

The Baroness was the real thing. She had a giant pad right in the hotel that must have been three or four hotel rooms all connected. Unbelievable, I know. She invited me for lunch at the yacht club, and when we met in front of the hotel, her beige Rolls-Royce Corniche was waiting.

“Can you drive?” she asked.


I dare say I am the only tennis racquet stringer in the 96-year history of the Monte Carlo Masters to have driven a Rolls down the Avenue Princess Grace to the Monaco Yacht Club for lunch. With a baroness, no less.

We had a grand time. I’ve never told this story to anyone and I don’t recall all the particulars, but the vistas at the yacht club, and The Monte Carlo Country Club where the tournament is played, for that matter, are breathtaking. All that beautiful blue, the sky and the Mediterranean. For a guy making 600 bucks a week, I was doing pretty well, I thought to myself.

A boozy blur

Either that same night or the following night, Brad and Andre came to my hotel to gamble,  because the casino in the Hotel de Paris had a dress code and the casino in the Loews was casual. Brad liked to play craps, and I got hot with the dice, and he made me a lot of money that night. Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Andrei Medvedev were hovering around the craps table, clueless about how to play, and I remember Yevgeny had a giant knot of francs held by a rubber band in his breast pocket. So young, so rich. I played blackjack alongside Andre, and when the opportunity presented itself, he doubled my bets for me. It was amazing. I walked into the casino with the franc’s equivalent of $100 and left that casino with at least a month’s salary.

Andre and Brad went back to their hotel. I’d see them at practice. I, of course, went to the famous nightclub Jimmy’z, where in 1998 a bottle of Heineken was $50 US.

The rest of the night is a boozy blur, although I do remember seeing Kafelnikov at Jimmy’z with a much lighter roll of francs in that front shirt pocket. I remember an angry hotel guest screaming “MERDE!!” from his balcony to mine and a visit from hotel security for a noise complaint, all of which culminated in me sleeping well through my alarm. I was still shit-faced when I woke, but I vaguely remember that one of the bigwigs at the Monte Carlo Country Club had to call the hotel to get me up.

I was tragically hungover running through the Monte Carlo Country Club with Andre’s sticks in hand to the practice court where Andre was practicing with Mark Philippoussis’ racquet. It wasn’t good. Brad was angry, I felt terrible. I’d gotten way too comfortable.

Threatened with a box cutter

Andre beat Todd, and then was scheduled to play Pete, who had never won a match in Monte Carlo. I don’t remember the particulars of the match—by then I was too nervous that I was going to be fired and recalled back to New York. But it was a warm, sun-shiny day on Court Rainier III, and until the reign of Rafa, Pete was the greatest big-match player the world had ever known. And make no mistake about it, Sampras v. Agassi in Monte Carlo was a supercharged event. The pomp and circumstance of that tournament is truly unparalleled. Prince Albert, Princess Stephanie, the whole thing is just majestic.  

When Pete threw his hands up and took the 360 victory spin, I was courtside. What a terrible feeling.

Anyway, the thing about stringing one player’s racquets is that you have a lot of free time, and I somehow found a mall in Monte Carlo and bumped into a sushi restaurant in this mall. I must have mentioned it to Brad, and the idea of eating something different than French or Italian food after a week in the south of France was a big draw.

We made our way to this extremely low-key sushi restaurant, sat at the sushi bar, and the three of us had a great time. The sushi chefs were cool, and Andre ordered some sort of custom inside-out hand roll, I believe, that the chefs proclaimed on the spot the Agassi Roll.

The following week, Andre lost to Thomas Enqvist in the final in Munich.

Number one

I left that job later that summer, in Cincinnati to be exact, after a guy I worked with who seemed to have experience in matters of the criminal kind threatened me with a boxcutter. I was never long for that job, anyway. I suffered through being behind that stringing machine to get into the mix.  

The following May, Andre won the French Open and got to No. 1 in the world.

The next time I saw Andre was in September of that year. I was on headset at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas, where I was stage-managing the host position for HBO’s broadcast of the Felix Trinidad v. Oscar De La Hoya prizefight. I had hovered to ringside when the fight began, and Andre was there with Steffi. We chatted for a sec.

“Number one,” I said.

“Can you believe it?” he said.

And it was cool.

Thank you for the support. If you are flying to Nice, I highly recommend the helicopter from Nice to Monte Carlo. It’s as close to being James Bond as humanly possible.

You may also like

Leave a Comment