Agassi confession lengthens shadow of doubt
"It was full of lies, interwoven with the truth," Andre Agassi reveals.
He is talking about the gushing letter he claims he wrote to the ATP in 1997 to explain his positive drugs test.
This is the statement which may tarnish the American's reputation more than the doping offence itself. Lies and cover-up, on a sad day for tennis.
Agassi claims he tested positive for crystal meth after taking the drug recreationally in 1997, the year of his dramatic slump in form and slide down the rankings.
He amazingly writes about it in his new autobigraphy, being serialised in The Times this week, and one can only imagine he was trying to illustrate the deep depression he was feeling at the time and highlight the remarkable resurgence which followed this all-time low.
It appears he faced an independent tribunal but was found not guilty after claiming that a drink was spiked. This was never made public because, as the ATP confirmed in a statement today, the authorities always protect the innocence of those who are acquitted.
Agassi bowed out of the 1997 US Open after a fourth-round defeat by Australia's Pat Rafter
The claim of dishonesty, coupled with the fact he was never banned, basically suggests the ATP took his defence at face value and brushed his case under the carpet. The ATP would strongly reject this, arguing it was an independent tribunal which made the decision and that no executive had the authority to decide the matter.
But unfortunately, after this high-profile revelation, more suspicion hangs over tennis than ever before.
How many more cases like this have there been? How much more deception? How many more, like Agassi, simply bluffed their way out and got away with it?
The problem is that in 1997, and until relatively recently, the tennis governing bodies looked after themselves and their own drug testing.
Take the ATP, the men's tour, which is half-owned by the players and half-owned by the tournaments.
A positive drugs test would go to an appeal tribunal - as we are led to believe happened in Agassi's case - and a verdict delivered. Only the guilty verdicts would be made public to protect the anonymity of the innocent.
There is no suggestion of any routine cover-up but there was a clear conflict of interest under the old system. Agassi was basically up in court facing the very people who treasured him: his tour, his promoter.
No wonder a major change was made in 2006 when the ATP, followed by the WTA the following year, handed the testing programme over to the relative independence of the International Tennis Federation.
Agassi and wife Steffi Graf speaking to Inside Sport in May 2009
The current programme is rigorous, scientific and detailed with players tested frequently in and out of competition.
But the testing is not the issue, it's what happens after a positive test has been found.
The murky Richard Gasquet case haunted tennis during the summer. After a positive cocaine test, a tribunal basically believed the Frenchman's explanation that the banned substance came from a lingering kiss with a Miami waitress.
He received a reduced two-month ban which effectively cleared him to return to action straight away.
Will we learn in Gasquet's autobiography in 10 years' time that this was all an elaborate wheeze?
And what about the true stories behind "The Nandrolone Seven".
Back in 2003, seven players tested positive for the banned steroid in a complex case first revealed by BBC Sport. They were never named because, like Agassi, they were all acquitted.
The case was never fully solved and few people believed the official explanation (contaminated mineral supplements) but because nothing else could be proved legally, the players had to be found not guilty because, cleverly, the lawyers had turned the case on the ATP because they ran the supplements.
But who were these players? At least one of them was believed to be a household name. Will his full story come out one day?
The problem for tennis is that people look in from the outside and come to the not unreasonable conclusion that there is a lot more under the carpet than comes out in public.
Certainly those who dealt with Agassi's potentially explosive case in 1997 have sat on a dark secret all this time. They let him off in good faith - believing his story - but they were hoodwinked by a superstar.
Of course much of the discussion will, no doubt, focus on whether crystal meth can be performance enhancing. But that's not really the point.
The key here is the deception and the dangerous ramifications for a sport like tennis which wants desperately to defend its stars but finds itself deeply hurt by the startling revelations of one of its great champions.