Saturday, February 20, 2010

Open by Andre Agassi

I received the autobiography "Open" by Andre Agassi at a white elephant exchange this Christmas and then surprised myself by reading all 386 pages in under a week! (very unusual for me). This book saved my life as on the way back from Seattle (arriving in Portland) in late Dec 2009 we encountered a snowstorm, and so arrived THREE HOURS late!!!
The book reads pretty quickly but you have to wait until all the way to page 327 to arrive at the best part; when Stefi Graff and Andre Agassi's fathers, both men in their 60s, are bare-chested and putting up their fists at one another and yelling, "Come on! You and me!"

It was at this point in the book when I came to fully appreciate that none, or few in any event, of the people in Andre Agassi's life, himself included, are average human beings.
Andre Agassi's father, for example, was driven to have a professional tennis player out of one of his four children, and had Andre hitting 2,500 balls a day by the age of seven. A few years later, he is prepared to place all of his savings; $10 Grand, on a match between Andre and Jim Brown, the professional football player. And at the age of 12, he sends Andre to the Nick Bolletteri Tennis Academy in Florida, which Andre describes as a sort of internment-camp for young tennis players.
Academics became too distracting and difficult for Andre, and so he was allowed to drop out of high school and became a professional tennis player at the age of 16. Andre's tennis career over the next 20 years won him a "Golden Slam"; all four Grand Slams plus the Olympic Gold Medal. Tennis, he describes, became a "wrenching, thrilling, horrible, astonishing, whirl", and something that he in fact hates to play.
We meet many other characters in the book; Pete Sampras, one of his fiercest competitors, Gil, his beloved trainer, and Courier, who would lace up his tennis shoes and go jogging after he beat Agassi in a match.

One thing about this book that I couldn't figure out is the title. "Open" obviously may refer to all of the Opens that Agassi has played in and in several cases won, but as for another meaning, I am totally at a loss. And having that haunting portrait of him on the front cover is a little creepy; he "has that look you very rarely find, the haunting, hunted kind". The book has several portraits throughout the book, but I thought that it might have had more, especially from his early years as a professional tennis player, when he became somewhat of a celebrity with his distinct mullet-hairstyle.

This book really has something for everyone; sports and suspense and romance. Given Agassi's level of education, it is a wonder that he managed to write it at all. (The skeptic in me wonders if he really did). He seems to remember every detail from every match he has ever played in, and relates it all very suspensefully, the best part when he wins against Medvedv in the French Open, the only grand slam which at that point he had not won. In this match, he describes how he came back when Medvedv was one serve away from winning the match, and describes the psyche of each of the players. You get a clear idea that tennis is not about playing well, but rather about playing better than your opponent; attacking his weaknesses.

Agassi writes in many 1-3 word sentences, and writes in short separate ideas that makes the book easy to read and to not lose interest. The final 50 pages get pretty boring, with Agassi receiving more and more cortisone shots (At one point four in one year). It is painful to read the descriptive passages at this point, as he describes how is body is slowly falling apart and yet he refuses to stop playing. He has a good sense of humor, and makes lots of references to pop culture throughout the book (Karate Kid, Groundhog Day); at one point he says that he took "one of those showers that makes you think you should write a check to several environmental groups and plant a tree".
Agassi talks honestly about using drugs and then lying about it to tennis officials, his divorce with Brook Shields (she was WAY too old money for him), and his pursuit of Stefi Graff when the ink on the divorce papers wasn't yet dry.

I liked watching Agassi interviewed on David Letterman at different points in his life; once in 1994 and a second time after he had published this book. You could see how he had really matured from the punk tennis player to a mature adult. In the second interview, he also speaks about his hatred for tennis; saying that he likens it to so many other people who are trapped in careers or jobs that they do not like, and that it was a predicament that he ultimately accepted.
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