Monday, January 23, 2012

Andre Agassi's Open

Andre Agassi's autobiography "Open" (written with Pultizer Prize winning author J. R. Moehringer) tells the story of tennis prodigy forced to hit balls in his backyard by an overbearing father growing up to become world champion.

Despite hating the game.

From the book flap:
From Andre Agassi, one of the most beloved athletes in history and one of the most gifted men ever to step onto a tennis court, a beautiful, haunting autobiography. Agassi's incredibly rigorous training begins when he is just a child. By the age of thirteen, he is banished to a Florida tennis camp that feels like a prison camp. Lonely, scared, a ninth-grade dropout, he rebels in ways that will soon make him a 1980s icon. He dyes his hair, pierces his ears, dresses like a punk rocker. By the time he turns pro at sixteen, his new look promises to change tennis forever, as does his lightning-fast return. And yet, despite his raw talent, he struggles early on. 
He played tennis for 21 years, winning 8 Grand Slam titles (7th on all time list), and is one of the very few people who have won all the four Slams (and the Olympic Gold at Atlanta '96). For some time, he was the oldest #1 player, and has an incredible record at the Davis Cup. In the book, he paints a fascinating portrait of key matches in his career, many of which I remember watching when I was in high school. 

Reading the book was like watching the director's cut version of a movie. You've seen it before, but now you see it again with new eyes.

His metamorphosis as an individual, from a brash, nonconformist, expletive-spewing American with funny hair to a composed, Zen-master with no hair, happened in front of a camera.

The best part of the book, in a very gossipy sort of way, is the insider's view of other tennis players that it affords (however colored). We learn about Connors being an incorrigible prick, about Borg being an amazingly gracious man. We find out that Agassi never got along with Boris Becker (his first "coach" went on to become BB's trainer), and was annoyed by Michael Chang pointing to the sky upon winning (as if God took sides in a tennis match). We understand his love-hate relationship with Pete Sampras, who always seemed to have Agassi's number.

Overall, it is a very nice read (it is rated nearly 5-stars on Amazon).

As I said before, it is a story of "growing up" - albeit under a spotlight. A particularly poignant line in the book (which could as well be a summary of his life so far), is when he says people confused his "self-exploration as self-expression."

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