Newest Review: ... writing style. It is written in the style of a drama laden novel rather than that of a factual, chronological biography. I was really i... more
As honest and intimate as its cover image suggests
Open - Andre Agassi
Member Name: tyorkshirelass
Open - Andre Agassi
Advantages: Brutally honest, well written and with an incredibly personal feeling to it
Disadvantages: The writing style could be annoying to some people and possibly not enough tennis
The front cover for this book says it all: Andre Agassi, bearded, looking slightly tired - almost world-weary - straight into the camera, lips slightly parted as though he's about to share a deep dark secret. You get the sense that what's between the covers is going to be incredibly intimate, and you'd be right. It always feels like Agassi is talking to you and only you as he tells you the story of his life, framed by his second round US Open match with Marcos Bagdhatisa at his final US Open.
I've been a tennis fan since I was small - one of my earliest memories is watching my sisters make banners for their trip to Wimbledon when they were teenagers - but the players I always loved were the ones who wore their hearts on their sleeves and fought for every point like they genuinely cared. When I first got into tennis I remember watching matches between Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi, and I always cheered for Andre. So at some point along the line it was inevitable I'd read his autobiography.
Before I read the book, I (and I suspect many others) knew Agassi mainly for his crazy hairstyles, his 'interesting' dress sense, his marriage to Steffi Graf, his awesome returns and the sheer emotional investment he had in the sport. What I didn't know, and which forms a key thread running through the book, is that he always hated tennis and only played it due to huge pressure from his father. As the youngest of four children, and with three elder siblings who'd all given up the game, all that focus - good and bad - fell on Andre. Consequently, some of the early scenes in the book are heartbreaking; the fear as a nine-year-old Agassi plays a man at the tennis club for his family's savings, the aching loneliness of life at the Bolletieri Tennis Academy where he was sent aged just twelve to hone his game. Several times when reading the book I felt tears coming to my eyes as I went through the pain with him.
When the book was first published, its big controversy was the apparent relevation that Agassi had dabbled in crystal meth and lied to the ATP when he failed a drug test for it. Personally, that's not the big drug controversy to me; that's the scene, early on and glossed over, where a young Andre is warned by his elder brother not to take the speed his father will offer him at the next tournament. In fact, the early part of his life is so shocking that by that point you feel like you can't be shocked any more; even his flamboyant on-court style and bad behaviour just seem sad rather than anything to be appalled by. The crystal meth scene, on the other hand, feels like a moment where a young man who needs an escape has a moment of weakness, but is shocked out of that fantasy world when a terrible tragedy occurs.
But it isn't all doom and gloom. The book's other thread is Steffi (or, as we learn she likes to be called, Stefanie) Graf, who Andre silently adores for years, even through his tumultuous relationship with Brooke Shields, and eventually marries. In contrast to the hatred of tennis, Stefanie acts like a glimpse of hope for Andre, as the one person who seems to truly understand him. The relationship, although it only fully emerges late in the book, seems to be a place where Agassi feels truly able to be himself, and it transforms his game at a time when many of his contemporaries were retiring, as well as making him a much more playful, laid-back person within the relationship. There's also a beautiful sense of coming full circle when, inspired by Stefanie and his children, the ninth grade dropout founds a school for disadvantaged kids; he plays for others, not for himself, and seems to finally hit true maturity in his late 30s. It almost makes me wish Steffi would write a book, I'd love to hear her side of their story (but then I am obsessed with tennis books). The constant presence of Gil, Andre's coach who becomes almost a surrogate father, is also a touchstone throughout the book.
Ultimately, this is a coming of age story; Agassi goes from the young boy forced into a role that his family chose for him, battling his demons on the way to number one, rising and falling and, eventually, rising again as the person he always wanted to be. You'll feel like you've been through the wringer when you read it, but come out the other side feeling uplifted and positive. It's much more about human relationships than it is about tennis, only touching on Agassi's major rivalries despite being mapped out in travel and tournaments (a disjointed style which could frustrate some people, but which I quite like), but it's so good that not being a conventional tennis autobiography means that when you finally have to put it down, you almost don't care
Summary: Not just for tennis fans, but for anyone who likes reading about the human condition
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