Andre Agassi is considered to be one of the greatest male tennis players ever. He had a Career Grand Slam (winning all four Grand Slam tournaments: Wimbledon, Australian Open, French Open, and the U.S. Open), and he’s the only male player to ever win a Career Golden Slam (all four Grand Slam tournaments and an Olympic Gold Medal). He was ranked No. 1 in 1995. He played professional tennis for 20 years. And to top it all off, he is happily married Steffi Graf, who is widely considered to be the greatest female tennis player ever.
But behind all the medals, money, fame, criticism, and media, and his atrocious dirty blond two foot long mullet, Agassi hid one incredible secret: he hated tennis. He always hated it. And he hated it for good reason. In the crib, his father duct-taped a ping-pong paddle to his hand and built him a ping-pong ball mobile so that he could start his illustrious tennis career as an infant. Agassi’s father also built what Andre refers to as “the Dragon.” The Dragon was a customized tennis ball shooter that shot balls out at 120 miles per hour. Andre had to return those suckers when he was seven.
The pressure from his dad to play tennis made him hate the sport, and himself. His dad forced him to go to a tennis boarding school in Florida, where Andre rebelled by getting piercings, doing drugs and growing a mullet. (You gotta remember it was the eighties.) After going pro in 1986, Agassi’s career really took off.
Open is labeled as an autobiography, and it is beautifully written. The book is in first-person and definitely carries Agassi’s consciousness, but J.R. Moehringer was the ghost-writer. He is a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist who has done work for the New York Times. The prose is poetic, filled with tennis terms as metaphors for life. He talks about the four surfaces of tennis as the four seasons of the year, since they correspond (hardcourt/winter, clay/spring, grass/summer, DecoTurf/fall). After playing on clay, players are usually brown. Each type of court has its own way of messing with the spin of the ball and shoe traction, and with Agassi’s mind.
The book is about Agassi’s search for meaning and for himself. He had his “team” who traveled with him, loved him and trained him. Even so, Agassi says that “In tennis you’re on an island…(it’s) the closest thing to solitary confinement.”
Agassi confesses all his faults: the mullet, gambling, drugs, and even his own propensity towards bitterness and hate. However, Agassi finds that he’s way more motivated to play with a wife he loves, two kids, and his charity/school. His story of despair, loss, and ultimately, redemption, puts readers in Agassi’s shoes, out there on the court, with all the sweat and hate, and yet, love.
If you want a glimpse into the pressured, crowded celebrity/professional athlete lifestyle, Open is the place to start. I’d love to see a similar confess-all autobiography from a standout from another professional sport. Maybe a professional football player (Vick, Brady, Reggie Bush)?