on November 9, 2009
So you're thinking this might be one of those recently retired famous people books aren't you? One where a celebrity, or a Politician, or a sports star cranks out hundreds of pages of self-serving, history-correcting drivel in order to cash the big advance check. A book you can't even bring yourself to finish; better than a tranquilizer at bedtime.
Well, this is certainly not that book. "Open" is a journey that I predict will stay with you for a very long time. It's a completely unexpected trip to places you've never been. I'm not one of those quasi-professional reviewers you see on Amazon. But this book practically made me write about it.
Interestingly, Open starts not at the beginning and not quite at the end. Second round, US Open, 2006.
Not the final match of Andre's career--but the one right before that.
Against a competitor you'd never heard of before or since.
The battle was against the guy across the net, and also Andre's hatred of tennis, his failing body, the demons that he harnessed to get through the unending heroic contest that seemed destined to continue until both just fell into a heap on the court. And it is so well told.
After 20 pages, I knew that this was unlike any other biography I had ever read. Couldn't put it down. Couldn't stop thinking about it. Agassi dug deeper inside than most of us ever will have to, to get to core of what made him so powerful as a player and so conflicted as a person. It is all conspicuously real: The small moments, the outlandish triumphs and the friendships that sustained him and/or corrupted him. The gauntlet he had to run through to arrive at the balance and joy he has today. It's transformative.
The headlines about this book have mostly related to Andre's drug use when he was at his lowest. But honestly, although it marked the place from which he recovered and flourished, it's only an incidental part of this story. The story is actually about perseverance, intelligence and raw talent all baked together into a very, very large American life.
If Open doesn't win a Pulitzer Prize, something is terribly wrong. Can I nominate it?
Andre Agassi has written a 'tell-all' book about his life in tennis. And, it turns out, he hated tennis. That was a bigger shocker to me than the salacious fact that he was on 'crystal meth'for a period of time. J.R. Moehringer, the author of 'A Tender Bar' and a Pulitzer Prize winner for his writing was a co-author of this autobiography. Andre loved Moehringer's writing in 'The Tender Bar', and he is correct, the man's writing and the book are excellent. This book, too, is very well written and is an exceptional read.
Andre tells us that he started playing tennis at the age of 3 and by the age of 5 he was showing an aptitude for the game. He was pushed by his father-an obsessive man who pushed his son too far and too much. In fact his father felt that education was not necessary and a hindrance to his tennis practice. Andre could never tell his father how much he hated the game because it was Andre's responsibility to help his family, and that is what he did. He left school in the ninth grade, something that has bothered him his entire career. His goal was to achieve in tennis. He was enrolled in the Bollettien tennis camp, but it felt more like a prison than a camp. The academy, in Agassi's words, was "Lord of the Flies with forehands." In retaliation Andre started wearing earrings, grew his hair long and wore loud clothes. Thus his reputation was born. As his career started to flourish, Andre, tried to keep it all together. He was known as the flamboyant player, the real player. He played the best tennis players in the world, and he was one of the best. He had an eye for the ball, and the 'tell' of players when they were about to hit the big one.
Andre Agassi talks about his rivals, the ones who were boring, the ones who kept it all together and the the real players; Pete Sampras, Boris Becker and Jimmy Connors The book is at its best when the game of tennis is being discussed. Each play during the tournaments and how he figured out how to win. He talks of his marriage to Brooke Shields, he never really wanted to be married, just like he never really liked to play tennis. His crystal meth years, the spiel he gave the Tennis Association when he tested positive for drugs. He finally met and married Steffi Graf and found the happiness that had so long eluded him.
He has built a life and a foundation that sponsors a charter school. He gave the first graduation speech and wowed the crowd. A ninth grade drop-out he has achieved success and fame. He has found his life and he has become Open. For anyone who loves tennis, this is a book that will be a fascinating look at the life of a giant in the tennis world and told in words that best describes him. He finally lives down his famous words 'Image Is Everything'.
Highly Recommended. prisrob 11-09-09
The Tender Bar
on November 10, 2009
We have all read the press and watched the news; the drug allegations, the "I hate tennis". Tennis fans aren't quite sure whether they should feel cheated for all the love and support they have given Andre, to me the book set things straight.
Most of us look back at chapters of our lives and can identify with particularly unhappy periods. Andre kicks off the book with what was going through his head with the match against Baghdatis in the 2006 US Open. It is a blow by blow account of key parts of the match and a thought provoking glimpse into the mind and heart of a tennis player. He then goes straight into his childhood, the discomfort and unhappiness of being the child prodigy son of an obsessive father. There are weirdly honest stories - his grandmother tried to breastfeed him, very disturbing but a revelation of a dysfunctional upbringing. What seems to carry Andre through his childhood are friendships with his brother Phil and Perry who later becomes his manager. The importance of the childhood friendships are critical and from the way they are explained it is easy to understand why these friends are crucial figures for Andre.
The critical friendship is that of his mentor/guide/life coach/surrogate father Gill Reyes. Andre is taken under his wing and treated with the love and respect a father should treat his son, you sense through the stories in the book that now they have met each other neither could really exist happily without the other. His marriage with Brooke Shields is dealt with candidly, many will buy this book to find out what celebrities do behind closed doors. Whereas I did think Brooke appeared superficial from some of the things mentioned here, I think it merely shows how fame affects people differently. It appears that fame as a child makes people so perception orientated that perceptions are more important than anything else - who can judge the pressures these guys live through? Perfectly understandable in my opinion.
The drugs issue is dealt with here but only for a few pages in the book. The very weird thing is it doesn't seem like a big deal to me. Like most fans I was shocked and somewhat critical of the damage to his sport. But, I could understand after reading the book how stupid mistakes can be made. Off the book for a second truth is he wouldn't have got the endorsements for 10's of millions had he been suspended, or there would have been a clause in his existing deals that he would have broken had the allegations come out. However, reading the book and seeing what has been done with the money I can't help but feel it was better for everyone that nothing came out at the time.
Andre talks about his attraction to Stefanie from many years back, the courting process is just the same as you or I. We all have been through that 'has the phone just rung?' depression when expecting a call from someone we are interested in. It does feel almost story like the way they end up together, but we all have a story like this just not in the press.
Players are mentioned here all the time, the interesting one for me was Becker 'B.B. Socrates' they call him because he 'tries to appear intellectual but is just an overgrown farmboy', this is going to do nothing for Becker's ego. The rivalry with Becker seems more important than that with Sampras - who would have thought?
Another of those important times for Andre was a meeting with Mandela, a truly humbling experience for anyone. This times perfectly with the starting of his Charter school and I presume was a defining moment for him.
Overall, hey I got the book yesterday and I read 325 pages the first day this should tell you all you need to know. I felt sorry for Andre with his childhood but towards the end I understood how his father really wanted the best for everyone. Andre is surprisingly influenced by anyone he trusts - guided more by his heart than his head, he appears to live life to please for much of the book which is pretty much the way a child acts. His first marriage is what everyone else wants to see but he is developing on another level through his interactions with his trainer Gil, the goalposts are always changing as he tries understands what he wants from life. His 'hate' of tennis develops into an appreciation and respect.
When you read this book you will see parallels between what you go through in life with what a celebrity goes through but you go through it perhaps without the press. It is incredibly well written, so well written in fact that most will not credit Andre for the writing. This is what is says it is, an autobiography not just a tennis manual. Enjoy!
on November 12, 2009
Most autobiographies, especially sports autobiographies, are just a chronological series of events with insight into each event. It's usually not new insight and is mostly just filled with platitudes and cliches that the author already gave in press conferences. There are always a few interesting tidbits in each of these autobiographies, and reading a bullet point summary of those tidbits in an online review is just as good as reading the actual book.
Agassi's autobiography is more like a novel. You read it and think it would make a phenomenal movie, the way it starts at the very end and then flashbacks to the beginning. You can't just read about the revelations in some online review and think you've gotten everything out of this book. This is a book that needs to be read front to back. It's superbly written -- not by Agassi himself, as he never had the education to pull that off, but he did spend thousands of hours on it and as a longtime fan I know that this is his authentic voice. In a recent interview, Andre expanded on why he and Pete Sampras were opposites by saying that when they saw each other in October 2009, Andre realized that Sampras had also just released an autobiography and tried to start a conversation by mentioning how he was so glad how his turned out, and how many thousands of hours of sweat and tears he put into it. He said that Sampras just looked at him like he was crazy. Sampras felt that an autobiography was just an encyclopedic sort of thing, not a cathartic baring of the soul. When you compare their books, it shows.
Another thing that separates this book is Agassi's remarkable memory. Agassi has always been known as one of the best analysts of the sport, and has always astounded the press with his point-by-point recollection of matches that had taken place decades before. After I play a recreational tennis match, I can barely remember the points I just played. You could ask Agassi about a point he played in 1988 and he'd be able to tell you what was going through his head, how fast the serve came at him, the sequence of shots, what someone in the crowd shouted out, what the temperature was, the humidity, the wind speed. He mentions in the book how he seems to notice the most trivial things, and once he notices them they forever stay in his mind. I'm sure if his memory was somehow measured, it would be found to be in the very upper tier in the populace. This combined with his deep, empathetic ability to notice and understand human behavior creates a truly astounding read. It is rare to find an athlete as intelligent as Agassi, and if his father hadn't been so anti-education, I believe he could have had a brilliant academic career and flourished in some intellectual field. Perhaps psychology. Sports psychology would have been an easy fit, certainly!
You don't have to be a tennis fan to enjoy this book, although you will certainly get a little bit more out of it. Similarly, a sports fan will be able to get more of it than someone who doesn't care much for any sport. However, there is not a person out there who could not gain something from reading this book. This is not simply a tennis story, or a sports story. This is a human story.
In regards to the crystal meth revelation, I will say this in his defense:
1. Testing positive for a recreational drug (crystal meth is a recreational, performance inhibiting drug, NOT a performance enhancer) in 1997, the year that he started and stopped taking the drug, had the penalty of a 3 month suspension. 3 months. That's like a nice little vacation to get rested and refreshed for the rest of the season.
2. In 1997, Agassi won nothing. He was losing in the first round of every tournament. He was playing challenger events, the minor leagues of tennis, and even losing in those. It is true that he won a few matches, and he did have a surprising run at the US Open when everyone thought he was going to quit tennis any minute. This was not fair to the players he beat - he should have been suspended at the time. However, when you really think about it, it just speaks to his talent that at his absolute lowest, when he was quite literally disabled physically, when he went out in front of that New York crowd and felt the magic and realized that he wanted to win, he was still able to muster up the game to beat world class players. At the end of the day, the only person hurt by his drug use was himself. Andre has said in recent interviews that he would happily have 1997 thrown out of his career. Have all of his results from that year blacked out. It makes absolutely no difference to the total number of titles and championships he won.
3. For the past decade, Agassi has been the most admirable person to ever come out tennis. What he's given back is remarkable. What he's done for the sport is unmatched. Tennis is an unpopular sport in the United States, but people would always tune in for Agassi, and this book is selling like hot cakes. People love Agassi, and for good reason.
This doesn't justify him lying to the ATP, but we need to keep this in perspective. It's important to understand that this doesn't diminish his legacy in the slightest. He is still one of the best tennis players of all time -- and as you'll see in this book, he may have achieved twice as much if he hadn't stumbled and fallen and beaten himself for so much of his life. He hated tennis, he admits it. His father, a man who would make Joe Jackson quiver with fear, thrust him into it as a toddler. He makes a strong argument for why it is the loneliest sport in the world, the sport most likely to produce insanity in its players. On the other hand, look at what it gave him. He loved holding up trophies and gold medals. He would never have met Stefanie without it. There was a duality to his life that I'm sure we can all relate to in some way.
on December 2, 2009
I am just a few years older than Andre Agassi, and I played tennis as a child and then for my high school. But I hadn't actually cared at all about tennis, or even thought about it, in more than 20 years until I picked up this book.
Because I was living in New York City in the late summer of 2006, I casually caught Agassi's farewell speech at the U.S. Open that year. Pretty much everyone in the stadium seemed to be crying, and I was too, in front of my TV. I remember thinking what a class act Agassi had become, as I remembered flickeringly his "rock 'n roll"-styled profile at the beginning of his career.
If you want to know who Andre Agassi WAS and IS, I simply can't recommend this book enough. I won't give anything away, but I read this book IN ONE SITTING. It fascinated me. I teach literature for a living, and I can't remember a single autobiography that I'd read previously that seemed so direct, relevant, fresh, and brutally honest.
I have no idea why Agassi chose to write this gut-spilling book (pretty much the whole world loved the guy already--in terms of fan appeal I suspect he's the world's No. 1 favorite retired player, male or female), but I truly was moved by, and impressed by, his book. I have already shared it with my wife, and I have urged other family members to read it, none of these people being particular tennis fans.
Also, prompted by this book (thanks, Andre!), I got myself out on a tennis court twice in the last few days, a feat I don't think I've done in more than two decades. I did it because Agassi made the sport of tennis sound so cool and fierce.
If you read this book, I'm pretty sure you'll learn a lot and enjoy it. You will quite likely look at professional tennis, and Agassi, in a whole new light.
on November 26, 2009
I remember stopping on page 189 because I was so overcome with a need to write a review. But I wasn't ready to put it into words yet, of course, because I hadn't reached the end. So, instead I logged in and simply put down 5 stars. And now, as I've finished the last page after settling down after the Thanksgiving guests have gone, to finish what I started two days ago, I am in awe of the story that I just read. It is as much a tennis story, as it is a love story, a personal journey, a reflection on the importance of family and friends, unlike any book I've ever read. You will, and you should, feel every emotion possible while going through the twists and turns of Andre's life as it is laid on every page. I laughed, I cried, a felt tense with anticipation, I cringed every time the words led to a devastating loss. You FEEL him spiraling, you FEEL him exhalted, you FEEL him unsure.
I am honored to have been allowed to see the many other sides of this great player. As a young tennis player myself, when he surfaced on the tour, I loved him from the beginning. I willed him to win every point while sitting on the floor in front of the television. As I grew older, I took every chance to see him at local tournaments. I saw him and Stefanie recently in Marin, playing together, and after reading this story just feel a sense of full circle. I was on the ride with Andre, likely as those of you who are my age and older were, and we can look back on those matches that we'll never forget, and have an idea of who he was then, through this thoroughly engaging work in his autobiography.
I loved reading it, but I hated to put it down. You will know what I mean when you finish, the relevance of that statement in more ways than one. Enjoy.
on November 15, 2009
I am a tennis player myself and have served in the U.S. Air Force for the pat 14 years. While we were serving at Ramstein Air Base in Germany in 2001, my son and I had an awesome opportunity..to go to Wimbledon. We camped out and got tickets to see Agassi. Yes! To see Andre on the grass courts of the most prestigious tournament in the world was a dream come true! He won his match (I believe it was a 3rd round match) and after the match we made our way to the exit where players leave the grounds...I asked some of the guards if my son and I could meet Andre and they said they would ask him. Andre's silver Mercedes exited the grounds,they told me Andre said Yes he'd be glad to meet us . Well, the gate at the AELTC swung open and Andre was in the back seat. Andre rolled down the window and he was such a gentleman...smiled, shook our hands and signed autographs on our Wimbledon posters. My boy and I were overjoyed! Andre made our time at Wimbeldon unforgetable! Thank you Andre. I am about 100 pages into your book and appreciate your heart and honesty. Great book from a humble good hearted guy. I'd love to hit with you some day. Take Care Brother. God bless you, Stefanie and your precious kids! Jeff
on December 6, 2009
I was bored, so i headed to Barnes and Noble on a lazy Saturday afternoon. I saw the book 'Open' by Andre Agassi staring at me in the face, and started reading. First of all, i've always been an Agassi fan. I had heard all the "oh my god! he did drugs!" cries from everyone upon the book's release. From the opening pages, i was totally engaged, enthralled, taken on a great ride. Seriously, i don't know if it was the writing style, my love for tennis, or perhaps a thrill to hear about this particular celebrity, but man was this a gripping book. Money is tight these days, so i ended up going back to the bookstore every day for 2 weeks until i finished this book. I highly recommend it. It's inspiring, interesting, passionate, fun.....everything a great book should be. I usually read fiction, but now i am going to read more autobiographies. This was a special book, i loved reading it.
on November 9, 2009
How many of us grow up conflicted and angry with ourselves and our lives? How can we love our parents on one hand and hate them on the other? How many of us would have given their eye teeth to have the talent of a world class athlete, the fame, the adulation? Reading OPEN, the new autobiography by Andre Agassi, brought back so many of the painful emotions I felt growing up. Not that I had the gift that Andre has, but I can certainly relate to much of the anger and frustration that he so bluntly and eloquently describes in this brilliant book. One moment, among many in the book, stands out for me. It is the day he goes with his father to buy a new Corvette after winning a tournament in South America. His father, a tortured and volcanic man, turns the experience into a nightmare by his terrorist negotiating tactics. Andre is both humiliated by his father's actions while secretly admiring the man's rage and confidence. If only he could employ that kind of emotional energy on the court to conqueror his opponents, he thinks to himself. Approach, avoidance. Attraction, rejection. It's a constant battle in his mind. In his career. In his life. A life that has been explored and explained for us in a book unlike any other I've ever read. Tennis fan or not, you must read OPEN.
on November 24, 2009
I am a big Agassi fan. And, I probably wished I had not read this book. But, there was no way I could not read it. It was written by J.R.Moehringer. It is well written but too verbose. The book would have been more impactful if it was a 100 page shorter.
I have read many champion autobiographies including Sampras A Champion's Mind: Lessons from a Life in Tennis, Becker The Player: The Autobiography, McEnroe You Cannot Be Serious, and Nastase Mr Nastase: The Autobiography. I found Agassi's the most disturbing on several counts.
His childhood is 10 times worse than I thought. He is tyrannized by his father who belonged to either a mental institution or a jail. Agassi's father does crazy stunts such as faking his hanging, pointing a gun at Andre, getting into violent fights with others. This makes me curious about The Agassi Story that focuses on the dad.
Agassi hatred of tennis is unprecedented. He states his hatred ad nausea throughout the book. Why even do it? When asked the question, Agassi just responds "because that is the only thing I am good at."
Throughout most of his tennis career, he criticizes everyone he comes across. According to him Jim Courier is a thug, Connors is an a-hole, Chang is a Jesus freak.
He gets catty in his rivalry with Sampras. He states: "I envy Pete's dullness. I wish I could emulate his spectacular lack of inspiration." Yet, Sampras demonstrated just as much inspiration with his racket as Agassi did. And, off the court Brooke Shields stated how unadventurous Agassi was outside tennis. Later, Agassi extracts from a parking attendant that Sampras gave him a tip of only one dollar. At such point, Agassi exclaims "Pete and I could not be more different" entailing Sampras is a scrooge and he is generous. In their respective biographies, Sampras was far more generous to Agassi than vice versa.
Another disturbing aspect is Agassi's routinely tanking matches and skipping Gran Slam tournaments for no valid reason. He tanks a semi final vs Chang just because he does not feel like playing his arch rival Becker in the final! Also, in another form of tanking he gets kicked off the court several times by cursing at linesmen.
Agassi also lacks any autonomy. Someone else always does the thinking. He surrounds himself with a large support group (Team Agassi). His older brother Philly and his childhood friend Perry do all the strategic business thinking for him. J.P. constantly consoles him like a child. Gil Reyes is his fitness and guru go to guy. And, Brad Gilbert is his tennis brain. His relationship with women are invariably initiated by Team Agassi. The latter arranges his meeting Brooke Shields. She seems the woman every which way. But, he shows no interest in her career. Yet, he proposes to marry her even though he did not want to. After a miserable two years, she opts for divorce. Then, Brad Gilbert arranges his meeting Steffi Graf. And, Team Agassi plays a dominant role in planning the courting of Graf. A certain amount of support is normal, but Team Agassi is clearly an outlier.
Many of his personal decisions are bad including his taking meth and lying about it to the ATP. Also, his wearing a wig in his early twenties is unheard off in tennis history. At another time, he acts like a jealous teenager and abruptly leaves a NY stage and drives off to Vegas when Brooke has to lick an actor's hand. He blows over half his first significant tournament earnings on a corvette. Earlier, in school he does everything to fail and drops out with just an 8th grade education. Later, he admits to have lied a lot during interviews. He states "are they lies if through sheer repetition, they've taken on a veneer of truth?" Until his thirties he does not seem to know what's right.
By his thirties, Agassi finally reaches maturity. His judgment improves. His relationships with other players have normalized. He now treats Courier and Sampras, both retired, with more respect and as friends. Earlier on he always liked Patrick Rafter that he felt was the class act on and off the court. In the twilight of his career, after being trounced a couple of times by an emerging Federer he is in awe of his talent. And, he has no doubt he just ran into the next big one. Facing Nadal, he expresses similar awe and respect.
One fascinating aspect of the book is the training the father imparts on Agassi early on. The father is a maniac and also a training genius. He engineers a tall ball machine (the Dragon) that he places close to the net that hits balls at 110 mph like an overhead at Agassi when he is only seven. The only way to hit the ball back was to hit it really early otherwise, the ball would bounce off the court above his head. I always thought Agassi had a god-gifted eye-hand coordination that allowed him to see the ball better than anyone else and hit the best returns. Now, I know that stuff can be taught!
Another fascinating passage is the description of the Bollettieri Tennis Academy. This academy produced numerous champions including Agassi, Courier, Krickstein, and Arias. but, they were all baseliners with lackluster serve and volley. Agassi complaints to his Dad that the academy is ruining his game (no serve or volley practice). Agassi's lack of a powerful serve and proficient volley will prove a handicap vs Sampras. Agassi describes this academy as very regimented regarding tennis but wild otherwise. The place emanates a culture of near violent social Darwinism that Bollettieri encourages. Agassi describes it as Lord of the Flies with forehands.
You have to give Agassi credit for courage. He does not spin the story in his favor. "Open" is a cathartic confession. At the end there is redemption. With the management skills of Perry he will create a k-12 charter school for abused children. This is ironic for one who hated school and was a Middle School drop out. Throughout the book, you find that Agassi's only satisfaction comes from helping others. This is something he could not express on the ATP tour. Now, Agassi the philanthropist is far more self-actualized than Agassi the tennis star ever was. But, he is grateful for tennis for making it all possible.