Open: An Autobiography – Andre Agassi

by sonal jha on September 26, 2012

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Authors: Andre Agassi
Publisher: Knopf
Year: 2009
ISBN: 9780307268198
Rating: ★★★★½
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Evidently, a lot of thought goes into the cover photograph of an autobiography, the ultimate act of putting oneself in front of the world to be dissected. From the cover of Open, Andre Agassi’s haggard face stares blankly at the reader. This photograph sets the tone for the rest of the book. This Agassi does not match the Agassi the tennis world has known. This weary face is what is left of the showboating rebel with a game that burned tennis courts and egos for years on the tennis circuit. Agassi has revealed what he had so far tried to conceal behind the denim shorts and the frost tipped mullet. We meet a balding man who has given everything to the game that has rewarded and consumed him in equal measure.

Open is everything the name promises for it to be. Agassi is honest and forthright to the point where at times the reader feels uncomfortable for him, wondering if he is revealing too much of himself. It is evident that this is a cathartic endeavour. He begins by narrating the challenge that his life became at the hands of a maniacal father who was obsessed with making his son the best in the world, motivated mostly by the money and partly by his own unfulfilled ambitions. We journey with him tracing grueling practice sessions at home and life at the Bollettieri tennis academy, “a glorified prison camp” where his rebellion begins, and eventually from one tournament to another. For a man who claims to hate the game, the highlight of the book lies in his narration of some of his biggest matches of his career, especially his rivalry with Pete Sampras. One candid revelation after another follows. He recounts his struggle with baldness, his poor relations with the media, the weight of unfulfilled expectations and dealing with four grand slam finals losses before winning his first title. The biggest admission of all, the one that generated so much comment and hysteria from fans, journalists, former and current players, comes when he admits to using crystal meth in the year 1997. He has been accused of using this revelation as a publicity maneuver but it is in line with the ritual purgation that Open seems to be. This can come only from a man who is now at peace with how his life has panned out.

We are introduced to many characters in this bildungsroman of sorts, including his two famous wives, the enigmatic Brooke Shields and his eventual soul mate Steffi Graf. He is as forthcoming about his relationships, failed and successful, as he is about everything else. If one is to pick out a standout constant in Agassi’s life, a hero of the piece if you will, it has to be his physical trainer Gil Reyes. He follows Agassi into each new match and relationship as his ward is locked in a sisyphan struggle with himself as well as the outside world. Each success is followed by the realization that he has lost as much as he has gained and that he must begin again at the beginning.

What is not revealed anywhere is that the book is ghost written by J.R Moehringer of The Tender Bar fame who himself declined having his name on the book. He engages the reader without overwhelming him with too much detail. Moehringer has turned tape upon tape of conversation into an extremely readable book that even a non-tennis fan can enjoy. He has slipped into another’s life with consummate ease. The tennis matches are recounted with such skill that it almost feels like watching the game is slow motion. The humour comes from various situations. One incident that comes to mind is the meeting of the fathers, Agassi and Graf. Equally maniacal and passionate about the game, the men almost came to blows arguing about forehands and backhands on their first meeting.

Moehringer masterfully captures the anguish and anxiety of a childhood prodigy who comes to grapple with life within and outside the game even as he belatedly struggles to build a sense of selfhood after breaking free of his father’s strangle hold on his life. His skill of storytelling, combined with a life of tortured genius, results in a wonderful sports memoir that is, in essence, deliciously anti the sport it follows.

Written by sonal jha

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