Open is the autobiography of tennis legend Andre Agassi. It opens with one of the most compelling prologues I’ve ever read and then serves up page after page of the fascinating triumphs and tribulations of Agassi’s life. (I promise that’s the only tennis pun I’ll use.)
I read Open as part of the 2020 Thoughtful Reading Challenge. July’s assignment was to read a sports-related book in honor of the Summer Olympics that are supposed to be taking place right now. (Stupid coronavirus!) Agassi won Olympic gold in 1996, so this book was completely on point.
I have to admit that I do not follow tennis, maybe because I never played but also because the matches are so, so long. But I knew some things about Andre Agassi, probably because he was tabloid fodder for so many years. For example, I knew about his fabulous, frosted mullet; his short marriage to Brooke Shields; his second marriage to Steffi Graf; and that his foundation opened a charter school in Las Vegas around the time he retired.
The gossip and sensationalism often overshadowed his accomplishments on the tennis court, and I think one of purposes of this book is to set the record straight. He really did have a remarkable career. For example, he is one of the few players to win an Olympic gold medal and all four “slams” – the US, French, and Australian Opens plus Wimbledon. And his career lasted until he was 36, well past the average retirement age of most tennis players.
But, as the book explains, he broke onto the scene at an early age and was ill-equipped to handle fame, success, and failure. Like so many successful athletes (I’m thinking of Tiger Woods and the Williams sisters), Agassi was the product of a parent who aggressively made him pursue tennis starting from a very early age. Based on the descriptions of his childhood, I consider his father’s behavior abusive. Then he was shipped off to a grim Florida tennis academy where he was allowed to drop out of 8th (9th?) grade, but continued to focus on tennis.
He turned pro when he was a rebellious teenager. The spotlight was on him when he was still figuring out who he was and before he had developed any level of emotional maturity. He was a prodigy, but his early career was characterized by inconsistency and his entire career was steeped in fierce emotion.
“Figuring out who he was” is a constant theme throughout the book. Tennis was thrust upon him, and he claims repeatedly to hate it. The tennis legend hates tennis. I found that a little hard to believe, especially since he played it for so long. But he compared it to anyone who is stuck in a job they are good at but don’t like. It may not be fulfilling but it pays the bills. Okay, I can relate to that.
Throughout his life, Agassi tried to surround himself with a supportive team of people, I assume to heal the emotional damage his father inflicted. Some of my favorite stories in the book are of his close relationships with his team members, especially his personal trainer, Gil, who became a father figure. Agassi, despite his incredible success, comes across as vulnerable and wounded, so I found myself wanting him to have good, loving people in his life.
Ultimately, he finds fulfillment in the family he starts with Steffi Graf and in the mission of the charter school that bears his name. That made me happy, too. It was a long, grueling road for him, but he seemed to finally be at peace with himself.
Open was ghostwritten by Pulitzer Prize winner J. R. Moehringer, who also ghostwrote Phil Knight’s memoir, Shoe Dog. This work was so well-constructed. Agassi laid it all out – the good, the bad, and the ugly – and the author did a phenomenal job telling his story. I was a little sad when both Agassi’s tennis career and his autobiography ended.
I highly recommend Open. You don’t even have to be a tennis fan to enjoy it. You just need to appreciate an interesting life story.
Did anyone else read a sports-related book this month? Please share!
Reminder – August’s challenge is to read a book set in a cold climate.