Open by Andre Agassi

April 8, 2010

Summary: I’ve never been much of a tennis fan, but when Andre Agassi burst onto the professional tour in the late ’80s-early ’90s, even I couldn’t help but notice. He had wild, two-tone hair, wore hot pink lava spandex under denim shorts, and could play tennis. I started watching Agassi’s matches, and always pulled for him to win. While he didn’t quite succeed in making me a tennis fan, I definitely wanted to read his autobiography, Open, as soon as my library’s copy was available.

This is a very long book, and Agassi touches on many different subjects, starting with his earliest memories of his dad forcing him to practice long hours at a young age. Agassi repeatedly states throughout the book that he hates tennis, and with a father like Mike Agassi, it’s not hard to believe him.

The book covers all aspects of Agassi’s tennis career, of course, from the time he first started playing in junior tournaments to his days at the Bollitieri Academy to all his major matches as a pro. Agassi claims to remember all these things in great detail — which he passes on to the reader. We meet the team behind Agassi’s success, including trainer/mentor Gil Reyes, brother/manager Philly, best friend/agent Perry Rodgers, and coach Brad Gilbert. We learn how the losses were so much worse and lingered so much longer than the victories, and how Agassi was plagued by self-doubt through most of this career.

Open also gets very personal, delving into Agassi’s relationships with women (yes, including Brooke Shields and wife Steffi Graf), his feelings about a number of competitors (Pete Sampras, Jimmy Connors, Boris Becker, Michael Chang, Jim Courier, Jeff Turango, etc.), his thoughts about hair loss and the (for me) shocking revelation that he wore a hairpiece at many tournaments), and his much-publicized use of crystal meth.

By the end of the book, the reader feels as though he or she knows the real Andre Agassi, not the public persona that has been part of the pro tennis tour for two decades.

Liked:

  • Open lived up to its title, dealing with the harsh realities and sometimes embarrassing truths regarding some aspects of Agassi’s life. As a result, he comes off as a highly relatable, real person instead of some superstar looking to stroke his own ego through a book.
  • The writing was terrific. J.R. Moehringer, the ghostwriter, is a Pulitzer Prize winner — and it shows. The details were vivid without being overwhelming, there was a personal feel throughout, and the book was a sheer joy to read.
  • I enjoyed hearing about Agassi’s training regimen. It seemed that Gil put a heck of a lot of work into making sure Agassi had any piece of equipment he might have needed, whether it was a homemade weightlifting machine or a professional-grade oximeter. This helped Agassi reach his physical peak and hang around tennis longer than anyone expected. Agassi gives Gil a lot of credit for his success, and rightly so.
  • I loved getting the inside scoop on Agassi’s fellow tennis stars. From calling out Pete Sampras as a cheap tipper ($1 for the valet? Seriously?) to referring to Boris Becker as B.B. Socrates because he tries to appear more intelligent than he actually is, these are the kinds of tidbits you won’t hear anywhere else.
  • I’m glad that Agassi’s family life with Steffi Graf and their two kids is loving and stable, and that they have no plans to force the children to play tennis. Agassi deserves that happy ending.

Disliked:

  • The only thing I didn’t like about this book was its length, which I think can be attributed to how many tennis matches Agassi chooses to talk about. I realize that he’s a tennis player, so of course his autobiography will be filled with stuff like this, but it got to be a tad repetitive after a while.

Rating:

I can safely say that Open by Andre Agassi is one of the best sports biographies I’ve ever read. The book humanizes Agassi without pulling any punches regarding his bad behavior or shortcomings. I am tempted to give Open 5 stars, but one of the criteria for this rating in my rubric is the re-readability factor, which I think is absent. Thus, I give it 4 stars out of 5.

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