Misunderstood Spirit of a Champion – Andre Agassi!!

Gulity strikes again when I picked this memoir a tear back but never got to complete it due to work. However, now I did…over a weekend. Just looking at the dust jacket tells you that this memoir is aptly named. On the front cover, Andre meets your gaze directly with eyes that tell you that he is vulnerable and wanting to hold nothing back. The photo on the back shows a sad little boy keeping his eye on the ball, perfecting his backhand but hating and fearing the sport into which his father drafted him.

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 clichés that the author already gave in press conferences. Agassi’s autobiography “Open” is a metaphor, an invitation into Andre Agassi”s life story, a revelation of mind and soul. And tennis is a metaphor for life, a lonely struggle where we must face our own dragons and demons, and, like Andre, we must persevere in this struggle, win or lose.

This is a book that needs to be read front to back. This is a story about a man who struggled with his identity for three and a half decades before he learned that the secret to life is found in giving, in the golden rule. 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.

Quite a few of us have shared all the ups and downs of Andre’s career over the years, always rooting for him to become the world class champion he did in fact become despite many setbacks. With eight Grand Slam titles plus an Olympic gold medal for tennis, and championships in all four Grand Slam events, Andre has earned the well deserved recognition as one of the all-time greats of tennis. Tennis is a game played by millions of people nowhere near as skilled as Agassi, and most of them probably love it. For them, tennis is an escape from the daily grind. For Agassi, it was the daily grind. Imagine doing something you absolutely hated, for practically all of your life; yet that one thing you hated, you did better than just about anyone else who ever lived. In the case of Andre Agassi- one of the greatest tennis players who ever lived- he hated his professsion.

In a remarkably candid life story, Agassi reaches into the depth of his soul to reflect back on his unsettling childhood, his rise to prominence in the world of tennis, his Hollywood romance, his bout with crystal meth, and finally, his happy marriage. This is a man who came to terms with the people and events who shaped his life, and is sharing his honest perspective with a measure of wit and candor. This is not your typical self-absorbed prima donna spouting off about how wonderful he is, nor complaining about things that didn’t quite go his way.

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. He tells a captivating story of his struggle to find himself, determine who he really is, and to take control of his life and his destiny – something everyone must go through in this challenging process of life.

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 over-zealous father “Pops” who saw nothing but the game of Tennis as the future for young Andre. 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 Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy, where it felt like a prison. 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.

A bigger shocker to me than the salacious fact that he was on ‘crystal meth’ (a recreational, performance inhibiting drug, NOT a performance enhancer) for a period of time was that he hated tennis. Life for Andre was tennis and playing the game of tennis was most often a hate-hate relationship that brought many painful memories and emotions to light. I suppose it’s easy to grow to hate something you are forced to do without question. Despite this, 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’.

Andre’s story “ends” well, although at age 36 in this book he is still far from his final chapter. He is happily married, with the proverbial boy and girl to raise, retired from tennis, and founder of an educational foundation for underprivileged children that funds a school in his name. A glance at the results of the first class to graduate from his personally supervised charter school – The Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy – which draws its students by lottery from those without the normal choice of educational options tells it all. The first class to complete the 12th grade level and move on to college did so this year (2009). The graduation rate in that class was 100 percent, almost unheard of in any school in the country. To top it off, the rate of acceptance of these graduates in colleges, was also 100 percent–a near miracle.

And not until the very end do we find out that Andre paired his eidetic memory with the elegant wordsmithing of a supremely talented ghostwriter, J.R. Moehringer. He begins the book with a phrase that could just as easily conclude it: “I open my eyes and don’t know where I am or who I am.” While Andre’s identity crisis is very real and perhaps the dominant theme of Open, by the book’s conclusion the reader senses that he is well on his way to finding out and this gives me hope that he has at least one more book in him for us to look forward to.

If you enjoy memoirs and cherish superb writing, you will love this book. If you are an aficionado of tennis, you will really love this book. If you followed tennis during the Agassi era, you will really, really love this book. 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. You will grow to love even the long, play-by-play tennis match descriptions. Open’ is the most brazenly raw, heart wrenching, high paced, thrilling memoir I have ever read. “Open” is a journey that I predict will stay with you for a very long time.

Like Andre I feel ” I Just want to play a little longer.” Game, set, and match-Agassi.

Categories: Books, Inspiring | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “Misunderstood Spirit of a Champion – Andre Agassi!!

  1. Compelling review–I don’t normally go for autobiographies about sports figures, but sounds like this one is quite a bit different…. 🙂

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