Sunday, May 09, 2010

Review Of 'Open' By Andre Agassi

Open, Andre Agassi's autobiography written by J. R. Moehringer with inputs from Agassi is more fast paced and gripping than any thriller I have read in recent times. In my last tweet I had promised not to give in to the charms of the world wide web or the television before I finish the book. Less than 48 hours since then I just turned the last of the 388 pages and didn't even feel the absence of the new-age necessities.

If you spent sometime watching tennis in the '90s and/or early '00s you will connect with the story more than otherwise, however, this is not just a tennis story. It talks about the life of a child prodigy who never wanted to do what he was precocious at. Yes, one of the greatest tennis players of our times hated the game with all his heart and was forced to continue with it due to an overbearing, almost maniacal father - Mike Agassi. Andre was signing autographs and winning tournaments at a time when most of are playing in kindergarden. His future was planned even before he was born, he had to become the No. 1 tennis player in the world, and there were no two ways about it. 

His father had not just built a tennis court and bowling machine in the backyard of their Nevada house, but also calculated to the nearest hour, how many hours of practice/day/year he would require to become the world's best tennis player.

The story is similar to Michael Jackson's or Brooke Shields' (who later on went to marry and divorce Andre) and many other similar child prodigies. However, it's one of the rare cases where a man who has won and earned everything from a particular profession goes on to admit how he hated the same profession, from the beginning till the  end.

He talks about his opponents throughout his career - Michael Chang, Jeff Tarango, Jim Courieri, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Boris Becker and Pete Sampras - in a completely politically incorrect but brutally honest fashion.

Excerpts:


The book also is about tennis:
• On Sampras: Agassi says Sampras "sounds more robotic than" a parrot. At his depths, Agassi thinks: "I envy Pete's dullness. I wish I could emulate his spectacular lack of inspiration, and his peculiar lack of need for inspiration." Agassi tells of betting coach Brad Gilbert about how much Sampras tipped a parking valet; they ask the valet, who says $1; Agassi's conclusion: "We could not be more different, Pete and I."
• On Chang: "He thanks God -- credits God -- for the win, which offends me. That God should take sides in a tennis match, that God should side against me, that God should be in Chang's box, feels ludicrous and insulting. I beat Chang and savor every blasphemous stroke." When Chang wins the 1989 French Open, Agassi thinks, "I feel sickened. How could Chang, of all people, have won a slam before me?"
• On other opponents: Agassi writes about holding grudges against Becker (who Agassi says blew kisses at Shields during a match), Jim Courier, Thomas Muster, Yevgeni Kafelnikov, Jeff Tarango (who Agassi says cheated during a match between them when Agassi was 8). (Courtesy: sports.espn.go.com)
He also talks at length about his famous hair and image, both of which were interlinked with each other and fundamentally based on lies. His long flowing hair during the early days was a lie, he wore a hairpiece for most of his career. His infamous Canon's 'Image is Everything' campaign ruined his reputation, for which he blames his youth and the Canon ad-execs, not completely digestible though!
He talks about thehighs of achieving super success at an early age and then not knowing what to do with it. He takes us through the leanest phase of his career, '96-'98 when he reached an al time row ATP ranking of 141 and played in the lowest rung Challengers tournament. Of his much publicised relationship with Brooke Shields, their marriage and detailing how things broke apart. While introspecting he finds that there was not much to begin with perhaps.




What makes the book special is the journey of his comeback. From being down in the dumps, failure on the court, a bad marriage, a treacherous childhood, to making it back to the circuit and as a Grand Slam champion. In fact by winning the 1999 French Open he became only the 2nd person after Rod Laver to win all four Grand Slams in the Open era. The book also talks about the people who stuck to him through his career - his friend Perry Charles, trainer Gil Reyes, coaches - Brad Gilbert and Darren Cahill, mentor JP and his family. Finally he talks about his marriage to Steffi Graf and how things have been peaceful and calm for him since then. They are doing some good work for the education of children in Las Vegas (where Agassi grew up and became a class nine drop out).
I can't claim to have read enough sports autobiographies, having read only Sunil Gavaskar's 'Sunny Days' before this, but after the last couple of days I have a new found respect for Agassi, for tennis, for sports at large. I am assured of one thing - will watch the upcoming French Open and Wimbeldon with a lot more interest and respect! I have always been an unabashed Sampras admirer, but this book helped me get a perspective from the other side, in fact a much closer and more detailed perspective of the world of professional tennis and the mind of his best known opponent.
Thanks to my friend, Anal Ghosh, who recommended the book to me. I pass on the recommendation to those of you who cared to read this:) You may want to buy it from Flipkart at a good discount.
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