OPEN by Andre Agassi

Agassi I am definitely not a big non-fiction reader, as you can see by the books listed on the right side of my blog. So it’s rare that I pick up (and finish) a non-fiction book, and even rarer that it’s a sports memoir. But I was intrigued by Andre Agassi’s autobiography Open when it came out. Agassi was such a character on the tennis court, and I remember reading a New York Times Magazine profile in the 90s about the rivalry between him and Pete Sampras which painted him as a man of many contradictions and internal tensions. So when I came across Open at the library (why hello, FTC!), I jumped on it.

Open did not disappoint. It is a pretty exhaustive memoir of Agassi’s first forty years, starting when he was a young kid pushed into tennis by a relentless, unaffectionate father who was bent on having one of his four children become a tennis star. It chronicles his years at the Bollettieri Academy in Florida, and his (secretly reluctant) entry into professional tennis at 16. The next twenty-five years are a swirl of training, tournaments, Grand Slams, rivalries, relationships, marriages, and soul-searching. I found it hard to put this book down and looked forward to getting back to it, thanks to good writing and a very compelling subject.

Yes, Agassi’s self-absorbed – his “team” of trainers, coaches, managers and advisors who accompany him over his career to every tournament is testament to his many needs, both physical and emotional. And at times the book falls into a pattern – he’s up in the rankings, or he’s down; he’s losing against Sampras, or he’s beating Sampras; he’s recommitting and training, or he’s losing and disconnecting. But I suppose that’s the reality of a 20-year professional tennis career. Agassi was inconsistent and sporadic in his playing, and this book captures the ebb and flow that he displayed on the court. His memory of individual players and games from countless tournaments played all over the world is impressive; in the Acknowledgments, he deservedly credits the researchers who must have painstankingly recreated his career for him as he went through the process of writing the book.

Agassi professes to hate tennis – the game that made him famous (and very rich) – yet he is unable to walk away from it, even when he’s in control of his own destiny. At the core of this book is this tension between hatred and dependency, and how Agassi powered through it to become one of the most successful players in history.

I especially enjoyed the depiction of his two marriages – the first to Brooke Shields and the second to Steffi Graf. Not surprisingly, his current wife (and mother to his two children) fares much better in the book than his first, who comes across as self-centered, materialistic, and not particularly interested in or supportive of his career. A mismatch, for sure.

One minor complaint – I wish there were more photos! Agassi’s appearance played a big role in his image as a player (rightfully or not), and I’d have liked to have seen more pictures. (Of course, a Google image search can satisfy that curiosity). The cover photo, though, is amazing – I saw it up close (and huge) at the National Portrait Gallery in November and it’s a very affecting picture.

In all, Open was an excellent read. I’m very glad I went outside my comfort zone for this one. Highly recommended.

10 Comments

  • February 19, 2011 - 8:23 am | Permalink

    I’ve wanted to read this ever since I read Booking Mama’s review. I’m glad to see you enjoyed it even though you’re not a non-fiction or sports reader.

  • February 19, 2011 - 8:35 am | Permalink

    I absolutely adored this one!!! Riveting. The first chapter is one of the best of any memoir I’ve ever read.

  • February 19, 2011 - 11:44 am | Permalink

    Oooh.. I’m glad for this review. He and I are the same age I think and I was a tennis player in a previous life so I followed him closely. He always struck me as a compelling figure. Will add to my wishlist.

  • February 19, 2011 - 1:23 pm | Permalink

    I enjoyed this one also, especially his honesty. I don’t watch tennis much now, but used to watch a lot during his time vs Sampras, so definitely bring back memories.
    My review:
    http://mentalfoodie.blogspot.com/2010/12/book-review-open-autobiography-by-andre.html

  • February 19, 2011 - 3:10 pm | Permalink

    Great review. I always am factinated by memoirs, especially those written by someone not-so-famous about a very short period of their lives where they had an adventure.
    http://www.ManOfLaBook.com

  • February 20, 2011 - 2:32 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for all the comments! Glad that others enjoyed it as much as I did. @Christa- going to check out your review! @Amie, I agree – he’s the same age as me and I liked tracking his life through the same years that I was the same age.

  • February 20, 2011 - 4:53 pm | Permalink

    The cover is really gorgeous. I’m surprised there weren’t more photos in the book. I’m glad you liked it though. I am fascinated by the fact that he didn’t really like tennis when he played. I suppose the extreme training could make you hate the sport.

  • February 21, 2011 - 12:10 pm | Permalink

    This book was one of my first impulse purchases when I got my Kindle for Christmas in 2009, and I still haven’t read it. I’m glad to hear you loved it! I used to be a huge sports fan and barely follow it anymore, but it still intrigues me.

  • February 22, 2011 - 9:40 am | Permalink

    I’m so glad I saw your review of this one. My mother, who is in her 80’s, follows tennis avidly, and liked Agassi alot, so I am going to get this for her. I have to admit to being surprised that his book is so good. Thanks for this review 🙂

  • March 6, 2011 - 7:54 pm | Permalink

    My mom was always a huge Agassi fan. I remember watching some of his games with her. While I’m not sure if I am interested enough to read this, I have a feeling it will be a good recommendation for her. Thanks for the review.

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