Open

Open

by Andre Agassi
ISBN 978-0-307-26819-8
Alfred A. Knopf, 2009

“I’m seven years old, talking to myself, because I’m scared, and because I’m the only person who listens to me.”

So begins the story of Andre Agassi. The opening line summarizes the rising action in the story arc of Agassi’s life—a struggle to be heard. Really heard. Not just noticed because he wears the wrong colours at Wimbledon. Not just singled out because of his long hair and rowdy lifestyle. But really heard. Over and over again in his life, he tells people, “I hate tennis.” They brush it off with nervous laughter. They don’t really hear it. They don’t want to really hear it. This book chronicles the life of Andre Agassi as he breaks free from that prison, crests the story arc and coasts down to love, community involvement, and balance.

Andre, people are listening now.

The opening chapters of this book take us on a riveting roller coaster ride of shock and heartbreak. On page one we meet “the dragon”— a ball machine modified by Agassi’s “fire-belching father.” “The dragon has a brain, a will, a black heart—and a horrifying voice. Sucking another ball into its belly, the dragon makes a series of sickening sounds. . . . when the dragon takes dead aim at me and fires a ball 110 miles an hour, the sound it makes is a bloodcurdling roar. I flinch every time.” The dragon develops Andre Agassi into the best ball returner in the game of tennis in his time, but the dragon sears flesh in the process.

Agassi soon leaves the dragon behind to go to the Bollettieri Academy, a place he describes as “Lord of the Flies with forehands.” His time there improves his tennis ranking, but damages his education.

Agassi writes candidly about his time on the pro circuit, both the good times (and things got very good) and the bad (and things got very bad). He gives insights into the world of professional tennis and the players, referees, and trainers behind the scenes. He works through the relationships with his family and his father. He writes with respect about his first marriage to Brooke Shields.

And then, he meets Steffi Graf—or, should I say, Stefanie. He tells her he hates tennis, and she says, “Of course. Doesn’t everybody?”

Heard, at last.

Open is Agassi’s beautifully written exploration of self. With co-writer J.R. Moehringer, he works through the painful memories of grueling training, separation from family, and relentless pressure to find his way to gratitude for all the gifts that tennis brought to him, like his wife, his family, money, and the power to do good. Agassi is one of the few tennis players to win all four Grand Slam tennis tournaments, a sign that he is a player who excels on any surface. The grueling training, separation from family and relentless pressure shaped Agassi into an élite, well-rounded  tennis player. In the end, it also shaped him into an élite, well-rounded human being.

Agassi’s disrupted high school education affected him deeply. He didn’t have a quality education, so the ninth-grade dropout is doing his best to make sure that others do. The Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy provides opportunities to underserved communities. He and his wife, Steffi Graf, support many organizations that promote excellence, discipline and respect. And occasionally they play a little tennis, just for fun.

Open does just what the title suggests. It opens Andre Agassi up to us, so we (and he) can understand why he made the choices he did. It opens up the world of professional tennis. It opens up discussions about how children train to become élite athletes, and at what cost.

And once you open it, you won’t want to put it down.

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About Arlene Somerton Smith

Writer, laughing thinker, miner of inspirational insights, sports fan, and community volunteer

Posted on September 19, 2012, in Books I bought, Books to read again and again, Non-fiction and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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