Let me say upfront – I’m not a big tennis fan. Sure, I’ve watched a few matches on TV, and was aware of the Agassi/Sampras rivalry growing up – but I wouldn’t consider myself a fan. I was, therefore, surprised at just how much I enjoyed reading “Open”.
I had heard all of the hype around the release of this book. I saw Agassi making his round of the talk shows, but I never really listened in to what was being discussed. If you asked me what I knew about Agassi I would have told you this – he used to have long hair, he promoted Canon’s Rebel cameras, he was once married to Brooke Shields, and now he’s bald. That was it. I had, at best, a passing Pop Culture relationship with Agassi. I had heard good things about the book though, so I decided to download the first chapter for my Kindle. From the first sentence, I was hooked.
The book starts with Agassi preparing for a match at his last pro tennis event, the 2006 US Open. I was immediately drawn in by the simple, straightforward, and somehow intimate nature of the writing. Agassi takes you with him as he prepares, both mentally and physically, for the match. In that one chapter, he immerses you in the struggle he is facing – he desperately wants his tennis career to be over, but he emphatically doesn’t want it to be over. This struggle, this contradiction, this conflict is what drives him his entire life, and ultimately, leads him to find peace with the game that made him an international celebrity.
As I said, I didn’t know much about Agassi and his career coming in to the book. I think this actually helped me enjoy the book. I didn’t know what was coming – does he win Wimbledon? Does he win all four major Grand Slams? How does he meet Steffi Graf? It was all new to me, and allowed me to experience and appreciate the story that Agassi was trying to tell – about his journey from child, pushed by an emotionally distant father to be a tennis superstar, to a child in man’s body – hating the very sport that brought him so much success, to a father and husband finally at peace with the knowledge that the truest joys in life come from helping others.
I have a new respect for Agassi after reading this book. To be sure – he made more than his fair share of mistakes – but I got the sense that this book was an honest and open accounting of his life, as he lived it. I enjoyed the symmetry of a boy who dropped out of school to pursue his tennis career, finally finding fulfillment in founding a school to help disadvantaged kids – made possible by the winnings from that stellar tennis career.
Though not credited on the cover, Agassi worked with Pulitzer Prize winning author J.R. Moehringer on “Open”. (After enjoying the flow and easy style of “Open”, I may have to check out Moehringer’s memoir “The Tender Bar”.) The stories, however, are all Agassi – and I enjoyed them all immensely. I would have to give this book 4 stars, and recommend it to everyone – tennis fan or not. It’s hard not to walk away from the book wishing I had paid more attention to Agassi’s career – but I found comfort that, at least for Agassi, it was a complete career that ultimately led him to a good place where he is happy. I’m glad he shared that story with me, and I wish him the best.
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