This book is great for tennis buffs. Having played tennis and enjoyed professional tennis for many decades, I can’t say whether this one would interest non-tennis fans. That said, Agassi isn’t a self-aggrandizing jock, he’s an interesting guy.
Open begins during one of Agassi’s last matches. After more than two decades on the court he hates tennis, he always hated tennis. What? A man with a career Grand Slam, former world number one, hates his sport?
Andre didn’t choose tennis, tennis was chosen for him by his father, Mike Agassi. Mike was an Iranian immigrant, a former boxer who worked on the Las Vegas Strip. He was also an angry man. He built a tennis court in the family backyard and a custom ball machine named “the dragon” and forced his children to practice hours every day. Andre’s older siblings couldn’t cut it, but Andre had the abilities the other didn’t. His reward was to practice more under the angry gaze of his father. Initially Agassi Sr. sounds like a harsher version of well- known tennis dads: Richard Williams, Peter Graf, John Tomic or Stefano Capriati. Unlike them Agassi’s dad apparently knew his limitations, he didn’t become Andre’s coach. At one point he tells Andre he can’t teach him any more. When the opportunity comes he sends Andre to the Bollettieri Academy.
Bollettierri Academy was just another prison Andre wanted to escape. He describes the training as monotonous, the food as “gray slop” and the accommodations as barracks. At this point Andre starts to act out, denim shorts, earring, long dyed hair. He wants to quit, however, his father reminds him that he’s a 9th grade dropout, he has no choice but to play tennis. At this point, thanks to a large stuffed panda bear, Andre is able to get Nick Bollettieri to give him better coaching and he gets better. But he doesn’t reach the top.
The turning point in his career is when he meets Gil Reyes, who becomes his fitness trainer. He also becomes a surrogate father who is able to show him the love and respect that he so clearly craves. A bit later he brings in Brad Gilbert as his coach. I enjoyed reading about Gilbert and found an appreciation for him that I have never gotten from his broadcasting skills.
Agassi shares the details of his personal life too. He maintains friends from his childhood, guys who stick with him. He carries on a romance via fax (pre cell-phone) with Brooke Shields, but even before he marries her he realizes they inhabit different worlds. She hates his friends; he hates her Friends’ appearance. The marriage lasts 2 years. Shortly thereafter he pursues Stephanie (Steffi) Graf. She resists. But they have everything in common. When he confesses to her that he hates tennis, her reply: “who doesn’t?” They marry and start a family.
Agassi details a lot of the matches he played. Does he really have those details burned into his memory? The most fun is that nothing motivated him like revenge against a player who had slighted him in some way like Connors, Becker or Muster. The rivalry between him and Pete Sampras was never personal, and the two were not close.
Over the course of his career, Agassi grows up. It’s not a redemption story. Along the way he discovers what matters to him and decides to pursue it. He decides that his purpose in life is to help others. The kid who dropped out of school decides to support education by building a charter school in the Las Vegas area. He uses the last years of his career to finance that effort. Oh, and he and Stephanie plan to do nothing to encourage their kids to play tennis.