Haunting eyes. Hollow eyes. Honest eyes. Hurt eyes. Open eyes.
The book hooks you the moment you see its cover. Not because the face staring back at you belongs to one of the most celebrated athletes of our generation. Not because the metaphoric title makes you see a sporting event in a new light. It’s the eyes.
Open-an autobiography by Andre Agassi is as confessional as it is controversial. It is ghost written by J.R. Moehringer-a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and author of his widely acclaimed memoir-The Tender Bar. It was after reading this 2005 bestseller, that a captivated Agassi was convinced that only J R could lend the soul to his life story. The book traces the roller coaster life journey of the showman from Vegas in his search for self-identity and redemption. Obviously gifted with a way with words, the book really belongs to J.R. Moehringer, whose masterful storytelling and insightful prose make it an absorbing unputdownable read from the word go.
The book opens with a thrilling description of the 2006 U S Open 2nd round match between a 36 years old Agassi and a 21 years old Marcos Baghdatis. After an energy sapping victory, an exhausted Agassi’s invites us to join him for a technicolor 3 D flashback into his life.
We are in the backyard of a 4 years old Agassi. He is hitting tennis balls being spewed forth by a machine. His arms hurt. He wants to give up. But his dad wants him to hit more. Return better. He will make his son the champion he never was.
We travel with a teenage Agassi to the Nick Bollettieri Academy. And in this “glorified prison camp”, he parts ways with formal education and embraces the rebel he was to become.
We see Agassi turning pro. Winning matches on sheer talent. But crumbling under pressure and faltering on the big stage. Tired of the underachiever tag, Agassi rebels against society and his father’s discipline. The outcome? The denim shorts, frosted Mullet, pierced ears and the “I don’t give a damn” attitude. And when he says “Image is everything”, the world is tricked into believing that the wild child they see is the real Andre.
But the truth remains that even he doesn’t know who the real Andre is or has become. His journey to self discovery takes him on to his first Grand Slam title, a failed marriage to a Hollywood starlet, plunging to 146 in rankings, finding the will to start over again and make changes, embracing himself and his lack of hair, finding true destined love in Steffi Graf, opening a public charter school for low-income youth and finally attaining a Zen like state of calm. All through this he receives rock solid life support from his friends-his coach Brad Gilbert and personal trainer Gil Reyes. They become his family and help him overcome his self-destructive attitude.
Especially touching and heartwarming is his tale of finding a soul mate in Steffi Graf. We get to see an almost Bollywood scripted romance unfolding through the pages. His attempts at wooing her, trying to convince her of their intertwined destinies work almost equally in providing comical relief and a fairytale ending.
Along the way Agassi turns his story as a medium of catharsis. So we are treated to controversial revelations : Fake hair, taking crystal meth, lying to ATP officials, tanking matches and pot shots at his contemporaries, the great Pete Sampras and Boris Becker and the most incredulous sounding headline-“I hate tennis”.
J M seduces us with his lyrical description of tennis matches. We get to be inside the head of a Tennis legend and can appreciate the split second decisions in play and the character forming lessons each game, each set and each match teaches a player. Along the way we come out of the book with a better understanding of the challenges faced by players and an appreciation of their hard work.
Agassi boldly allows us to look at his flaws, his bad decisions in life and his failures. But in doing so, he transforms himself from a legend to a common man. Through his life story he seems to say” It’s ok to get stuck in life. Even Tennis Gods fail. But life always gives you a second chance. And sometimes you have to change yourself to grab it. It’s never too late to take control of your life and answer your life’s calling.”
Like a tennis ball, this book inspires us to take the hits and keep bouncing back.
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