Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Open, Andre Agassi

Category: Nonfiction: Sports (Tennis); Celebrity

Synopsis: Agassi rehearses his tennis career, his relationships, and his inability to quit the thing he hates most.

Date finished: 1 August 2014

Rating: *****

Okay, here’s the thing: Andre Agassi hated tennis. He wanted to quit playing most of the years he played. From age 7 up, he wanted to be free of the thing that had made him who he was to everyone but himself. But the truth was, he didn’t know how to do anything else, to be anyone but what he was created to be. So he played. For 30 years, he played a sport he hated. And he was dang good at it. In his long career, he is one of only four male singles players to achieve a Career Grand Slam (all four Grand Slam championships: Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, and US Open). He was number one in the world, and played more years than most men are physically able to. All the while wishing he would quit.

Now, if that kind of conflict doesn’t make for a kick-butt memoir, I don’t know what does.

I’ve read my share of celebrity memoirs. Everyone from Marie Osmond to Shirley MacLaine to Julie Andrews to Jay Leno. They’re usually pretty awful. You kind of expect that in a celebrity memoir. You forgive it, because they are not writers. But Open knocked my head back. It really did blow me away. Agassi is a deeply introspective guy who can really get to the heart of the matter without excuses or hang-ups. He’s gritty and honest and comes across as quite respectable.

If you followed Agassi’s career, you know the press portrayed him as an egomaniac with control issues. He dressed oddly on the court (remember the jean shorts?) and wore his hair in odd styles/colors (until he just shaved it). And he was angry. He smashed his rackets and got ejected from games for swearing at the court stewards. But really, he was an insecure man who hadn’t been allowed to figure out who he was before becoming a star. And the odd thing is, he seemed to know he was an insecure guy who’d never been allowed to figure out who he was. Which made the shackles of tennis even harder to break.

Agassi is unreservedly frank here. He doesn’t hold back, and he doesn’t seem to be writing to “air it all.” He seems to genuinely be writing for the sake of getting to the heart of the matter. He’s honest about his screw-ups and flaws and aspirations and gifts. He’s precise and searing but can also bring tears to your eyes. He talks about his abusive father, about his friendships, his rivals (esp. Pete Sampras. Always Pete.), his marriage to Stefani Graff. And, he dishes about his ill-fated first marriage to Brooke Shields whom he couldn’t respect because being an actress seemed wholly disingenuous to him. He talks about dropping out of high school—which pleased his father, if that’s any indication of his family dynamic. He discusses admitting to using meth but lying about it being an accident in such a way that I felt sorry for him and was inclined to cut him some slack.

In addition to learning about what makes Agassi tick, I learned a bit about tennis. Mostly, I learned this surprising fact: In tennis you can be the best player in the world and lose. A lot. Tennis players lose a lot of games.

And one last thing. This book could have absolutely stunk and I still would have given it one star for its great title. Brilliant pun.

Oh, also, I would have given it one star for its cover. Aside from being sexy, the extreme close-up is gutsy (just like Agassi) and reinforces the “Open” theme.

Would you recommend this to a friend?


  1. I was never an Agassi fan, but I think I have to read this one. Thanks for the review.

    1. I know, I've never been a sports fan, period. But this book is worth it, I think. If only more memoirs were this good. Hope you like it if you read it.

  2. Wow! I've never been into Agassi OR tennis... but this looks like an amazing memoir!

    1. Too bad I can't take credit for discovering this gem--credit goes to Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, who sang its praises a couple months ago. She was right!