Book Review: ‘Open’ by Andre Agassi

April 19, 2011 in Best Of, Book Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

I’m supposed to be reading all the books I borrowed from the university library in preparation for my novel, but I couldn’t help myself.  My physical bookshelves are just about out of space, crammed with books I bought over the last couple of years but haven’t yet started reading, so naturally I went and bought some e-books as well.

As some of you may know, Borders in Australia is in administration and are offering discounts of up to 30% on their books, including e-books (which doesn’t make much sense considering it is the piling inventory that’s killing them).  So I went ahead and got myself a bunch of e-books, one of them being Andre Agassi’s controversial autobiography Open.

I know I like to make fun of Andre (as I did in satirical posts A and B, two of the most popular ever on this blog), but he’s always been one of my favourite tennis players and one of the most entertaining players to watch on and off the court.  And ditto for Steffi Graf, who also has this graceful beauty about her.

I never thought I would enjoy Open as much as I did, and I certainly never expected to devour this relatively long book (400 pages in paperback form) in just a couple of days.  To put it simply, Open is arguably one of the greatest sports autobiographies ever written.

Much of it has to do with the fact that Agassi simply lived a fascinating life.  He was a tennis prodigy that grew up in Las Vegas with an overbearing, terrifying father that forced him to hit 2500 balls every single day against a suped-up ball machine.  From the moment he was born, Agassi’s life was nothing but tennis, which he claims he hated, but it was all he knew.  He knew everything about tennis but nothing about himself or who he was.  When he became pro, he was essentially regarded as an underachieving, disrespectful punk, but by the time he retired, he was one of the most revered players on tour, an outstanding philanthropist, and widely considered one of the greatest to ever swing a racquet.

I won’t spoil the joys of this fantastic book by revealing anything more than that, because Open is a journey that sweeps up the reader and transports them into Agassi’s world.  It’s a world full of raw emotion, confusion and contradiction, but also filled with an unusual sense of fate and destiny (especially when it came to Brooke Shields and Steffi Graf).

There was a lot of hoopla when the book was released about how Agassi revealed he took crystal meth and lied his way out of a suspension and the unflattering things he said about some of his contemporaries (in particular his arch rival Pete Sampras), but all of that represents a miniscule part of the book.  They are explosive revelations, no doubt, but Open is so much richer than just those things.  I loved Agassi’s honesty, the way he described his relationships with some of the closest people in his life (particularly his right hand man Reyes) and his growth on and off the tennis court.

A big reason why Open is such a fantastic read is because of the way it was written.  The whole time I was reading it I kept thinking to myself: Wow, Agassi is a wonderful writer.  Is this seriously a guy that put zero effort in during school and left it altogether in the ninth grade?

As it turned out, Agassi didn’t really write the book, at least not the first draft.  He was honest enough to admit in the Acknowledgments at the end of the book that he acquired the assistance of Pulitzer Prize winner JR Moehringer, who moulded hours and hours of recorded conversations with Agassi into a ‘story’, which Agassi then worked on closely to punch into publishing shape.

Open is indeed a story, one that is expertly told and structured.  Each chapter has carefully defined parameters and themes, usually dealing with a mixture of Agassi’s tennis life and personal life.  It’s the kind of book that, even if you have a bit of an idea about what happened at various parts of Agassi’s life, you’ll still want to read on and find out the events from his perspective, through his eyes.

I guess the only ‘criticism’ I have of the book is that I wanted to know more about certain aspects of Agassi’s life because they were not discussed at length or not at all.  In particular, I didn’t think he dealt with his newfound wealth sufficiently.  We saw that he bought lots of new, expensive stuff, but we didn’t really get a sense of what he thought of all the money flooding into his life.  That said, maybe I’m being too greedy.  It’s not exactly easy to capture a person’s entire life in 400 pages.

My hat off to Mr Agassi (and Mr Moehringer) for such a great read.

5 out of 5