Big Sports Day: Klitschko beats Haye, Djoker beats Rafa, I exercise

July 4, 2011 in Boxing, Entertainment, Misc, Sport, Tennis

Djokovic eats some grass after winning Wimbledon

Yesterday was a big sports day for me.  The biggest heavyweight boxing match in years, Wladimir Klitschko vs David Haye, took place in Germany, while the biggest tennis match of the year, the men’s Wimbledon final between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, took place in England.  I even played some casual basketball (club game cancelled) and went for a walk.  Big sports day for all of us.

(click on ‘more’ for random thoughts)

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Book Review: ‘Open’ by Andre Agassi

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

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

Federer finally wins Grand Slam no. 15!

July 5, 2009 in Travel

How sweet it is! No. 15 for Roger Federer!

How sweet it is! No. 15 for Roger Federer!

I took some time out from my busy packing schedule to watch the 2009 Wimbledon Men’s Final this afternoon between Roger Federer and Andy Roddick.

After what felt like forever, and with an increasingly sweaty (and balding) Pete Sampras watching on in a thick suit, Federer finally pulled it out, 5-7, 7-6, 7-6, 3-6, 16-14 (yes, you read correctly, 16-14!) in one of the best Wimbledon matches I’ve watched from start to finish (I didn’t get all of last year’s epic).  With the stunning victory, Federer at last broke the record of 14 Grand Slams he held with Pete Sampras.  Who would have thought, after seeing Federer break down in tears after losing to Nadal in the Australian Open at the start of the year, that he’d finally win the French, reclaim his Wimbledon title and no. 1 ranking and break the all-time Grand Slam record in the next 2 Grand Slams?

Of course, Rafael Nadal losing in the early rounds at the French and missing Wimbledon due to a nagging knee injury might have had something to do with that, but I don’t think it takes anything away from what Federer has accomplished this year (and in his career).  None of that ‘asterisk next to victory’ crap.  You play who’s available.  One of the most important criteria in assessing the greatest-of-all-time is consistency and longevity (note: Federer has played in 21 consecutive Grand Slam semi-finals).  Of course, Nadal (if he can stay healthy) may very well be the greatest ever by the time he is done, but for now, Federer is it.  And strangely, he didn’t cry this time.

I felt so sorry for Andy Roddick, who played as well as I have ever seen him against Federer, or anyone for that matter.  In fact, he won more games overall than Federer (39-38).  He also broke Federer twice and only got broken once, on the final, heartbreaking match point.  And that second set, when Andy was up a set and 6-2 in the tie-break, for him to squander those 4 set points and lose 8-6 must have been demoralising.  But it just shows what a great champion Roger is in winning that set and what a fighter Roddick is for taking it to a fifth.  Hard to believe that this is the third time he has lost to Federer in the Wimbledon Final (the other 2 times being 2004 and 2005) and that he may have 5 Grand Slams (he also lost the 2006 US Open Final to him) instead of his solitary one (2003 US Open) if Roger Federer didn’t exist.

Oh well, as least he can say he has a hotter wife.