Nov 19 2009

Open: An Autobiography by Andre Agassi

Brian Gallagher

web exclusive


If there's one thing Andre Agassi wants you to know about the game of tennis, it's that he hates it. That is the takeaway from his new autobiography, Open, where he states on page one and throughout the book how much he loathes the game. His animosity for the sport comes as no surprise given his early immersion in it. His maniac of a father—Mike Agassi, a former boxer from Iran who brandishes a gun in road-rage moments—subjects the young Agassi to an inhuman twenty-five hundred balls a day, fired from a customized cannon. Later, in his early teens, the future pro is shipped off to the rigorous tennis puppy mill run by Nick Bollieteri in Bradenton, Florida. Still, Agassi tells us he hates tennis so often, it is hard not to say, "Well, just quit, then."

Open does evoke some of the excitement that must have kept Agassi going, though his motivations aren't always noble. Turning pro at sixteen, Agassi goes on to fame, wealth, cool friends, fast cars, and a sense of approval. He is surrounded by a retinue of handlers who cater to his whims, including indulging his constant hemming and hawing about quitting the sport. Though he laments his lack of a normal childhood, he also gets to avoid the everyday inconveniences of adulthood. Normal adults take out the trash; Andre Agassi married Brooke Shields. So, he kept playing.

Open largely reads like an account of a prolonged adolescence—complete with a Hummer and a much-discussed bout of crystal-meth use—with a grown-up Agassi finally emerging at the end. Along the way there are amusing incidents like a nine-year-old Agassi hustling former football star Jim Brown on court, and the near fisticuffs between Mike Agassi and Stefi Graf's dad—over coaching techniques of course. And thankfully, we learn the checkered past of his characteristic hairdo of the late '80s (hairpiece!). Despite the persistent negativity of Agassi's feelings toward the game, the book is an enjoyable read. Most athletes who write memoirs rely heavily on their co-authors, and Agassi has chosen well in the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist J.R. Moehringer, who lends the book a breezy tone, even when the subject matter is unmistakably tense.

Brian Gallagher is a writer living in Brooklyn.

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