From the Publisher
A New York Times Notable Book and a Forbes, San Francisco Chronicle, and Washington Post Best Book of the Year
“Agassi may have just penned one of the best sports autobiographies of all time. Check—it’s one of the better memoirs out there, period. . . . An unvarnished, at times inspiring story [told] in an arresting, muscular style. . . . Agassi’s memoir is just as entrancing as his tennis game.”
“Fascinating. . . . Inspiring. . . . Open describes Agassi’s personal odyssey with brio and unvarnished candor. . . . [Agassi’s] career-comeback tale is inspiring but even more so is another Open storyline. It could be called: The punk grows up. . . . Countless athletes start charitable foundations, but frequently the organizations are just tax shelters or PR stunts. For Agassi helping others has instead become his life’s calling. . . . Open is a superb memoir, but it hardly closes the books on an extraordinary life.”
—The Wall Street Journal
“Honest in a way that such books seldom are. . . . An uncommonly well-written sports memoir. . . . Bracingly devoid of triumphalist homily, Agassi’s is one of the most passionately anti-sports books ever written by a superstar athlete.”
—The New York Times
“Not your typical jock-autobio fare. This literate and absorbing book is, as the title baldly states, Agassi’s confessional, a wrenching chronicle of his lifelong search for identity and serenity, on and off the court.”
—Los Angeles Times
“The writing here is exceptional. It is can’t-put-down good.”
“An honest, substantive, insightful autobiography. . . . The bulk of this extraordinary book vividly recounts a lost childhood, a Dickensian adolescence, and a chaotic struggle in adulthood to establish an identity. . . . While not without excitement, Agassi’s comeback to No. 1 is less uplifting than his sheer survival, his emotional resilience, and his good humor in the face of the luckless cards he was often dealt.”
—The Washington Post
“The most revealing, literate, and toes-stompingly honest sports autobiography in history”
—Rick Reilly, ESPN
“Much more than a drug confession—Agassi weaves a fascinating tale of professional tennis and personal adversity. . . . His tale shows that success is measured both on and off the court.”
—New York Post
“Not only has Agassi bared his soul like few professional athletes ever have, he’s done it with a flair and force that most professional writers can’t even pull off.”
“[A] heartfelt memoir . . . Agassi’s style is open, all right, and his book, like so many of his tennis games, is a clear winner.”
—O, The Oprah Magazine
“Hard-won self-knowledge irradiates almost every page of Open. . . . Not just a first-rate sports memoir but a genuine bildungsroman, darkly funny yet also anguished and soulful. It confirms what Agassi’s admirers sensed from the outset, that this showboat . . . was not clamoring for attention but rather conducting a struggle to wrest some semblance of selfhood from the sport that threatened to devour him.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“A riveting and reflective memoir by a man who rose to the top of his sport—despite hating it.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
“Celebrity tell-alls have rarely been this honest and this interesting.”
“A vivid portrait of the internal battle faced in some measure by every athlete.”
“Articulate. . . . Expertly rendered.”
—The Morning News (Boston)
“Refreshingly candid. . . . This lively, revealing, and entertaining book is certain to roil the tennis world and make a big splash beyond.”
Pro tennis could teach the mafia about omerta. Although dozens of champions have chattered away to ghostwriters, their memoirs have generally remained silent about the game's seamy realities…So it's both astonishing and a pleasure to report that Andre Agassi…has produced an honest, substantive, insightful autobiography. True to the genre of jock hagiography, it has its share of stock footagetotal recall of famous matches, the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat and an upbeat ending. But the bulk of this extraordinary book vividly recounts a lost childhood, a Dickensian adolescence and a chaotic struggle in adulthood to establish an identity that doesn't depend on alcohol, drugs or the machinations of PR.
The Washington Post
Open is one of the most passionately anti-sports books ever written by a superstar athletebracingly devoid of triumphalist homily and star-spangled gratitude. Agassi's announced theme is that the game he mastered was a prison he spent some 30 years trying to escape…not just a first-rate sports memoir but a genuine bildungsroman, darkly funny yet also anguished and soulful. It confirms what Agassi's admirers sensed from the outset, that this showboat, with his garish costumes and presumed fatuity, was not clamoring for attention but rather conducting a struggle to wrest some semblance of selfhood from the sport that threatened to devour him.
The New York Times
Enigmatic tennis great Agassi lays it all on the line. Near the end of his beefy confession, the author excerpts one of the more famous passages from Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself": "Do I contradict myself? / Very well, then, I contradict myself." It's a powerful invocation that resonates well with the portrait unveiled here of the boy born with spondylolisthesis and racked with lower-back pain; the rebel who quit school at 14 but went on to found an academy for underprivileged children; the world-class player who won eight Grand Slam titles yet sometimes hated tennis because of his overbearing father ("Bad things happen when my father is upset. If he says I'm going to play tennis, if he says I'm going to be number one in the world, that it's my destiny, all I can do is nod and obey"); the champion who became, at age 33, the oldest player to be ranked No. 1. From a heart-wrenching childhood loss to a cheating Jeff Tarango to his last professional victory, a brutal five-setter against Marcos Baghdatis, Agassi's photographic recall of pivotal matches evokes the raw intensity of watching them from the stands. Lovers of the sport will also appreciate this window into the mind of a champion who lived and breathed his father's belief that "tennis is noncontact pugilism. It's violent, mano a mano, and the choice is as brutally simple as in any ring. Kill or be killed. Beat or take your beat-down." Those intrigued by Agassi's personal life will relish the accounts of his significant romantic liaisons, particularly his obsession with and eventual wooing of current wife, Steffi Graf, and his team mentality in building a close support network. An ace of a tale about how one man found his game.First printing of 500,000. Excerpts in People and Sports Illustrated
Before reading a single page of Andre Agassi's autobiography, Open, I determined to evaluate it according to the standards established in a lovely little essay called "How Tracy Austin Broke My Heart," by David Foster Wallace. Austin was a tennis star in the 1970s whose memoir Wallace, an exuberant observer of the game, agreed to review for a newspaper in 1994. He had high hopes, because on the court Austin was "prodigious, beautiful, and inspiring" -- a true artist who displayed "a grace that for most of us remains abstract and immanent." But he was disappointed to find that her memoir was terrible: insipid, cliché-ridden, and almost completely lacking in insight, or even compound sentences.
Maybe, Wallace observed, he was foolish to "expect people who are geniuses as athletes to be geniuses also as speakers and writers, to be articulate, perceptive, truthful, profound." Maybe we keep buying ghost-written sports memoirs in the vain search for a superstar who embodies both types of brilliance, someone who not only has the golden touch but can explain what it feels like to have it. The most distressing revelation for Wallace was not that Tracy Austin lacked an expressive intellect but that, ironically, it may have been precisely this lacuna that allowed her to succeed in the relentless psychological siege that is competitive tennis. After all, by his own admission the heady Wallace blew many a junior match by thinking, rather than just playing.
I had good reason to hope that Agassi might do better. Throughout his 21-year career, he was consistently one of the most articulate and thoughtful interviews on the professional tennis tour. His brutal de- and reconstruction of not just his body but his game and persona -- from flabby, cocky rebel to sculpted, focused champion; from "Image Is Everything" to pure substance -- suggested introspection and self-awareness. Most notably, his tearful farewell upon retiring as the elder statesman of professional tennis at the 2006 U.S. Open was the most remarkable speech I have ever heard given by an athlete.
The speech was not only moving; it also offered a lesson in collective expectations about the thoughtfulness of our athlete-heroes. The crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium almost refused to let the guy speak, as if they couldn't bear to hear him flub it -- until they realized that he could speak eloquently, at which point they hushed. They wanted to remember Agassi's audacious return of serve and blink-snap reflexes; they feared that these memories would be tarnished by a rambling and dull goodbye. Can you blame them for fearing this might happen? No less a poet on court than John McEnroe -- all finesse and touch at the net, despite his famous temper -- can be heard on TV every summer incanting that this or that player must "find another gear" or "dig deeper" in order to win. McEnroe has uttered these clichés hundreds of times, and their ability to illuminate does not increase with repetition.
Agassi raises hopes that he'll avoid such boilerplate on the first page of Open, where he declares, in a startling line redolent of Graham Greene's opening scene in The End of the Affair, that he hates tennis and always has. I had not known or expected this. It certainly increased the chances that Agassi would have an interesting story to tell. His father, the King Kong of sports dads, literally taped a racquet to his hand and encouraged him to swing it at a mobile of balls that dangled above his crib. Agassi senior also made his son spend every free hour of his childhood on court and smashed his runner-up trophies. Few people would enjoy tennis after such an upbringing.
But despite what he calls his hate/love relationship to the sport, Agassi played an extraordinary and transformative game from the moment he turned pro at age 16. He did not invent topspin, oversized racquets, the two-handed backhand, or a game played mainly from the baseline, but he popularized these elements to a generation of kids who wore denim shorts over neon-pink hot pants to summer tennis camp. Agassi's most distinctive tactic came directly from on-court drills with his father, who fired a ball machine called "the Dragon" at his son from a high angle, forcing Agassi to hit the ball on the rise -- immediately after its bounce, rather than after it bounced and described an arc.
This skill -- the product not just of practice but also extraordinary hand-eye coordination -- allowed Agassi to rob opponents like Pete Sampras of their most powerful weapon: their serves. Watching Agassi stand inside the baseline and hit a perfectly timed, walk-off winner against a 130-mile-per-hour-serve is a thrilling experience: it defies all expectations about how the game works and is the psychological and dramatic equivalent of a sprinter spinning around and finishing the last 25 meters backward. When Agassi added conditioning, a bigger serve, and net play to his arsenal, he became a truly formidable opponent, winning eight Grand Slams and rising several times to the No. 1 spot in the rankings.
Although Open is not beautifully written, Agassi's reflections on internalizing his father's vicious drive -- and on realizing that he didn't have to love tennis in order to need to play it -- are poignant and insightful. Better yet are his thoughts about the "hysterical serenity" of victory, which never feels as good as a loss does bad, and his discovery of purpose on the court when he began putting his winnings to philanthropic use. Above all, Agassi describes the loneliness of a sport that places two players 80 feet apart for as long as five hours at a stretch without teammates or coaches. It is loneliness, he explains, that leads tennis players to talk to themselves constantly, frequently out loud, battling with momentum, expectations, and especially self-doubt. (You'll notice that the peerless Roger Federer rarely says a word during a match.) Agassi suggests that his own career rose from the doldrums in the late 1990s precisely because he learned to stop thinking while he played -- he must simply feel, and hit. In what he calls the best match of his life -- an extraordinary quarter-final victory over James Blake at the 2005 U.S. Open-- Agassi describes reaching a "mindless state" in which fear of losing, or missing, or the cruel sportswriters, finally receded and he simply swung the racket.
These are the highlights. The bulk of the book is chronology, not reflection. Open contains its share of vapid observations: for instance, Agassi told himself he was upset while separating from his first wife, Brooke Shields, "because you hate losing. And divorce is one tough loss." But the book is also filled with startling candor: Agassi used crystal meth and lied about it to tennis officials. He threw a match or two. His acknowledgments page is, remarkably, one long, kind paean to his ghostwriter, who refused to be named on the cover. Most surprisingly -- and touchingly, for readers who grew up admiring the way Agassi's luxuriant mane swayed manfully as he played -- he reveals that he wore a hairpiece, helplessly embarrassed by his premature baldness. Wallace was right that we will always hope for an articulate, demonstrative intelligence in the athletes we admire. But a bit of that plus generosity, a good heart, and unvarnished honesty is equally becoming. --Michael O'Donnell
Michael O'Donnell has written for Bookforum, the Los Angeles Times, the Christian Science Monitor, and the San Francisco Chronicle, among other publications. He recently completed a clerkship for a federal judge and is now an attorney in private practice in Chicago.
Few other sports autobiographies are as revealing as Agassi's, in which he recounts his hatred for tennis, his relationship with his demanding father, his dislike of many of his rivals, his struggles with depression and drug abuse, his failed marriage, and much more. Extremely well written by uncredited ghostwriter J.R. Moehringer, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who is himself a memoirist (The Tender Bar), Open portrays Agassi almost as the antihero of a psychological novel, for which narrator Erik Davies (The Audacity To Win) provides just the right tone. Davies's calm, measured reading renders Agassi sympathetic while also offering a counterbalance to the athlete's considerable anguish. For tennis fans, those concerned about the pressures placed on young athletes, and anyone interested in the psychological effects of celebrity. [Open "will grip most memoir readers whether or not they've ever gripped a tennis racquet," read the review of the Knopf hc, LJXpress 11/17/09, a New York Times, USA Today, and LJ best seller.—Ed.]—Michael Adams, CUNY Graduate Ctr. Lib.
Read an Excerpt
I open my eyes and don’t know where I am or who I am. Not all that unusual—I’ve spent half my life not knowing. Still, this feels different. This confusion is more frightening. More total.
I look up. I’m lying on the floor beside the bed. I remember now. I moved from the bed to the floor in the middle of the night. I do that most nights. Better for my back. Too many hours on a soft mattress causes agony. I count to three, then start the long, difficult process of standing. With a cough, a groan, I roll onto my side, then curl into the fetal position, then flip over onto my stomach. Now I wait, and wait, for the blood to start pumping.
I’m a young man, relatively speaking. Thirty-six. But I wake as if ninety-six. After three decades of sprinting, stopping on a dime, jumping high and landing hard, my body no longer feels like my body, especially in the morning. Consequently my mind doesn’t feel like my mind. Upon opening my eyes I’m a stranger to myself, and while, again, this isn’t new, in the mornings it’s more pronounced. I run quickly through the basic facts. My name is Andre Agassi. My wife’s name is Stefanie Graf. We have two children, a son and daughter, five and three. We live in Las Vegas, Nevada, but currently reside in a suite at the Four Seasons hotel in New York City, because I’m playing in the 2006 U.S. Open. My last U.S. Open. In fact my last tournament ever. I play tennis for a living, even though I hate tennis, hate it with a dark and secret passion, and always have.
As this last piece of identity falls into place, I slide to my knees and in a whisper I say: Please let this be over.
Then: I’m not ready for it to be over.
Now, from the next room, I hear Stefanie and the children. They’re eating breakfast, talking, laughing. My overwhelming desire to see and touch them, plus a powerful craving for caffeine, gives me the inspiration I need to hoist myself up, to go vertical. Hate brings me to my knees, love gets me on my feet.
I glance at the bedside clock. Seven thirty. Stefanie let me sleep in. The fatigue of these final days has been severe. Apart from the physical strain, there is the exhausting torrent of emotions set loose by my pending retirement. Now, rising from the center of the fatigue comes the first wave of pain. I grab my back. It grabs me. I feel as if someone snuck in during the night and attached one of those anti-theft steering wheel locks to my spine. How can I play in the U.S. Open with the Club on my spine? Will the last match of my career be a forfeit?
I was born with spondylolisthesis, meaning a bottom vertebra that parted from the other vertebrae, struck out on its own, rebelled. (It’s the main reason for my pigeon-toed walk.) With this one vertebra out of sync, there’s less room for the nerves inside the column of my spine, and with the slightest movement the nerves feel that much more crowded. Throw in two herniated discs and a bone that won’t stop growing in a futile effort to protect the damaged area, and those nerves start to feel downright claustrophobic. When the nerves protest their cramped quarters, when they send out distress signals, a pain runs up and down my leg that makes me suck in my breath and speak in tongues. At such moments the only relief is to lie down and wait. Sometimes, however, the moment arrives in the middle of a match. Then the only remedy is to alter my game—swing differently, run differently, do everything differently. That’s when my muscles spasm. Everyone avoids change; muscles can’t abide it. Told to change, my muscles join the spinal rebellion, and soon my whole body is at war with itself.
Gil, my trainer, my friend, my surrogate father, explains it this way: Your body is saying it doesn’t want to do this anymore.
My body has been saying that for a long time, I tell Gil. Almost as long as I’ve been saying it.
Since January, however, my body has been shouting it. My body doesn’t want to retire—my body has already retired. My body has moved to Florida and bought a condo and white Sansabelts. So I’ve been negotiating with my body, asking it to come out of retirement for a few hours here, a few hours there. Much of this negotiation revolves around a cortisone shot that temporarily dulls the pain. Before the shot works, however, it causes its own torments.
I got one yesterday, so I could play tonight. It was the third shot this year, the thirteenth of my career, and by far the most alarming. The doctor, not my regular doctor, told me brusquely to assume the position. I stretched out on his table, face down, and his nurse yanked down my shorts. The doctor said he needed to get his seven-inch needle as close to the inflamed nerves as possible. But he couldn’t enter directly, because my herniated discs and bone spur were blocking the path. His attempts to circumvent them, to break the Club, sent me through the roof. First he inserted the needle. Then he positioned a big machine over my back to see how close the needle was to the nerves. He needed to get that needle almost flush against the nerves, he said, without actually touching. If it were to touch the nerves, even if it were to only nick the nerves, the pain would ruin me for the tournament. It could also be life- changing. In and out and around, he maneuvered the needle, until my eyes filled with water.
Finally he hit the spot. Bull’s- eye, he said.
In went the cortisone. The burning sensation made me bite my lip. Then came the pressure. I felt infused, embalmed. The tiny space in my spine where the nerves are housed began to feel vacuum packed. The pressure built until I thought my back would burst.
Pressure is how you know everything’s working, the doctor said.
Words to live by, Doc.
Soon the pain felt wonderful, almost sweet, because it was the kind that you can tell precedes relief. But maybe all pain is like that.
MY FAMILY IS GROWING LOUDER. I limp out to the living room of our suite. My son, Jaden, and my daughter, Jaz, see me and scream. Daddy, Daddy! They jump up and down and want to leap on me. I stop and brace myself, stand before them like a mime imitating a tree in winter. They stop just before leaping, because they know Daddy is delicate these days, Daddy will shatter if they touch him too hard. I pat their faces and kiss their cheeks and join them at the breakfast table.
Jaden asks if today is the day.
And then after today are you retire?
A new word he and his younger sister have learned. Retired. When they say it, they always leave off the last letter. For them it’s retire, forever ongoing, permanently in the present tense. Maybe they know something I don’t.
Not if I win, son. If I win tonight, I keep playing.
But if you lose— we can have a dog?
To the children, retire equals puppy. Stefanie and I have promised them that when I stop training, when we stop traveling the world, we can buy a puppy. Maybe we’ll name him Cortisone.
Yes, buddy, when I lose, we will buy a dog.
He smiles. He hopes Daddy loses, hopes Daddy experiences the disappointment that surpasses all others. He doesn’t understand— and how will I ever be able to explain it to him?—the pain of losing, the pain of playing. It’s taken me nearly thirty years to understand it myself, to solve the calculus of my own psyche.
I ask Jaden what he’s doing today.
Going to see the bones.
I look at Stefanie. She reminds me she’s taking them to the Museum of Natural History. Dinosaurs. I think of my twisted vertebrae. I think of my skeleton on display at the museum with all the other dinosaurs. Tennis-aurus Rex.
Jaz interrupts my thoughts. She hands me her muffin. She needs me to pick out the blueberries before she eats it. Our morning ritual. Each blueberry must be surgically removed, which requires precision, concentration. Stick the knife in, move it around, get it right up to the blueberry without touching. I focus on her muffin and it’s a relief to think about something other than tennis. But as I hand her the muffin, I can’t pretend that it doesn’t feel like a tennis ball, which makes the muscles in my back twitch with anticipation. The time is drawing near.
AFTER BREAKFAST, after Stefanie and the kids have kissed me goodbye and run off to the museum, I sit quietly at the table, looking around the suite. It’s like every hotel suite I’ve ever had, only more so. Clean, chic, comfortable— it’s the Four Seasons, so it’s lovely, but it’s still just another version of what I call Not Home. The non-place we exist as athletes. I close my eyes, try to think about tonight, but my mind drifts backward. My mind these days has a natural backspin. Given half a chance it wants to return to the beginning, because I’m so close to the end. But I can’t let it. Not yet. I can’t afford to dwell too long on the past. I get up and walk around the table, test my balance. When I feel fairly steady I walk gingerly to the shower.
Under the hot water I groan and scream. I bend slowly, touch my quads, start to come alive. My muscles loosen. My skin sings. My pores fly open. Warm blood goes sluicing through my veins. I feel something begin to stir. Life. Hope. The last drops of youth. Still, I make no sudden movements. I don’t want to do anything to startle my spine. I let my spine sleep in.
Standing at the bathroom mirror, toweling off, I stare at my face. Red eyes, gray stubble— a face totally different from the one with which I started. But also different from the one I saw last year in this same mirror. Whoever I might be, I’m not the boy who started this odyssey, and I’m not even the man who announced three months ago that the odyssey was coming to an end. I’m like a tennis racket on which I’ve replaced the grip four times and the strings seven times— is it accurate to call it the same racket? Somewhere in those eyes, however, I can still vaguely see the boy who didn’t want to play tennis in the first place, the boy who wanted to quit, the boy who did quit many times. I see that golden- haired boy who hated tennis, and I wonder how he would view this bald man, who still hates tennis and yet still plays. Would he be shocked? Amused? Proud? The question makes me weary, lethargic, and it’s only noon.
Please let this be over.
I’m not ready for it to be over.
The finish line at the end of a career is no different from the finish line at the end of a match. The objective is to get within reach of that finish line, because then it gives off a magnetic force. When you’re close, you can feel that force pulling you, and you can use that force to get across. But just before you come within range, or just after, you feel another force, equally strong, pushing you away. It’s inexplicable, mystical, these twin forces, these contradictory energies, but they both exist. I know, because I’ve spent much of my life seeking the one, fighting the other, and sometimes I’ve been stuck, suspended, bounced like a tennis ball between the two.
Tonight: I remind myself that it will require iron discipline to cope with these forces, and whatever else comes my way. Back pain, bad shots, foul weather, self- loathing. It’s a form of worry, this reminder, but also a meditation. One thing I’ve learned in twenty-nine years of playing tennis: Life will throw everything but the kitchen sink in your path, and then it will throw the kitchen sink. It’s your job to avoid the obstacles. If you let them stop you or distract you, you’re not doing your job, and failing to do your job will cause regrets that paralyze you more than a bad back.
I lie on the bed with a glass of water and read. When my eyes get tired I click on the TV. Tonight, Round Two of the U.S. Open! Will this be Andre Agassi’s farewell? My face flashes on the screen. A different face than the one in the mirror. My game face. I study this new reflection of me in the distorted mirror that is TV and my anxiety rises another click or two.
Was that the final commercial? The final time CBS will ever promote one of my matches?
I can’t escape the feeling that I’m about to die.
It’s no accident, I think, that tennis uses the language of life. Advantage, service, fault, break, love, the basic elements of tennis are those of everyday existence, because every match is a life in miniature. Even the structure of tennis, the way the pieces fit inside one another like Russian nesting dolls, mimics the structure of our days. Points become games become sets become tournaments, and it’s all so tightly connected that any point can become the turning point. It reminds me of the way seconds become minutes become hours, and any hour can be our finest. Or darkest. It’s our choice.
But if tennis is life, then what follows tennis must be the unknowable void. The thought makes me cold.
Stefanie bursts through the door with the kids. They flop on the bed, and my son asks how I’m feeling.
Fine, fine. How were the bones?
Stefanie gives them sandwiches and juice and hustles them out the door again.
They have a playdate, she says.
Don’t we all.
Now I can take a nap. At thirty- six, the only way I can play a late match, which could go past midnight, is if I get a nap beforehand. Also, now that I know roughly who I am, I want to close my eyes and hide from it. When I open my eyes, one hour has passed. I say aloud, It’s time. No more hiding. I step into the shower again, but this shower is different from the morning shower. The afternoon shower is always longer—twenty-two minutes, give or take— and it’s not for waking up or getting clean. The afternoon shower is for encouraging myself, coaching myself.
Tennis is the sport in which you talk to yourself. No athletes talk to themselves like tennis players. Pitchers, golfers, goalkeepers, they mutter to themselves, of course, but tennis players talk to themselves—and answer. In the heat of a match, tennis players look like lunatics in a public square, ranting and swearing and conducting Lincoln-Douglas debates with their alter egos. Why? Because tennis is so damned lonely. Only boxers can understand the loneliness of tennis players—and yet boxers have their corner men and managers. Even a boxer’s opponent provides a kind of companionship, someone he can grapple with and grunt at. In tennis you stand face- to- face with the enemy, trade blows with him, but never touch him or talk to him, or anyone else. The rules forbid a tennis player from even talking to his coach while on the court. People sometimes mention the track-and-field runner as a comparably lonely figure, but I have to laugh. At least the runner can feel and smell his opponents. They’re inches away. In tennis you’re on an island. Of all the games men and women play, tennis is the closest to solitary confinement, which inevitably leads to self- talk, and for me the self-talk starts here in the afternoon shower. This is when I begin to say things to myself, crazy things, over and over, until I believe them. For instance, that a quasi-cripple can compete at the U.S. Open. That a thirty-six-year-old man can beat an opponent just entering his prime. I’ve won 869 matches in my career, fifth on the all-time list, and many were won during the afternoon shower.
With the water roaring in my ears— a sound not unlike twenty thousand fans—I recall particular wins. Not wins the fans would remember, but wins that still wake me at night. Squillari in Paris. Blake in New York. Pete in Australia. Then I recall a few losses. I shake my head at the disappointments. I tell myself that tonight will be an exam for which I’ve been studying twenty-nine years. Whatever happens tonight, I’ve already been through it at least once before. If it’s a physical test, if it’s mental, it’s nothing new.
Please let this be over.
I don’t want it to be over.
I start to cry. I lean against the wall of the shower and let go.