Open: An Autobiography

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Overview

"He is one of the most beloved athletes in history and one of the most gifted men ever to step onto a tennis court - but from early childhood Andre Agassi hated the game. Coaxed to swing a racket while still in the crib, forced to hit hundreds of balls a day while still in grade school, Agassi resented the constant pressure even as he drove himself to become a prodigy, an inner conflict that would define him. Now, in his autobiography, Agassi tells the story of a life framed by such conflicts, a life balanced precariously between self-destruction ...

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Open

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Overview

"He is one of the most beloved athletes in history and one of the most gifted men ever to step onto a tennis court - but from early childhood Andre Agassi hated the game. Coaxed to swing a racket while still in the crib, forced to hit hundreds of balls a day while still in grade school, Agassi resented the constant pressure even as he drove himself to become a prodigy, an inner conflict that would define him. Now, in his autobiography, Agassi tells the story of a life framed by such conflicts, a life balanced precariously between self-destruction and perfectionism." Agassi brings a near-photographic memory to every pivotal match and every public relationship. Never before has the inner game of tennis and the outer game of fame been so precisely limned. Alongside vivid portraits of rivals from several generations, Agassi gives unstinting accounts of his brief time with Barbra Streisand and his doomed marriage to Brooke Shields. He reveals the depression that shatters his confidence, and the mistake that nearly costs him everything. Finally, he recounts his spectacular resurrection, a comeback climaxing with his epic run at the 1999 French Open and his march to become the oldest man ever ranked number one.

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Editorial Reviews

Michael Mewshaw
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 footage—total 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
Sam Tanenhaus
Open is one of the most passionately anti-sports books ever written by a superstar athlete—bracingly 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
Kirkus Reviews
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
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.”
Time
 
“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.”
Sports Illustrated
 
“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.”
Entertainment Weekly
 
“[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.”
Baltimore Sun
 
“A vivid portrait of the internal battle faced in some measure by every athlete.”
—Bloomberg News
 
“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.”
Publishers Weekly

Library Journal
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.
The Barnes & Noble Review
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.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307268198
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 11/9/2009
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 73,276
  • Product dimensions: 6.46 (w) x 9.60 (h) x 1.45 (d)

Meet the Author

Andre Agassi

Andre Agassi played tennis professionally from 1986 to 2006. Often ranked number one, he captured eight Grand Slam singles championships. Founder of the Andre Agassi Charitable Foundation, he has raised more than $85 million for the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy for underprivileged children in Las Vegas, where he lives with his wife, Stefanie Graf, and their two children.
 
Visit the author's website: www.agassifoundation.org

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Read an Excerpt

THE END

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.

Yes.

You’re playing?

Yes.

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?

Fun!

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.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 615 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 9, 2009

    This book will change you. In a good way.

    So you're thinking this might be one of those recently retired famous people books aren't you? One where a celebrity, or a Politician, or a sports star cranks out hundreds of pages of self-serving, history-correcting drivel in order to cash the big advance check. A book you can't even bring yourself to finish; better than a tranquilizer at bedtime.

    Well, this is certainly not that book. "Open" is a journey that I predict will stay with you for a very long time. It's a completely unexpected trip to places you've never been. I'm not one of those quasi-professional reviewers you see on Amazon. But this book practically made me write about it.

    Interestingly, Open starts not at the beginning and not quite at the end. Second round, US Open, 2006.

    Not the final match of Andre's career--but the one right before that.
    Against a competitor you'd never heard of before or since.
    The battle was against the guy across the net, and also Andre's hatred of tennis, his failing body, the demons that he harnessed to get through the unending heroic contest that seemed destined to continue until both just fell into a heap on the court. And it is so well told.

    After 20 pages, I knew that this was unlike any other biography I had ever read. Couldn't put it down. Couldn't stop thinking about it. Agassi dug deeper inside than most of us ever will have to, to get to core of what made him so powerful as a player and so conflicted as a person. It is all conspicuously real: The small moments, the outlandish triumphs and the friendships that sustained him and/or corrupted him. The gauntlet he had to run through to arrive at the balance and joy he has today. It's transformative.

    The headlines about this book have mostly related to Andre's drug use when he was at his lowest. But honestly, although it marked the place from which he recovered and flourished, it's only an incidental part of this story. The story is actually about perseverance, intelligence and raw talent all baked together into a very, very large American life.

    If Open doesn't win a Pulitzer Prize, something is terribly wrong. Can I nominate it?

    P. A.

    http://www.tradexmind.com/

    22 out of 25 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 4, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Amazing Bio

    I knew that Andre Agassi had a compelling story to tell. I didn't know he would tell it so skillfully. As an editor, I appreciate literary talent, and this was written to showcase Agassi's sense of humor, insight, and powers of observation. I blew through it in two evenings (lost a lot of sleep but totally worth it). Fantastic read!

    9 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 14, 2011

    A Tennis Twist

    In Andre Agassi's memoir, Open, he shares his feelings and experiences as he grew from a young tennis star to the best player in the world. At first, I thought that this book was going to be about a tennis player who developed into a Grand Slam champion. However, within the first five pages I was shocked to learn there was much more to his story. Andre, a former number one tennis player in the world, told his father, "I don't want to play anymore. I hate tennis" (54). Andre is part of the small percentage of outstanding athletes that hate the sport in which they excel. Imagine LeBron James hating basketball, but only playing the sport because he was forced to by his father. Andre's story is inspiring because he had a very difficult life being poor, playing a sport he hates, and has to hit 3,500 tennis balls every morning. His father put such an emphasis on tennis that sometimes he takes Andre out of school to practice hitting balls. Andre's father tells his friend, "He's going to be number one in the world" (53). Andre's father is serious when he says that, and every day he wakes up believing that he is going to do anything it takes for Andre to be the best tennis player. Reading Open helps teenagers realize that there are others like them, who receive pressure from their parents. Parents will find this book intriguing because they will understand that Andre's father is only forcing Andre to play tennis because he believes that Andre has the potential to be very good. From Andre's life story, you will learn that sometimes you have to adjust to unforeseen situations in life. I recommend you read this book when you have the opportunity, to understand how a tennis legend that hated the sport, worked hard and overcame obstacles to become the best player in the world.

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 11, 2009

    Page Turner

    Could not put this book down.. It is such an honest look at the reality of his life. I must admit I was an Agassi fan for years and years.I greatly admired his ablitity as a player and as a human being. Watching him develop into the man he is today from where he came from is simply astonishing and meant not only for Agassi fans, like myself,but for anyone who can appreciate what a person can achieve and become with only a ninth grade education.. The book is not meant just for his fans but for anyone who is intested in the world of tennis and how one individual can somehow motivate himself when his heart was certainly not in his career. He had no choice, and no dream to pursue, all he knew was tennis. His over bearing Father made sure of that.I thank him for his honesty and for the revealing facts about a man we never really knew.. He should not be faulted for his mistakes but praised for his honesty.. A true page turner for anyone interested in reading about a person with a complicated child hood. Hitting 2500 balls a day at age 7 is truly abusive behavior. His destiny was known the day he came out of the womb...Pooh

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 23, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    OPEN is.... OPEN

    The title aptly describes the spirit of the book. It is extremely well written and Agassi tells his story forthrightly, with wit and precision, which is pretty much how he plays tennis. One of the best things about the book is the way Agassi continually clarifies the distance between his inner psyche and his outer persona, a dilemma that is gradually resolved over the course of the book, until his insides and outsides are more closely aligned. The descriptions of the tennis matches are wonderful, keeping the reader on the court with Agassi, across the net from his talented rivals, and in the stands with his evolving 'team'. Agassi wisely enlisted the help of J.R. Moeringher, a wonderful writer, to help him shape and articulate his story. The journey Agassi describes, while very specifically his own, is one that is recognizable to anyone who has had to grow past the demons who take up residence in childhood.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 15, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    The life of a talented athlete,so much we didnt now....Everything!!!!!

    Last summer was the first time i ever watched a tennis match, and i am 39 years old,ive known of andre agassi through-out my life. 2 weeks ago i was in Barnes and Noble Christmas shopping. Something just nugged me to buy this for myself, im going through life's struggles and the book is getting good review's. Not knowing what to expect,i open it just before bed,(a nitetime ritual)I end up on chapter nine at 4am yes, its about tennis, (in a way) but it's about life and choices and failures and joys, and things people just go through. Bottom line, if you want to read a r great book about "life" this is it,look no further you found it. Great job,an excellent read....10 stars!!!!

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 17, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Fabulous Bio!

    So far as sports biographies go--this is a five-star read. With a Pulitzer-prize winner for a ghost, Agassi has put together a well-told tale of his life. There is some uncalled for meanness--against Brooke Shields (there were bits that made me cringe), and short-shrift is given to Pete Sampras who comes across as a clod. I was struck no mention was made of Mevedev's gracious overturn of a bad call which set the stage for Agassi's French Open victory. One also gets a tad tired of Agassi on Agassi, and yet . . . there are some powerful moments. I was brought to tears twice (opening and closing) and it was a joy to see the inner workings of a great player's mind as he navigates the game and life.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 4, 2010

    What a human being Andre Agassi

    In my opinion Andre Agassi was the best stroke for stroke tennis player that has ever played the game of tennis. As a player and a fan of tennis it was so frustrating to watch Andre play in his youth because his mental game and focus had a lot to be desired. When he finally got his mental game together I believe he was past his prime. I think if his mental game and physical game were together in his peak Andre would have been the best that ever played the game. "Open" gave me an insight of the distractions and hurdles that Andre had to overcome just to be able to play at that level. To be that good at something you hate reveals a lot about a person's character.
    Andre takes you through the journey of his life which gives the reader an understanding of his struggles growing up and the struggles he has throughout his life. It also gave me an understanding of his mental game when he was younger, and how difficult it would have been to be able to concentrate. The choices that he had to make to be the person he is today.
    The gift that Andre gives to perfect strangers is a gift he does not have for himself. It is amazing that a person that only knew tennis growing up understands how important an education is to have. After reading this book I can make this observation: Tennis history will hold Andre as a great tennis player, but his deeds off the court will make him an even better human being.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 31, 2010

    Not a fan of tennis but now a fan of Andre

    I know nothing about tennis, but love to read other peoples stories. This book is definately worth the read. I have a whole new respect for Andre Agassi. As far as all the media frenzy about him doing meth, it was a very small part of his life and book. The book is about so much more, I think anyone who has ever done anything for their parents happiness vs. their own will appreciate this book.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 6, 2010

    Fantastic! I was never an Agassi fan but I loved this book.

    I was never an Agassi fan, as a matter of fact I think tennis on TV is so boring. This book is the best. I was looking for things to put on my Christmas list and I read the reviews on this book and they sounded so good I thought what the heck I would put it on my Christmas list, since none of my favorite authors had anything new out. Wow, I was so glad I did. This is a great book. It was one of those I couldn't put down. I loved the details in it and the irony that Andre ended up so happy and in love with Steffi Graff. I actually felt sorry for him a few times in the book and now understand how hard it is for a kid who has a parent who pushes them into something they don't want. Believe me this is WELL worth the read. You will love it.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 20, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Grabbed Me at the First Page

    I rarely read autobiographies, and certainly not anything written by a sports figure. This caught my attention when I read that in the book Andre Agassi talks about his hatred for tennis. What?! How could anyone hate something that's made him millions? I started reading. I couldn't stop. From start to finish it was an addictive read. Mr. Agassi writes of a childhood under the domination of a father determined to make him a tennis star, keeping him at practice every day for hours by the time he was seven. The book goes on to detail his rise through the ranks from youthful prodigy to aging star playing (and winning) through incredible pain as his body deteriorates. He battles a period of depression and shaky confidence as he ages. His romantic life is often as checkered as his career, but eventually he finds love with perhaps the only person who could understand his love-hate obsession with tennis - another star player. Stefanie Graf's quiet love and support help him to and through a stunning comeback at an age most tennis players are retiring. So powerful is the prose that it felt as though I were on the court with him through every triumph and every agonizing defeat. This is a fabulous and deeply moving story of a man's journey through the pressure-cooker of high-stakes pro tennis. I highly recommend it - whether you're a tennis fan or not.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 25, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Tiger Woods should have befriended Agassi and saved himself some troubles.

    In this day and age when our adored athletes grow up to be immature, self-indulgent adolescents, reading through Open was a relief. It taught me a lesson about raising a son. Rather, how a son raised himself. How he made his choices and protected himself by surrounding himself with people who actually cared about him. How he would consult his friends in search for fatherly advice once he realized his father and mother failed to raise him. How he was loyal to them by hiring them by his side and making them a part of his success. His reluctance to buy into Hollywood's superficiality respectfully displayed in his description of his failed relationship to Brooke Shields. (He was very kind to Brooke Shields as compared to John McEnroe's depiction of his ex-wife Tatum O'Neal and her dad Ryan in his autobiography. Not too respectful of Jimmy Connors though.) Was it his Iranian ancestry that led his quest to self-discovery? I wonder what he knows about his father's heritage. About his mother's? His loyalty to Vegas, to friends, to a restaurant, even to his parents. I wish he would have said more about how his relationship with Barbra Streisand influenced him. Omissions also say a lot about his character. More about his thoughts as a father. I was very disappointed about the sensationalist emphasis the media placed on the very brief admission to using drugs. This book is so much more than that. It is about the choices he made. The choices a famous, wealthy young man has to make. Andre does not need a publicist as the book will sell itself because it is a good life story nicely told. I recommend it to anyone who is raising boys today, to international tennis fans and to my son. Thank you Andre and Stephanie and good luck to you. I for one am hoping for a chapter two... or better yet a movie.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 6, 2010

    Absorbing Read!

    I couldn't put this book down! I thought that his honesty and detail was really refreshing. I played competitive tennis for a lot of my teenage years and saw smaller versions of this with many of the kids I knew. I felt like I was really well introduced to the world of being a world #1 athlete: the hours, the pressure, the struggle, the insecurities. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in sports or elite performance. I've read three books since finishing it and have yet to be as engaged as I was while reading Open. Read it!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 25, 2010

    I loved this book

    Tennis fan or not - Andre Agassi's book is a gripping read. I particularly loved the behind-the-scenes look about the tennis world and professional tennis culture -- i.e. what goes on at the famous nic bolleteri tennis camp, the relationships of the players on tour, etc.
    I was enamored by the story of Andre and Stephie Graf's courtship...so genuine, boy-likes-girl - the nervousness, the first date...good stuff.
    This book made me want to know Andre personally, and true to its title, its open, honest, and so well done.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 24, 2010

    Agassi enlightens and inspires in "Open."

    As a tennis fan but more importantly a book fan, I was extremely pleased with this book. Agassi writes about being pulled toward the finish line in a match, and books work the same way. At the end of his career he didn't want it to end, and as the book progressed, I didn't want it to end.

    Tennis fans will enjoy the recounting of Agassi's career from start to finish, seeing how he was forced into the game at a young age, spent many years finding and developing his identity, and then embraced the game and himself in the later stages of his career. Along the way we get interesting snapshots of many people, some famous and others not so famous. Fans of Jimmy Connors and Brooke Shields should proceed with caution, as their flaws are exposed for all to see. What is refreshing about the book, however, is that Agassi is honest and revealing about his own flaws and strengths, and he does try to balance the portraits of others.

    The voice and writing of the book are friendly and engaging, and Agassi comes across as someone I'd love to sit down and talk with over coffee. We learn a number of themes and lessons such as the sometimes frightening power parents have over children, the importance of having a "team" of friends, and the most important idea that we are put on this earth to help others. Agassi sees numerous contradictions in his life and in his relationship with tennis, because he was forced into the game in infancy and never had a choice in his career growing up. Naturally, a resentment, even hate (his word) developed toward the game. Yet as he grows up, he learns that positives can come from negatives, as his skill at the game and earning potential allow him to create a school to help underpriviliged children realize the dream of college.

    We also learn the importance of loyalty as evidenced by Agassi's relationships with his brother, friend Perry, and trainer Gil. And of course, there are romantic elements in the book, culminating with his pursuit, courtship, and "happily ever after" life with Stefanie Graf.

    The one criticism I have of the book is that the last quarter or so seems to move too quickly for my taste. A lot of time is spent on the early years, and understandably so, but when we hit 2002-2006 it seems like each chapter is just galloping through the tennis year, without as much insight or depth into his thoughts. All in all, though, if you grew up with Agassi as I did (we were born in the same year) or simply love tennis and/or a good story, this book will not disappoint. As an English teacher, though it is not fiction I can place it in the coming-of-age and growing up traditions. "Open" it up and you will not regret it!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 24, 2010

    Great Book!

    I enjoyed this book. Agassi's honesty and humor kept me interested in this book. Excellent example of overcoming adversity to achieve greatness.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 9, 2010

    An extremely well written and heartfelt self assessment of Agassi's professional career and life engagements with all that surrounded him. We glean a lot about the man via his troubling acceptance of the destiny cast upon him to be a tennis star.

    One of the most engrossing auto-biographies I've ever read. Agassi's story of love and hate for a sport transcends into the wild ride that develops and destroys relationships along the way to stardom as tennis' most shining diamond in the rough.

    His truthful self assessment leaves the reader with a better understanding of his seemingly erratic behavior as a tennis star, friend and companion/lover.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 20, 2009

    Great insight into Andre's world

    As a tennis player this was a very interesting read. My heart goes out to this man and what he has lived through in his life. He lived a life that few knew even existed. This is one of the few autobiography's that I have read cover to cover.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 17, 2014

    Since I play tennis I can really relate with Andre Agassi. At so

    Since I play tennis I can really relate with Andre Agassi. At some point I just don't feel like playing tennis anymore, but deep down I still love the sport. In Open Andre Agassi is put to the test to play his last U.S. Open, and after this tournament he will retire. And he needs to put everything he learned from his 29 years playing tennis to one last exam. 
       This book is very deep because Andre talks about how he grew up playing tennis, and the way he trained was very different from others kids. His dad would make him hit thousands of balls a day. Andre practices with a ball machine, and his dad would crank up to 100 mph. But, with these training he was able to become the number one tennis player in the world. I can really connect with Andre when he said that tennis is the loneliest sport ever. You can only depend on yourself to win the match. And you don't have anyone else to hang around with. It’s just you and your opponent. I really knew what Andre was talking about when he said, “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.” (8).
       I would recommend everyone to read this book because some parts will be related to your problems. And I would highly recommend this book for tennis players because he can really connect with Andre, and also it will make you try even harder when you see how hard he worked.


    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 10, 2010

    Disappointing

    I wish that I had not read this book. I have been a huge Agassi fan from the beginning of his career and now feel let down. I hope that he found healing in writing this book because it did nothing to endear me to him. If your a fan, don't read it so you won't be disappointed. Keep the immage he was able to pull off in spite of his personal attitude towards the game as well as the competition/competitors.

    1 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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