Agassi’s ‘Open’ lives up to its title

Andre Agassi’s autobiography, “Open,” will surprise you. First, unlike many books of its kind, it’s very revealing. Agassi includes the good, the bad and the ugly of his life and tennis career. He’s surely left some stuff out, but it can’t be much. He admits that he wore a hair piece for a while when he was going prematurely bald. He reveals that he used crystal meth for a short time. He explains that his marriage to Brooke Shields was doomed from the get-go. The book lives up to George Orwell’s dictum: “Autobiography is only to be trusted when it reveals something disgraceful.”

Second, the book is extremely well written. “Open” is a work of nonfiction that flows like a novel. In the acknowledgments, Agassi gives the credit to J.R. Moehringer, the journalist with whom he collaborated on the manuscript. Moehringer, author of the acclaimed memoir “The Tender Bar,” clearly was the perfect person for the job. But Moehringer can’t take all the credit. The book is written from Agassi’s point of view, based on extensive tape-recorded interviews. Except for a few literary flourishes, this is Agassi speaking, his voice that is captured so effectively.

Finally, “Open” will surprise you because it tells a story that you don’t know. If you followed Agassi’s career, as I did, you might think you know him, but you most likely do not. This book explains, page by page, paragraph by paragraph, that a celebrity’s public persona is often much different from reality.

Beyond the gossipy tidbits mentioned above, the biggest revelation is that Agassi hates tennis. You learn this on the first page: “I play tennis for a living, even though I hate tennis, hate it with a dark and secret passion, and always have.”

His father pushed him into the game at a very young age and he secretly hated it for years, decades. He wanted to have a regular kid’s life, but instead he was sent off to a tennis school, far from his family and friends.

“No one ever asked me if I wanted to play tennis, let alone make it my life,” he says. “In fact, my mother thought I was born to be a preacher. She tells me, however, that my father decided long before I was born that I would be a professional tennis player.”

Agassi didn’t tell very many people about his hatred for tennis — in fact, in many interviews he said just the opposite — and most of those he did tell didn’t believe him. This theme runs through the book, influencing much of Agassi’s roller-coaster career.

Some readers will want to pick up this book because they love tennis and want to learn something from one of the all-time greats. They might not care about the personal dramas of Agassi’s life. They prefer to hear about his epic duels with Pete Sampras, Boris Becker and other familiar names. Rest assured, tennis fans, you won’t be disappointed. “Open” is chock-full of detailed tennis action, and Agassi’s insightful analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of his game and that of his opponents is fascinating. If you’re a serious tennis player, or want to become one, you can glean plenty of tips and tennis wisdom from these pages.

The fact that Agassi was born and raised in Las Vegas, and that he lives here still with his equally famous wife, Stefanie Graf, and their two children will be particularly appealing to local readers. Agassi clearly loves his hometown and has shown that love by dedicating a huge amount of time and money to the creation of Agassi Prep, the widely admired private school operating near Martin Luther King Boulevard and Washington Avenue. Agassi expresses deep pride in the school, marveling at the irony that it’s named for someone who dropped out in the ninth grade.

It’s worth noting that Agassi is just 39 years old. Starting his professional tennis career at age 16, he managed to pack a lifetime of experiences into the first half of his life. No padding is required for him to fill these 386 pages.

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