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Monday, November 23, 2009

Andre Agassi's Open

I finished it last night. Andre Agassi's Open is an incredible read. I found it impossible to put down. I picked it up less than two weeks ago, and even with a hunting trip during that time I managed to read the 385 page autobiography in less than 12 days.

Now admittedly I am a huge Agassi fan. As previously stated on this blog, I identified with him immediately. As a skinny, long-haired kid, it was easy to identify with a skinny, long-haired kid. I always felt somewhat of a kindred spirit with Agassi, but as I read this book the similarities between us were profound.

Agassi is less than a year younger than I am. We both experienced hair loss at a young age, which was exasperated by the fact that we both had our identity tangled up in our long hair. The excerpt of the book where Agassi details shaving his head mirrors my experience in getting my hair cut short for the first time.

I began shaving my head in the summer of 1994 after trying a hairpiece, which I immediately didn't like. Andre used a hairpiece, but in late 1994 was convinced by his girlfriend, Brooke Shields, to ditch the thing and shave his head. Just one of the many weird coincidental parallels between Andre's life and mine.

His early adult love relationship was very similar to my early adult love relationship. Both of our mothers are breast cancer survivors. There are many other parallels, too many to list here actually. Just suffice it to say that I really do identify with Andre on many levels.

Obviously, there are differences. I am devoutly Christian, while I get the sense that religion isn't Andre's thing. He still uses bad language, something I outgrew over a decade and a half ago. He is a Democrat, while I am a staunch conservative. The music Andre listens to I wouldn't be caught dead listening to (Barbra Streisand? Barry Manilow?!? Puke.)

Still, reading the book was a trip down memory lane. So many of the things that he writes about I remember. The matches he describes, I remember watching. Watching him win Wimbledon in 1992. Watching him win 2 U.S. Opens, and lose in the finals of others. The 2001 U.S. Open Quarterfinals against Pete Sampras, which I believe is the greatest tennis match in tennis history. (Sampras won in 4 sets, with all 4 sets going to a tiebreaker.) The incredible win against James Blake in the 2005 U.S. Open. And, of course, his final matches in the 2006 U.S. Open.

The amazing thing to me was that while taking this trip down memory lane, after all these years I got the inside scoop. What was Andre thinking? What advice did he receive from coaches, trainers, friends, and family? Did he really have mental collapses as it appeared to me as a TV viewer? What demons was he fighting? It was fascinating to get that inside scoop. Not only to relive what I remember, but to relive it as Andre told it, in his own words.

I have always admired Andre's philanthropy. One of the most generous athletes of our time, Andre describes in the book how he came to understand that helping others is important in life. It seems to me that here is another difference. While I agree it is important, Andre seems to think it is most important. That, of course, leaves God out of the equation. I only wish Andre could come to a knowledge of the truth of Jesus Christ.

Still, his foundation and his charter school speak volumes about who Andre is. About his heart. Andre is a good guy, deep down. That he has been widely misunderstood for the last 2 decades is a shame. Hopefully this book, Open, can help people see who he really is. That he was just a young kid from Vegas that had talent and the work ethic to become one of the most successful tennis players of all time.

One thing I've discovered is that I was never really a tennis fan. I started watching because I like John McEnroe. I became a huge fan once I discovered Andre. I never could relate to Pete Sampras, he was too boring. Sampras to me was the American version of Ivan Lendl. Since Agassi's retirement in 2006 I haven't watched more than 1 minute of a pro tennis match. It turns out that I was never really a tennis fan, I was an Andre fan.

One of the things he says through the majority of the book is how he really hated tennis. But by the end of his career, Andre didn't want to quit. At the end of the book, he is playing tennis with Steffi (he calls her Stefanie). They have places to go and important things to do, but again he doesn't want to quit playing. By 2007, and for the last few years of his career, he seemed to have finally fallen in love with the game that made him the man he is today.

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1 comment:

tony pike said...

I know a lot of people criticized Agassi for coming forward with his use of illegal drugs, but I find him to be a very genuine person that is admitting mistakes and trying to move on with his life. He has devoted a lot of his time to helping kids, and I hope he continues his good work!