September 28, 2010
Open: Confessions by Agassi
I held the paperback book with caution. The cover picture was glossy and I didn't want to bend it. On the cover, was the close up photograph of Andre Agassi, an illustration to his autobiography. A very nice photograph of him. I say this without all the bias, some of which got in the way to purchasing the book in the first place. My husband gifted the book to me, a token of love, because he knows how much this tennis player means to me.
I am not a reader of autobiographies. I know they are not literature nor do they pretend to be, and since I am not entertained by them in most cases, I abstain from reading them. Second, I have followed Andre Agassi from the beginning of his career in 1986 (when I was 15) till his last professional game in 2006 (when I was 35). Twenty years of being a fan. I didn't want my image of him to be altered by confessions. I held on to the image I've kept of him as a fan. The way he always looked at the four corners of the court at the end of a match, and bowed for the cheers, his fingers to his mouth to kiss the public in thanks.
The title is perfectly chosen: the first connotation "Open" has in regards to Agassi is tennis. US Open, Australian Open, French Open, and Wimbledon. I have rarely missed Agassi playing these tournaments. Truly, in this book he opens his heart. His first confession is that he hates tennis. It is hard to understand that from a man who has the talent and also the "openness" to admit it to his fans, some of whom love tennis only because of him.
His second confession, is much less significant but as sincere, and it could have been kept a secret, but he chooses to divulge it here: his famous shaggy hairdo was a wig!
He also doesn't leave out experimenting with various narcotics. He doesn't leave out his love life. He got attached to Brooke Shields the same way he got into tennis, against his own will. He never mentions a derogatory word about her. It was always his fault. He just couldn't adjust to her. I would add that they married at a bad time in his career as well. I know he rose again in tennis after their divorce.
The cover photo is certainly an illustration of the openness. We do not see his body,or more specifically his tennis instruments: arms and legs. We see a very close up of his face, almost the reflection in his pupils. Agassi was always a player who revealed his personality. On the court, he was open in his expressions. Hence the feeling, after so many years as a spectator of his games, that I know him.
The incipit of the novel begins with "I open my eyes". The style is franc. The man has always been candid. Perhaps, he has not actually written the book (unless he is a sportsman with a wonderful penmanship). Regardless of who wrote it, the style goes with the perception I have of him. If he did hire a ghost writer, credit to him/her for capturing the spirit of Agassi. It is written in present continuous even when relating to past events ex: "my father is driving me..." which gives it Andre-speech. The vocabulary at times is even savant: "segue" for example is a word I had to look up! (Transition in conversation)
There is a lot of humor too, because Agassi is honest and his honesty brings comedy to the narrative. His attitude on the court, namely his swearing (at himself) and the way he reacted to reprimands, made my husband and I laugh our hearts out (yes, those passages, I read aloud). Both of us remembered the body language and the attitude of my favorite player.
In the opening chapter, I was overwhelmed by the intimacy of his tale. The book begins with the moment he wakes up on the last day of his career. How can you start a book with a first chapter called "the End"? Between the Beginning and the End, there is a battle. Andre is constantly struggling with his dislike for the game of tennis but playing it anyway. His game is an inner game: quitting, starting again, quitting, starting again. Or losing, winning, loosing, winning. A battle between his good and his bad will. He strays and he comes back. Isn't tennis a constant stop and run game?
The book has that "if I were a fly on the wall" feel, where Agassi tells it all: the moments backstage, getting dressed for the match, heading out to it. The small preparations and the mental challenging he does to himself.
I thought Agassi's image would be scathed by the book. Everyone was whispering rumors to me: "apparently, he...", "did you know he tried...". Instead, after I read this book, I felt more endeared to him than before it, when I followed each and every match.
I still remember meeting him in Dubai, once at a practice session at the Aviation Club. His mind was elsewhere. I came, baby in hand, and he barely signed an autograph. He describes those moments of absent mindedness with the fans in his book (making me feel better, perhaps it wasn't personal). At the Dubai tournament against Federrer, when my son and I lost our voices cheering him, with the same French "Allez Agassi" (that he mentions hearing at Roland Garros), Agassi lost. It was the End (as titled in his first chapter).