Imagine it is the year 2000; you are at the Australian Open in Melbourne, and you hold in your hand a ticket to the semi-final, an all-star matchup between Andre Agassi, the number one player in the world, and Pete Sampras, his long-time rival who always seemed to get the better of the man from Las Vegas in the big matches. Agassi is the defending champion, but many still believe Sampras is the best in the world. You leave the venue after four hours of sheer playmaking ability and absolute guts from both sides, with Agassi emerging the victor and solidifying his number one ranking in the process. It is not a final, but it is one of the defining moments in a career that had more ups and downs than any other in the history of professional tennis, an intriguing footnote in the annals of tennis history that may never have even happened if it wasn’t for a harsh upbringing. Open is the story of that life, told by the one person who knows it better than anyone else — Andre Agassi.
My wife bought me a copy of Andre Agassi’s autobiography on the day it was released to the public, knowing as she did that I’m the biggest Agassi fan in the world. Now, I hardly ever read autobiographies, or biographies either for that matter, but I honestly couldn’t wait to read Open. By that time of course it had been reviewed by many who focused on Agassi’s admission that he used crystal meth for quite some time while he was playing (and poorly at that). But as astounding as that admission was, it is just one of many interesting facts I would have never imagined if not for the book.
The best part of Open, for me, was the revelation that Agassi hated tennis, that his father had spent so much time and effort forcing him to be the best, to advance quickly through the ranks, that Andre ended up hating the one thing he associated with his father’s ire. It became a fueling fire, the passion behind his fiery wins; but it was also the reason he tumbled so precipitously from the ranks and spiraled down into the depths of depression and ended up taking crystal meth.
“Image is everything.” Those were the commercials that Agassi did for Cannon, the camera company, but the phrase also became his own calling card, even if fans didn’t know it at the time. He started losing his iconic hair not too far into his career, and began using hairpieces in order to keep up the appearance. It is one of the saddest parts of the book, when he talks about how he felt trapped under the idea of how he thought he should be, and what image he should project.
Then there were the comments about Sampras being dull as dishwater that did not play well in the press, and for which Agassi later apologized, but I don’t think he should have had to apologize. It was his impression of his rival, and one that he felt contrasted greatly with his own gregarious nature. That was all water a bridge, in my opinion, and also a very small part of the book. What I truly loved about Open was its juxtapositions of Agassi’s early family life, his current life with his wife and young children, and his playing life, all compartmentalized by chapter so the reader knows what to expect. I also really enjoyed his story of his resurrection, both personally and professionally, and how he knew when it was time to really hang it up.
Open reads like a confessional of sorts, but it also gives absolution to many people who affected Agassi in negative ways, like his father, and his first wife, Brooke Shields. But it doesn’t slam these people and hold them up as excuses for anything. It just lays the facts as he saw them out on the table for us to see and to figure out for ourselves. That’s why this autobiography is different from so many others I never finished. It’s a story of one human struggling to be better than he thinks he can be, of a person who fought celebrity by seeming to embrace it, and a man who knows his place in the history of the game he played.
I recommend Open to anyone who even remotely likes a story of redemption because it’s a coming of age story that keeps coming until you realize that none of us really stops growing and learning, even if we think we do.
I give the book FIVE stars.