Tennis has been a part of my life since I can remember. Growing up my mom used to play on a variety of club and competitive teams, in high school my best friend was captain of our tennis team, and in college I was friends with members of both the men’s and women’s varsity teams at Georgetown.
When my mom recommended Andre Agassi’s autobiography Open: An Autobiography over Christmas I finally made the plunge after hearing about it for years. Boy, was I surprised – the book is unbelievably vulnerable and absolutely incredible. I finished it in only four four days and I do not know how it took me four years to get around to reading it.
I remember the press coverage during Andre’s last professional tennis match the 2006 U.S. Open. I went to a match of that tournament and remember walking into Arthur Ashe stadium with my mom pointing to the banners hanging off the lamp posts – there is Andre Agassi, one of the best tennis players ever – oh, and there is his wife, Stefi Graf, arguably the best female tennis player ever. I remember asking my mom if she was better than Venus and Serna Williams and Mom saying that yes, she was.
I never knew any more about Stefi until I was half way though the autobiography and decided to Google her when Andre mentioned being enamored and wanting to dancing with her at the winner’s ball after Wimbledon in 1992. She won 22 grand slams – holy crap. Wikipedia says she has the record for the most Major wins by a tennis player of either sex. Ever. She also didi something absolutely unheard of, ” In 1988, she became the first and only tennis player (male or female) to achieve the Calendar Year Golden Slam by winning all four Grand Slam singles titles (the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon, and the U.S. Open) and the Olympic gold medal in the same calendar year.” (1) But this book is about Andre.
He described his trials and tribulations so vividly I could see the scrawny kid running up the hill in the dessert in Las Vegas trying to get strong. He described “Gil” juice so well I could almost taste it and I loved the vulnerability he showed throughout the book – the bad days, the bad weeks, the heartbreak, and the incredibly accurate pain of loss. The 400-pages fly by and I wished there were more. While listening I bookmarked a few of my favorite quotes:
“My mind these days has a natural backspin … Who ever I might be, I am not the boy who started this odyssey and I am not even the man who announced three months ago that the odyssey was coming to an end. I am like a tennis racket on which I have replaced the grip four times and the strings seven times, is it accurate to call it the same racket?”
It is not all sunshine and rainbows, “I did it – I am the number one tennis player on Earth and yet I feel empty If being number one feels empty, unsatisfying then what is the point? Why not just retire?” I appreciate that he does not sugar coat it. He speaks about how he much he hated tennis since the beginning but it is how he makes his livelihood and really, every time he speaks about retiring, that love-hate relationship comes back.
Sparking of relationships, perhaps my favorite part of the book, was towards to end “I tell him I’ll think about my retirement, but first I need to think about Stefanie’s. She’s been voted into the International tennis Hall of Fame. She wants me to introduce her at the induction ceremony… I relax, because the subject is my favorite and I consider myself an expert. Every man should have the chance to induce his wife at her Hall of Fame induction ceremony.” Here is the video of his speech and the transcript is here (I want someone to speak about me this way!):
I learned a tremendous amount about tennis from this book and have a new respect for people who played the game. If you have not read it yet, I highly recommend you do, it is on Amazon in paperback for under $10, in hardcover for under $20 and only $8 on Kindle! And if you have read it, did you like it as much as I did?