Open – Andre Agassi

Two. That is the number of tennis matches I’ve seen in my entire (albeit short) life. So yes, it did seem a tad too ambitious of me to expect that I’ll enjoy a 400-ish page autobiography of one of THE legends of tennis, Andre Agassi.

Of the two tennis matches I’ve watched, the first was the 2009 Australian Open where Federer lost to Nadal. And during the awards ceremony, one of the most composed legends of tennis had tears rolling down his cheeks (Needless to say, I was blubbering like a baby myself, as was the entire crowd). It was and will always be one of the most touching moments in the world of sports. The second match I saw was the 2012 French Open Mixed Doubles where Sania Mirza and Mahesh Bhupati emerged champions. Why I watched the first match, I can’t recollect now but I watched the second one because of Sania and in both cases, I had no idea what was going on the field. I didn’t understand even the basics of the game, much less the terms they used or even how they kept score. I’m more of a team person – I adore football and cricket and even a bit of hockey. But tennis confused me. I couldn’t empathize with the players. If you can’t empathize with the players, you don’t feel their pain, their joy or their frustration. And if you can’t do that, you can’t enjoy the sport. It’s as simple as that for me.

I picked up Open because I read a page and it seemed fun. Yes, that is my fool-proof system of selecting books – I pick a page at random and read it. If I like what I read, then the book is mine. I don’t care if it is about How Lily Baked the Cake or The Large Hadron Collider. I don’t have to understand every single word I read (And I often don’t!) – I just need to enjoy it.

Open turned out to be synonymous to its title – an open account of Agassi’s life. His journey from childhood, being the World No: 1 in 1995 till his retirement in 2006. About the love-hate relationship he has with tennis. The mistakes he made, the games he lost, the much talked about Sampras-Agassi rivalry. The pain of losing his beloved hair and becoming bald. His marriage to Brooke Shields, their subsequent divorce. About courting and marrying Steffie Graf (hands down THE most beautiful and talented tennis player ever) and their two adorable kids.

To read the book was like a visual experience – I could see Agassi’s life unfolding before me as if it were a movie. His childhood at Nevada, an entire life dedicated to tennis because his father wouldn’t have it any other way. Hating tennis, but excelling in it.

As Agassi puts it, “It’s no accident, I think, that tennis uses the language of life. Advantage, service, fault, break, love, the basic elements of tennis are those of everyday existence, because every match is a life in miniature.”
Often when he describes the matches he plays, it is as if you can almost hear the crowd cheering (or booing). The satisfaction of a game well played, the crushing disappointment of a match you thought you had clinched slip away before your eyes, the rigorous (and grueling) physical training…you actually feel it all.
Yet, the book is surprisingly fun to read. Even the darkest moments of his life are described lightly, maybe even with a tinge of humour – The first time his wife’s and his own father met (Andre describes Steffie’s father as the German Mike Agassi) which ended up with them almost wrestling with each other (one being 67-years-old and the other 63!), the time when he accidently shaved off his 6-month-old son’s head… Agassi also opens (Oh my…there is that word again!) up about his intense respect for Federer, the irony of the ninth-grade dropout starting a tuition-free charter school for at-risk children and much more. In short, the book is a record of his life as an extraordinarily ordinary human being

And what a life it has been. Maybe if I had been an avid follower of tennis, I’d have been more critical and less amazed by the depths of the game and this player. But since I am not, I can’t help being moved by his account of his life. And I understand why he was given a 4-minute standing ovation when he retired at the age of 36. But then again, Sachin is still going strong at 40, so there!

The Times describes ‘Open’ as an “Engaging, thrilling…a superbly written book.”

And I have to say – It truly is.

Happy Reading 🙂