Open: An Autobiography. By Andre Agassi. Knopf, 388 pp., $28.95.
By Janice Harayda
If Open had appeared a generation ago, people might be speak of it today along with Jerry Kramer’s Instant Reply and Jim Bouton’s Ball Four, two modern classics of sports literature. As it is, this autobiography can hold its own against many books by authors who have devoted their lives to writing and not, as Andre Agassi did, to becoming one of the great tennis players of the late 20th century.
Much for the publicity for Open has focused on its revelations that Agassi used crystal methamphetamine and chafed against his first marriage to a strong-willed Brooke Shields (who, he says, insisted that he wear shoes with lifts in them at their wedding so she wouldn’t tower over him in the photos). But this book is more interesting for its account of how a superstar wrested a worthy life from dismal circumstances that included growing up with a tyrannical stage father, dropping out of school in the ninth grade, and going back to the minor leagues of his sport when his ranking sank from No. 1 to No. 141 in the world.
Agassi tells his story with a deadpan wit, a lack of grandstanding, and considerable literary flair. Much of the credit for it goes to ghostwriter J. R. Moehringer, author of The Tender Bar, who won a Pulitzer Prize for feature reporting at the Los Angeles Times. Agassi says he told his friend Barbra Streisand: “Fears are like gateway drugs … You give into a small one, and soon you’re giving into bigger ones.” He has clearly benefited from few of his actions in retirement more than overcoming any fears he had about hiring a ghostwriter who could return his serve with style.
Best line: “I just don’t trust surgeons. I trust very few people, and I especially dislike the notion of trusting one perfect stranger, surrendering all control to one person whom I’ve only just met. I cringe at the thought of lying on a table, unconscious, while someone slices open the wrist with which I make my living. What if he’s distracted that day? What if he’s off? I see it happening on the court all the time – half the time it’s happening to me. I’m in the top ten, but some days you’d think I was a rank amateur. What if my surgeon is the Andre Agassi of medicine? What if he doesn’t have his A game that day? What if he’s drunk or on drugs?”
Worst line: “They’re the cast [of Friends], the eponymous Friends, but for all I know they could be six unemployed actors from West Covina.” Who but a literary critic would say “the eponymous Friends”?
Published: November 2009
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© 2010 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.