Memoirs and (auto)biographies fascinate me. Most of the ones that I’ve read have been more engrossing than the best fiction works that I’ve read. No.. I am not talking about just the promotional mock-inspiring boring ones. I am talking about the bare-it-all ones. The ones that tell us that a life is just not black and white but one that is filled with greys. The ones where blacks are in fact highlighted.
I have a special love for sports autobiographies. Because, they are the ones that tell you how it hurts to fall. And how much it takes to rise from that fall. You must remember my flowing tributes to Mary Kom and Abhinav Bindra. But the one that I read recently easily outwits these two.
Open by Andre Agassi.
It’s a great book not just because of its brutal honesty. Yet, it is also a great book because of its brutal honesty. Agassi lays open everything he did and didn’t do from his childhood until his retirement. His father’s unruly ambition, his mother’s obstinate calm, his brother’s unwavering support, his friend’s logical approach, his trainer’s extreme kindness, his coaches’s different approaches.. everything is said with so much honesty. There’s never a place you’d think Agassi is pretending to please someone.
I was particularly intrigued by the chapters involving both Brooke Shields (who he was married to for a couple of years) and Steffi Graf (who he’s still married to). He spells out the relationship he had with these two women word for word; of course from his perspective. He speaks about their parents, their strengths and weaknesses, their career choices and so on. (I particularly found that he was much much more critical of Shields than Graf. I know why but still..) All the time while reading about these women, I couldn’t help but wonder if their privacy was being compromised for the sake of his honesty.
In my opinion, Pete Sampras got the rawest of the deals in the book. Growing up, I’ve always felt Sampras to be a nice gentlemanly person despite the existence of a few controversies. But from Agassi’s perspective, he was a boring stingy person who could think of nothing else except winning. Or at least, that’s what I got from the book. I am still wondering why is being nice equal to being boring!
(On an aside, I’d pay a million bucks to read about the camaraderie that Roger Federer and Rafeal Nadal share despite being rivals. One day!)
My biggest takeaway from the book was the man himself. Andre Agassi. An enigma of sorts. Yet, just another human being with the flaws we are all endowed with. The book showed me a glimpse of what fame can do to a person. The book showed me how much work goes into making of that fame. The book showed me that sometimes regardless of the work you put in, that bit of fame can still elude you. The book also showed me that legends are people too. They fall. They sometimes choose to fall. And, they learn to leap up from the fall.
As I read through the book, I kept pondering about how much Agassi was pushed by his dad. How his dad imposed his ambitions on his son without an iota of regret. How Agassi kept saying ‘I hate Tennis’ to all and sundry. How he kept thinking about the ‘what ifs’. How he says he and Steffi have vowed never to let their children pursue tennis.
Did Agassi’s dad do the right thing? If he hadn’t pushed the child, we wouldn’t have a tennis great in our midst. But, what did all that pushing do to Agassi? Was he happy with what he achieved? Would he have excelled in something else that he also liked if his dad hadn’t pushed him to pursue tennis? Or would he have ended up just as a mediocre ‘also ran’? I don’t have answers. No one has.
Before I end, one huge shout out to the co-writer of the book, Pulitzer prize winning author J.R.Moehringer. The prose flowed seamlessly like a beautiful river meandering through crests and troughs bringing out laughter and tears on its way. Yes, it was prose when it was indeed poetry. While I go scouting for his memoir, The Tender Bar and his novel, Sutton, you guys do me a favor and read Open by Andre Agassi. It’s a favor you’ll not regret, I promise.