"Open" by Andre Agassi: Far from Perfect, but a Clean Winner

Rajat JainSenior Analyst INovember 13, 2009

Why, Andre? Why now?

These questions have been haunting the tennis world—players and fans, alike—ever since the revelation about the former world No. 1 Andre Agassi's indulgence in drugs at the lowest point of his career.

Various opinions were formed, some offensive, some defensive...but each one with a big tint of surprise. And why would one not be surprised when one of the most prolific tennis players of the history, a role model for youngsters, a media darling, and a fan-favorite had the courage to openly admit his grave mistake?

The opinions can only said to be premature, and lacked the bigger picture which was not revealed—at least outside of the special tennis contingents—till Nov. 9. The wait was long right from the time when I pre-ordered this book from Amazon on Oct. 26. They did a fabulous job, as I received the book exactly on its release date, and, due to necessary commitments, it took me four days to complete one of the finest pieces of sporting autobiographies.

And after finishing the last word of the 386th page, one couldn't help but realize that the crystal meth story, which had grabbed more headlines than Serena Williams ending the year as No. 1, was only a tip of the iceberg. The huge iceberg, where this small tip was as insignificant to ignore as it was important to include.

For this book is named Open, where he fluidly laid out his whole life—a struggled childhood, insecure adolescence, the troubled early adulthood, and finally his inspiring redemption—and his way of paying back to society.

He has revealed his facts in the style he always does—a candid way. Informal conversations are dominant in this book, which makes a reader feel more connected with this champion than they may have ever done while incessantly rooting for him at the Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Agassi knows who the most important people in his life are, and he reserves ample space for each and every one of them. His early relationship with his father is presented in a resentful way; so were his experiences at the Mecca of tennis education—Nick Bollettieri Academy.

Open is all about belief. It was vividly depicted through two strong-minded personalities in this book. His trainer, Gil Reyes, alongside his coach, Brad Gilbert, have masterly believed in his abilities right since the beginning. Their "belief" and support can only be regarded as sole reason for his game statesmanship as we know it.

The section about his time with his former wife Brooke Shields was surprisingly candid, given the way things ended between them. The description of their first meeting, their growing relationship, and the ultimate end was moving. But it was really a central part of the book, as it really showed how great Steffi Graf is—as his life companion.

Agassi's special relationship with Graf is well documented, and his attention to every possible detail was romantic. It is easily visible by the way his wife has been mentioned as "Steffi" in the earlier part of the book, while as "Stephanie" from the time when he met her, the way she likes her name to be said. This story may have taken fewer pages than the one with Brooke Shields, but it certainly conveyed volumes more than the latter.

Of course, this book is far from perfect. Even after taking aside the unfortunate crystal meth incident, there were many stories which could have been avoided. His story about the French Open '90 final, his history with Boris Becker, and some little secrets between Pete Sampras and himself. He even subtly hinted that he considers himself better than his curly haired rival, that his one special Slam victory at Paris is more important than those extra six that Pete achieved.

His experiences with media and sportswriters were never good, which we now know were in blasphemy throughout the 20 years—including his redemption after '99—he played tennis.

So were his followers—not fans—who followed him for the wrong reasons.

Yet, this book would have felt incomplete without these revelations. As Brad Gilbert said to Agassi in their first meeting—striving for perfection will not win you a match. Being better than the guy across the net on that particular day will.

This book does not try to be perfect. This book tries to be true to its title—Open.

And it sure wins.