Wednesday, July 07, 2010

The book review trilogy: 'OPEN'

Most sports autobiographies that I have read belong to one of two categories (and that, I suspect, is true of most books in this genre). On the one hand you have books that chronicle the life and times of the sportsman, without really giving good insights into the finer aspects like his/her personality, eccentricities etc. On the other hand, there are those autobiographies that are a delight to read, either because of the personal circumstances surrounding the athlete (Lance Armstrong) or because the biographer/athlete has taken that extra step in going beyond mere recounting of public facts to presenting a very different face of the subject to the readers. Andre Agassi’s autobiography ‘OPEN’ belongs to this category. To put it in a few words, ‘OPEN’ is not to be missed, especially if you are a sports buff. Agassi fans, of course, would need no invitation.

‘OPEN’ begins with Andre lying on his back in the change room, receiving medical treatment after winning a tough five-setter against Marcos Baghdatis at the 2006 US Open (his last grand slam). Andre then takes readers to his childhood, dominated by his almost-dictatorial father and the tennis court he had built for his children in their backyard, in the middle of the Vegas desert. His father had one ambition of his children, to become No.1 in the sport. And the methods he adopted to ensuring this (forcing hours of practice on the Agassi kids) took their toll. Andre survived this, but his brother quit, no longer able to withstand his father’s incessant pressure. From here, Andre moved to the Nick Bolleteri academy at age thirteen (‘a glorified prison camp’). This is where the rebellious streak, that came to symbolize much of his playing career, set in. The book is refreshingly open on many aspects of Andre’s personal and professional life. For example, he admits candidly that when he saw one of his contemporaries during junior days (he was a star even then), he openly declared that the boy would not even make it to top-notch tennis. That boy, of course, turned out to be Pete Sampras, later to be Agassi’s principle nemesis. Another rival that is prominent in the narrative is Boris Becker, with whom Agassi shared a particularly personal and venomous rivalry. In fact, Andre admits to having tanked a semi-final match so that he would not need to play Becker in the final (he was not at his fittest then). His playing days are otherwise well chronicled and his special moments, like winning his first slam at Wimbledon 1992 are well recreated, almost giving the reader a court-side view of the action. The book also talks at length of the relationship Andre shared with people close to him, especially his physical trainer Gil Reyes (who almost comes across as the father figure Andre wished to have) and his long-time coach Brad Gilbert.

And of course, who can forget his two high-profile romances ? ‘OPEN’ dwells at length on the Agassi-Brooke Shields relationship, both during its rise (on how they exchanged faxes across continents – no cellphones then- during their courtship) and then, during its fall (on how they drifted apart after marriage, not able to handle the stress arising from dual celebrity lives). And then comes Steffi Graf into his life (a pity that she makes her entry with three-fourths of the book done). Rather, it’s the other way around. Andre again goes into detail on how he wooed the supposedly ice-cold Ms. Graf, finally culminating in a dream marriage. Ten years on, and with two children in tow, it has indeed become a dream marriage.

On the whole, ‘OPEN’ stood out for me for being candid and for describing Andre’s journey from just another Vegas kid to the holder of all four slams. That it does so without ever resorting to self-flattery and excess glorification is indeed commendable. Credit of course, goes to Andre’s collaborator JR Moehringer, who does a great job of converting endless taped transcripts into a near 400 pages of smooth prose. Andre was not my favourite during his playing days, but after having read ‘OPEN’, I have to admit a new-found respect for the man. What more could one ask for from his memoirs ?


PS: You might ask, why a book review trilogy ? Well, simply because I have read two more fascinating books, and hope to review them next. So stay tuned…..


Nemo said...

Nicely written review! :)

Monsieur K said...

A very well worded review, though i must say u have stayed away from some of the controversial stuff that e'one else has pointed out, when it comes to 'Open'.
Agassi was one of my favorites, so should probably read this one - might probably borrow it from you. ;-)