Open: Andre Agassi

I love reading biographies, autobiographies, and memoirs (although I’m not sure that there is much of a difference between the last two) because they allow me to look into another person’s life and learn from them. For example if you want to learn the lessons that Billy Graham learned over the course of decades in working with both churches and presidents, there’s no better place to look than A Prophet With Honor by William Martin formerly of the Washington Post. Here is an very incomplete list of some of the biographies/memoirs that I think are the best that I’ve read…

by David Herbert Donald
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
Jonathan Edwards by George Marsden
Calvin by Bruce Gordon
Bearing the Cross by David Garrow
Augustine by Peter Brown
The Confessions by Augustine
The Forgotten Spurgeon by Iain Murray
A Chance To Die by Elizabeth Elliot
John Newton by Jonathan Aitken
Closing Time by Joe Queenan

So it wasn’t out of character for me to pick up and read Andre Agassi’s new book entitled Open. While I kind of follow all sports from a distance, I’ve never been a big tennis fan so it wasn’t the game that drew me. Instead it was an interview that Agassi did on 60 Minutes and that I listened to on podcast while working in my yard before it got cold a few weeks ago.

Let me say that I wasn’t disappointed. First the book was extremely well written. Agassi credits J.R. Moehringer with the writing and it was so good that I’m thinking about reading Moehringer’s The Tender Bar. One of the unique aspects of the book’s style is that it was written in the present tense. This gave the whole book, especially the tennis matches, an immediacy and urgency that sucked me in.

But what really made the book was Agassi’s honesty about his childhood, his flaws, and his personal feelings. Like so many superstars Agassi’s tennis career started early as he (along with his 3 older siblings) was pushed into the sport by his father an immigrant from Iran. After thousands of hours of hitting tennis balls fired at him from a ball machine nicknamed The Dragon, Agassi was a child prodigy on the court. He even won a $500 bet for his dad by beating Jim Brown the famous NFL running back.

Against his wishes Agassi’s dad shipped him out of his hometown of Las Vegas to a Tennis Academy in Florida. It was there that Agassi learned his rebellious attitude and met players like Jim Courier who he faced many times as an adult on the tennis circuit.

The book follows Agassi along the professional tennis tour winning 8 Grand Slam events including all 4 major tournaments. What makes the tennis interesting to a non-fan like me is the personal drama behind it. Agassi claims that he’s always hated tennis, always tried to escape from it, and yet he’s continually drawn to it. That conflicted love/hate relationship is something that many of us can identify with in one way or another. On top of that there is the drama between the players on tour such as the respect he has for his rival Pete Sampras and the dislike for Boris Becker.

Agassi is vulnerable sharing his emotional depression, his experimentation with meth, the physical agony of getting an ageing body to perform at peak levels, the breakup of his first marriage to Brooke Shields, the courting of Steffi Graf, and the volatile relationship with his dad.

For me this book was a good reminder that no matter how much is in a person’s bank account, no matter how successful they are in their profession, no matter how famous they are, no matter who they are married to, they share the same struggles the rest of us do. And on top of that many are largely unhappy. It’s good for my soul to remember that nothing in this world brings ultimate and lasting happiness. That can only be found in Christ.

Are there any biographies that you’d recommend?

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