Tuesday, May 11, 2010


I'll come clean. When Andre Agassi first burst into the scene, it was Stefan Edberg I had a crush on, and Stefan Edberg I cheered for during every tournament. Agassi with his denim shorts, long hair and don't care attitude was the antithesis of everything Edberg stood for, and I never cared for him too much. I developed a grudging admiration for him, after he won the Wimbledon Championship in 1992, which turned into a more generous admiration after he kept crawling back to the # 1 position after being knocked off the top 100 time and again.

When his autobiography, Open, was released, all anyone could speak of were his revelations about snorting crystal meth and lying about it to the ATP - I did not want to waste precious time reading what I was sure would be the self indulgent story of a former tennis brat. Then a friend told me that it was one of the most honest accounts of a man's life that she had read, and I decided to give the book a try.

And I am glad I did.

The books is ghost-written by a genuinely good writer, who knows exactly how to play with the emotions of the reader. With a mix of candour and humour, the book makes you relive the memories of the flawed genius. You are forced to acknowledge the drive that made him repeatedly bounce back after being written off, and you cannot help nodding at many of the observations, even as you wonder how it is that the man has good things to say about so few people.

Fundamentally, I just cannot understand his repeated declaration that he absolutely hates the game. How can anyone put in such supreme effort into something they hate? And why? Is it worth defining your life by something you are not passionate about?

But at the same time, you have to admire the man for the choices he makes. Written off more often than practically any other tennis player, he could have retired, gracefully or otherwise, dozens of times - yet, each time he was written off, he came back a stronger and better player than he was before. That the man won more Grand Slams after the age of 29 than he did before tells its own story. That most of his later matches were played against opponents who were still in their diapers when he turned pro only underlines the fact that whether you love him or hate him, you have to admire him.

There is a lot about the man that I do not like after reading the book. There is a lot more of the man that I just do not understand. But I am glad I read the book, because there is a lot that you have to admire the man for, and I would not have known about any of it had I not picked the book up.

And of course, I have to admire any man who puts in as much effort into bringing into existance a school for disadvantaged children in his home town. That the apparent rebel that was Andre Agassi insists on school uniforms for his kids shows how far the man has come.

Love the man or hate him, the book is definitely worth a read.


The Alliterative Allomorph said...

this sounds really interesting. It would never have even crossed my mind to read his autobiography, but maybe I just will now. I was always a Boris Becker fan :)

Mason Canyon said...

Interesting review. Goes to show that a bad person can have some good qualities about them. He is a fighter when it comes to playing tennis. I'll have to check this out.

Thoughts in Progress

KarenG said...

Sounds good and since bios and memoirs are my favorite genre, I'll give it a try! I wouldn't have picked it up without this review however because I'm not a fan of celebrity tell alls.

Marjorie said...

You know, I really think that drugs can cause a person to dislike the things they once loved. My brother was a chef, and now after all his drug problems he hates to cook. Crystal Meth was his drug of choice as well.

Perhaps the one thing that gave them a high before drugs no longer does it for them the way the drug does. Therefore they grow to hate the thing they once loved for not being good enough. Anyway, that's my theory.

slommler said...

I neither liked or disliked him. But it sounds as if the book would be a good read. Thanks for sharing about it. I appreciate your candor about the book!

Lisa said...

I never gave him a lot of thought other than connecting him with Brooke Shields. I saw him a few months ago touting his book on a morning show and really liked what I heard. I haven't read the book, but plan on it.

From my understanding he always hated tennis -- from the get go. I'll have to see if my understanding is correct.

Thanks for the review Rayna!

Ann said...

Enjoyed your review. I just might look into this book.

Jan Morrison said...

I don't know - even well written books about celebrities leave me a bit cold. I feel like I just indulged in something that is good while I'm about it but then I feel yucky. I like that he has a social conscience though...

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I've heard that he hates tennis. Seems really odd. Guess I'll have to read it.

Clarissa Draper said...

What a great book review. I haven't read it but it's nice to know that even celebrity are conflicted by career choices.


L. Diane Wolfe said...

I always liked him, but like most 'stars,' he's a bit messed up.

Jenny S. said...

I used to watch a lot of tennis back in the day (another Becker fan), and I didn't much care for the young Agassi. But I did come to admire his drive, and the way he could hold his own against younger opponents. I'll give the book a look!

Debra She Who Seeks said...

He's a complex and conflicted guy, no doubt about it. At least he's trying to do some good in the world now through his educational work.

Raquel Byrnes said...

Sounds like a fascinating read. I too am on the fence about this man, although that kind of drive and generosity is hard to overlook. Thanks for the review...by the way...the scuba group was the lie on my post. =)

Maryann Miller said...

It is hard to believe that he devoted so much of his life and himself to a sport he hated. That just doesn't compute for me. Did he just do it for the money?

I'm still on the fence about whether I will read the book.

Saumya said...

Oh wow, this is on my short reading list. I don't understand him either but simultaneously admire him. I can't believe he hated tennis so much; it almost makes me pity him in a way. Great post!!

Jemi Fraser said...

I'm a huge tennis fan, but I've avoided this book. I was so disappointed to hear Andre seemingly brag about his drug use and lying. So sad. I've always admired his school and his gigantic effort to help these kids, so I don't want to know the down side. Still haven't decided if I'll ever read it.

covnitkepr1 said...

I’ve enjoyed looking over your blog. I came across it through another blog I follow, and I’m glad I did. I am now a follower of yours as well. Feel free to look over my blog and perhaps become one as well.

Roland D. Yeomans said...

Just a heads-up. But don't forget the internal conflict blogfest. I look forward to reading yours, Roland

Ellie said...

I like bios; it is interesting how conflicted you are, still about this person..which makes it even more intriguing to read!

Rayna M. Iyer said...

@ Jessica - I would have thought you were too young to be a Becker fan! Most of the girls in my class were Becker fans too.

@ Mason - like they say, there is no black and white, only shades of grey. This particular person has so much grey, the book is an interesting read.
What is more interesting is watching yourself making judgements of him even while reading him.

@ KarenG - I normally stay away from autobiographies and biographies too, but every one of the books in that genre that I have read recently, I have liked. Strange!

@ Marjorie - I am not sure if he was that into drugs. The hate seemed to have started long before the crystal meth, and the crystal meth was because of the hate. But that is how he chooses to tell it, and you may well be right.

@ SueAnn - the book is worth reading, because it is weird that someone be the way he is.

@ Lisa - after reading the book, that is the impression that I got - that he always hated the game, but contined giving it his best because he did not know anything else.

@ Ann - hope you like it.

@ Jan - normally I stay away from books about celebrities too. This I picked up because it was highly recommended and I was not disappointed. And yes, he is one person who is givign a lot back.

@ Alex - that is what he keeps saying throughout the book. And I really can't understand it. If he really hated it, why did he continue? Even if he was good at it.

@ Clarissa - if there is one confused guy, it is this one! And thanks.

@ Diane - and that is putting it mildly!

@ Jenny - I never cared for him, but after watching him make comeback after comeback, I had to start admiring him grudgingly.

@ Debra - absolutely. That redeems a lot.

@ Raquel - I wouldn't have thought it would be the scuba group.

@ Maryann - quite. I would hate to do something I do not like.

@ Saumya - I do pity him. And do let me know what you think after reading the book.

@ Jemi - to be honest, it was the drug use bit that made me want to avoid the book. But he does seem to be contrite about lying about it. Though it could well be a publicity stunt.

@ covnitkepr1 - this week is madly chaotic, but I will stop by your blog soon.

@ Roland - thank you for the heads up. I will get down to reading someday

@ Ellie - that I sure am. Very very conflicted.


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