Open
by Andre Agassi
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From Andre Agassi, one of the most beloved athletes in history and one of the
most gifted men ever to step onto a tennis court, a beautiful, ...

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Francesca PiazzaFrancesca Piazza wrote a review
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Cri1967Cri1967 wrote a review
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André Agassi is compelled to write. He is obsessed with leaving a record, in part because he has developed a gnawing fear that he wouldn’t have been around long enough for his children Jaden and Jaz to know him . He lives on airplanes, and with the world becoming more dangerous, more unpredictable, he fears that he won’t be able to tell Jaden and Jaz all that he has seen and learned. So every night, wherever he was , he wrote few lines to them. Random thoughts, impressions, lessons learned.
He hopes he and his sister feel that same pride in this book ten years from now, and thirty, and sixty. This book is written for them, but also to them. He hopes it helps them avoid some of the traps he walked right into. More, he hopes it will be one of many books that give them comfort, guidance, pleasure. He was late in discovering the magic of books. Of all his many mistakes that he wants his children to avoid, he puts that one near the top of the list.
Life for Agassi is a tennis match between polar opposites. Winning and losing, love and hate, open and closed. It helps to recognize that painful fact early.
Then recognize the polar opposites within yourself, and if you can’t embrace them, or reconcile them, at least accept them and move on. The only thing you cannot do is ignore them.
Tennis is the sport in which you talk to yourself. No athletes talk to themselves like tennis players. Pitchers, golfers, goalkeepers, they mutter to themselves, of course, but tennis players talk to themselves—and answer.
Why? Because tennis is so damned lonely. Only boxers can understand the loneliness of tennis players—and yet boxers have their corner men and managers. Even a boxer’s opponent provides a kind of companionship, someone he can grapple with and grunt at. In tennis you stand face-to-face with the enemy, trade blows with him, but never touch him or talk to him, or anyone else. The rules forbid a tennis player from even talking to his coach while on the court.
In tennis you’re on an island.
Agassi won 869 matches in his career, fifth on the all-time list, and many were won during the afternoon shower.
He recalls particular wins. Not wins the fans would ha remember, but wins that still wake me at night. Then he recalls a few losses.
Tennis is about degrees of aggression.
One thing he learned in twenty-nine years of playing tennis: Life will throw everything but the kitchen sink in your path, and then it will throw the kitchen sink. It’s your job to avoid the obstacles. If you let them stop you or distract you, you’re not doing your job, and failing to do your job will cause regrets that paralyze you more than a bad back.
He thinks, that tennis uses the language of life. Advantage, service, fault, break, love, the basic elements of tennis are those of everyday existence, because every match is a life in miniature. Even the structure of tennis, the way the pieces fit inside one another like Russian nesting dolls, mimics the structure of our days. Points become games become sets become tournaments, and it’s all so tightly connected that any point can become the turning point. It reminds him of the way seconds become minutes become hours, and any hour can be our finest. Or darkest. It’s our choice.
But if tennis is life, then what follows tennis must be the unknowable void. The thought makes him cold.
He is seven years old talking to himself, because he is scared, and because he is the only person who listens to him. Under his breath he whispers: Just quit, Andre, just give up. Put down your racket and walk off this court, right now. Go into the house and get something good to eat. Play with Rita, Philly, or Tami. Sit with Mom while she knits or does her jigsaw puzzle.

Doesn’t that sound nice? Wouldn’t that feel like heaven, Andre? To just quit? To never play tennis again?
But he can’t. Not only would his father chase him around the house with his racket, but something in his gut, some deep unseen muscle, won’t let him. He hates tennis, hate sit with all his heart, and still he keeps playing, keeps hitting all morning, and all afternoon, because he has no choice. No matter how much he wants to stop, he doesn’t. He keeps begging himself to stop, and he keeps playing, and this gap, this contradiction between what he wants to do and what he actually does, feels like the core of his life.
His father has deliberately made the dragon fearsome. He’s given it an extra-long neck of aluminum tubing, and a narrow aluminum head, which recoils like a whip every time the dragon fires. He’s also set the dragon on a base several feet high, and moved it flush against the net, so the dragon towers above me. At seven years old Andre is small for his age. But when standing before the dragon, he looks tiny. Feel tiny. Helpless.
His father wants the dragon to tower over me not simply because it commands his attention and respect. He wants the balls that shoot from the dragon’s mouth to land at his feet as if dropped from an airplane. He needs to hit every ball on the rise, or else it will bounce over his head. But even that’s not enough for his father. Hit earlier, he yells. Hit earlier.
His father yells everything twice, sometimes three times, sometimes ten. Harder, he says, harder.
He yells directly into his ear , he stays behind Andre . He rarely sees him, only hear him, day and night, yelling in his ear.
Though he hates tennis, he likes the feeling of hitting a ball dead perfect. It’s the only peace. When he does something perfect, Andre enjoys a split second of sanity and calm.


He wonders why his father loves tennis. Yet another question he can’t ask him directly. Still, he drops clues. He talks sometimes about the beauty of the game, its perfect balance of power and strategy. Despite his imperfect life—or maybe because of it— his father craves perfection.
Andre understands that in his my own struggles with fear and perfectionism, he was losing more than he won.
When you chase perfection, when you make perfection the ultimate goal, do you know what you’re doing? You’re chasing something that doesn’t exist. You’re making everyone around you miserable. You’re making yourself miserable. Perfection? There’s about five times a year you wake up perfect, when you can’t lose to anybody, but it’s not those five times a year that make a tennis player. Or a human being, for that matter. It’s the other times. It’s all about your head, man. With your talent, if you’re fifty percent game-wise, but ninety-five percent head- wise, you’re going to win.
Perfectionism is something he chose, and it’s ruining him, and he can choose something else. He must choose something else. No one has ever said this to him . He has always assumed perfectionism was like his thinning hair or his thickened spinal cord. An inborn part of him.
Agassi was born April 29, 1970, at Sunrise Hospital, two miles from the Strip. His father named him Andre Kirk Agassi, after his bosses at the casino where he worked . He asked his mother why my father named him after his bosses. Were they friends? Did he admire them? Did he owe them money? She didn’t know. And it’s not the kind of question he could can ask his father directly. He couldn’t ask his father anything directly.
His mother told him that when Andre was still in the crib, his father hung a mobile of tennis balls above his head and encouraged him to slap at them with a ping-pong paddle he’d taped to my hand.
When he was three he gave him a sawed-off racket and told me to hit whatever I wanted.
When I was four he had him hitting with tennis greats who passed through town, beginning with Jimmy Connors. My father told him that Connors was one of the finest to ever play. When they finished hitting, Connors told his father that Andre was sure to become very good.
But he wasn’t seeking Connors’s confirmation. He was seeking someone who could give me a game.
That’s why his father gives him most of his attention. He was the last best hope of the Agassi clan.
Violent by nature, his father is forever preparing for battle.
Such moments, and many more, come to mind whenever Andre thinks about telling his father that he doesn’t want to play tennis. Besides loving his father, and wanting to please him, he doesn’t want to upset him. He doesn’t dare. Bad stuff happens when his father is upset. If he says he is going to play tennis, if he says he is going to be number one in the world, that it’s his destiny, all he can do is nod and obey.
He has internalized his father—his impatience, his perfectionism, his rage—until his voice doesn’t just feel like his own, it is hi own.
His father is an Armenian, born in Iran, he speaks five languages, none of them well, and his English is heavily accented.
But above all this man didn’t realize that Andre is the most defenseless creature in this godforsaken desert.
His father decided that his brother Philly was a born loser when Philly was about his age, playing nationals. Philly didn’t just lose; he didn’t argue when his opponents cheated him, which made my father turn bright red and scream curses in Assyrian from the bleachers.
Andre has a different mentality than Philly says his father .
He got all the talent, all the fire—and the luck. He was born with a horseshoe up his ass.
He says this once a day. Sometimes he says it with conviction, sometimes admiration—sometimes envy.
But growing up Andre understands that his father had an unhappiness sad and lonely past, his grandma was put on earth, to harass his father.
She makes his father miserable. He says she nagged him when he was a boy and often beat him. When he was extra bad, she made him wear hand-me-down girl clothes to school. That’s why he learned to fight and to become a boxer.
They slept on the dirt floor! All of them in one tiny room! In an old apartment house built around a filthy courtyard. In one corner of the courtyard was a hole—that was the toilet for all the tenants.
Things got better after the war.
After seeing a bit of the world, after being an Olympian, his father couldn’t return to that same single room with the dirt floor, so he snuck out of Iran. He doctored his passport and booked a flight under an assumed name to New York City, where he spent sixteen days on Ellis Island, then took a bus to Chicago, where he Americanized his name. Emmanuel became Mike Agassi. By day he worked as an elevator operator at one of the city’s grand hotels. By night he boxed.
He won the Chicago Golden Gloves, then earned a prime-time fight at Madison Square Garden. His big break. But on fight night his father’s opponent fell ill Mike Agassi agreed to the fight, but moments before the opening bell he got the shakes. He ducked into a bathroom, crawled out the window above the toilet, then took the train back to Chicago.
A sort of rebellion to his fear. Like the rebellion of Andre when he was a teen ager.
Andre get to choose every day rebellion , and this rebellion comes with the added bonus that it represents a neat little fuck-you to his father, who’s always hated earrings on men. Many times he has heard his father say that earrings equal homosexuality. He couldn’t wait for him to see his.
The worse he does in school, the more he rebels. He drinks, he smokes pot, he acts like an ass.
He has mutilated his hair, grown his nails, including one pinky nail that’s two inches long and painted fire-engine red. He has pierced has body, broken rules, busted curfew, picked fistfights, thrown tantrums, cut classes, even slipped into the girls’ barracks after hours. He has consumed gallons of whiskey, often while sitting brazenly atop his bunk, and as an extra dash of audacity he has built a pyramid from my dead soldiers. A three-foot tower of empty Jack Daniel’s bottles. He chews tobacco, hardcore weed like Skoal and Kodiak, soaked in whiskey. After losses he sticks a plum-sized wad of chew inside my cheek. The bigger the loss, the bigger the wad. What rebellion is left? What new sin can he commit to show the world he is unhappy and want to go home from Nick Bollettieri's Tennis Academy where his father obliged him to stay ?
The better he gets at tennis , the worse he gets at school, which pains him . He likes books, but feels overmatched by them. He likes my teachers, but doesn’t understand much of what they say. He doesn’t seem to learn or process facts the way other kids do. He has a steel-trap memory, but trouble concentrating He needs things explained twice, three times.

Maybe that’s why my father yells everything twice?
His father disturbs the peace, his mother keeps it. Every morning she goes to the office—she works for the State of Nevada—in her sensible pantsuit, and every night she comes home at six, bone tired, not uttering one word of complaint. With her last speck of energy she cooks dinner. Then she lies down with her pets and a book, or her favorite: a jigsaw puzzle.
Only every great once in a while does she lose her temper, and when she does, it’s epic.
He thinks there is so much about her that he can’t understand, and it all seems to flow from her choice of a husband.
But when his mother has gotten a diagnosis of breast cancer, together with his sister Tami, Andre sees she wants him to know that she’s stronger than he suspected. She’s getting her treatments, not complaining, and if she takes pride in this, if she wants him to be proud, she also wants him to know he is made of the
same stuff. She survived his father, as did he. She’ll survive this, and he will too.
And above all he will understands that his father loves him and he is proud of his career.
Also, he knows that his father resents every moment he spends in school; it comes at the cost of court time. Disliking school, therefore, doing poorly in school, feels like loyalty to Pops.
His English teacher is her only advocate.
She even arranges an IQ test and the results confirm her opinion.
But Andre is tired all the time from playing tennis, and distracted by the pressure of tournaments and so-called challenges. Especially the challenges.
He doesn’t tell her everything, because he can’t. He’d feel like a sissy talking about his fear of school, the countless times he sits in class drenched in sweat. He can’t tell her about his trouble concentrating, his horror of being called on, how this horror sometimes morphs into an air bubble in his lower intestine, which grows and grows until he need to run to the bathroom.
Between classes he is often locked in a toilet stall.
School was always a place he managed to escape, not a thing to be treasured.
An when he becomes famous and rich he helps his friend’s children and he puts aside a nest egg of Nike stock in Frankie’s name.
The look on his face is a complete shock for Andre. He didn’t understand the meaning and value of education, the hardship and stress it causes most parents and children. He has never thought of education like that.
Helping Frankie provides more satisfaction and makes him feel more connected and alive than anything else that happens in 1996. He tells himself: Remember this. Hold on to this. This is the only perfection there is, the perfection of helping others. This is the only thing we can do that has any lasting value or meaning. This is why we’re here. To make each other feel safe.
He is financially able to think larger, to widen his lens, and in 1997, though he has hit rock bottom, or because he has hit rock bottom, he is ready.
His primary concern is children at risk. Adults can always ask for help, but children are voiceless, powerless. So the first project his foundation undertakes is a shelter for abused and neglected children who’ve been placed in the protective custody of the courts. The shelter includes a cottage for medically fragile children, and a makeshift school. Next we launch a program to clothe three thousand inner-city children each year. Then a series of scholarships to UNLV. Then a Boys and Girls Club.
He spends many carefree hours at the new Boys and Girls Club, meeting children, listening to their stories. He takes them onto the tennis court, teach them the proper grip, watch their eyes sparkle because they’ve never held a racket before. He sits with them in the computer room, where the demand for online time is so great that they stand in long lines, patiently waiting their turn. It shocks him , pains him, to see how resolved they are to learn. Other times he simply stations him self in the rec center of the Boys and Girls Club, playing ping-pong with the children. he never walks into that rec center without thinking of the rec center at the Bollettieri Academy, where he was so scared that first night, his back against the wall. The memory makes him want to adopt every scared child he sees.
He and his team build something unique. Special. And is spreads like wildfire. A model for charter schools around the nation. It can change education as we know it.
His friend Perry and Andre build the best charter school in America. They hire the best teachers, pay them well, and hold them accountable for grades and test scores. They show the world what can be done when you set standards outrageously high and open the purse strings.
At last his fame has a purpose.
He goes on playing for his family, his charitable foundation, his school.
Now his family is Steffy Graff and their children.
He has had a crush on Steffi since he first saw her doing an interview on French TV. He was thunderstruck, dazzled by her understated grace, her effortless beauty. She looked, somehow, as if she smelled good. Also, as if she was good, fundamentally, essentially, inherently good, brimming with moral rectitude and a kind of dignity that doesn’t exist anymore. He thought he saw, for half a second, a halo above her head.
Steffi Graf. It’s destiny they end up together. Only two people in the history of the world have won all four slams and a gold medal—Andre and Steffi Graf. The Golden Slam.
It’s destiny that they should be married.
But before Steffi there was another girl Wendi. Andre and Wendi were a perfect match, because they grew up together, and they figured they could keep growing up together.
She travelled with him, took care of him. They came from the same place, wanted the same things. They loved each other madly, though they agreed that their should be an open relationship—her word.
But one day, she understood that they were too young to make a commitment, too confused. She didn’t know who she was . She grew up Mormon, then decided she didn’t believe the tenets of that religion. She went to college, then discovered that it was the completely wrong college for her.

Until she knows who she is, she says, she can’t give herself to me completely.

And the loss leaves a scar.

After Wendi, Andre meets and marries Brooke Shields, but is Ws already written in the stars that Steffi and Andre would have been together for the rest of their life.

Astonished, I stare at the photo. I reach out and touch the frame.
Is that—?
Yep, Brooke says. Steffi Graf.



The love story between Andre and Brooke begins with faxes back and forth, a long-distance correspondence with a woman he had never met. What begins oddly becomes progressively more odd. The pace of the conversation is outrageously slow, and this suit them both—neither of them is in any hurry. But the enormous geographical distance also led us to quickly let down their guard. They segue within a few faxes from innocent flirting to innermost secrets. Within a few days their faxes take on a tone of fondness, then intimacy. He feels as if he was going steady with this woman he has never met or spoken to.
When they meet, they discover that, despite their outwardly different lives, they share similar starting points.
So he stopped phoning Barbra Streisand who was a fan of Andre.
After his victory at Wimbledon in 1992, Barbra Streisand invited him weeks to a small get-together at her ranch in Malibu.
Andre remembers that she was clearly petrified about performing in front of other people. Not five minutes later, however, she let fly a few bars. The sound filled the room from the rafters to the floorboards. Everyone stopped talking. Glasses shook. Flatware rattled. The bones in his ribs and wrist vibrated. He couldn’t believe that a human being was capable of producing that much sound, that a human voice could pervade every square inch of a room.
From that moment he was even more intrigued by Barbra. The idea that she possessed such a devastating instrument, such a powerful talent, and couldn’t use it freely, for pleasure, was fascinating. And familiar. And depressing. They met soon after that day. She invited him to the ranch. They shared a pizza and talked for hours, discovering many things in common. She was a tortured perfectionist who hated doing something at which she excelled. And yet, despite years of semiretirement, despite all her self-doubts and nagging fears, she admitted that she was pondering a comeback to the concert stage. Andre urged her to do it. He told her it was wrong to deprive the world of that voice, that astonishing voice. Above all, he told her that it would be dangerous to surrender to fear. Fears are like gateway drugs, he said. You give in to a small one, and soon you’re giving in to bigger ones. So what if she didn’t want to perform? She had to.
Naturally he felt like a hypocrite every time he said this to Barbra. In his own struggles with fear and perfectionism, he was losing more than he won. He talked to her the way I talked to reporters: he told her things he knew to be true, and things he hoped to be true, most of which he couldn’t bring himself to fully believe and act on.
More often than not, Barbra and he laugh at the shock and scandal our dates cause. They agreed that they were good for each other, and so what if she’s twenty-eight years older? They were simpatico, and the public outcry only added spice to their connection. It made their friendship feel forbidden, taboo—another piece of Andre’s overall rebellion. Dating Barbra Streisand was like wearing Hot Lava at the tennis court.
But fame is a force, like money.
His father loves money, makes no apologies for loving it, and he says there’s good money to be made in tennis. Clearly this is one big part of his love for tennis.
Brooke knows what it’s like to grow up with a brash, ambitious, abrasive stage parent. Her mother has been her manager since Brooke was eleven months old. The difference: her mother still manages her. And they’re nearly broke, because Brooke’s career is slumping.
Brooke, however, doesn’t seem to notice and understand the work he did in Gil’s gym, and she doesn’t try to understand. She’s more interested in where we’re going to eat next, which wine cellar we’re going to explore. She takes it for granted that Andre is going to win, and she wishes he’d hurry up and do it, so they can have fun.
So at a certain point of their life, they understand, they are not on the same frequency. They don’t have the same bandwidth.
She accuses him of refusing to participate in her world. She says he is not open to new experiences, new people. He is not interested in meeting her friends. He could be rubbing elbows every night with geniuses—writers, artists, actors, musicians, directors. He could be attending art gallery openings, world premieres, new plays, private screenings. But all he wants to do is stay home, watch TV, and maybe, just maybe, if I’m feeling social, have J.P. and Joni over for dinner.

Standing, turning from the mirror, she says: Andre, I consider you a rose among thorns.
A rose among—?
An innocent, surrounded by people who are bleeding you dry.
I’m not so innocent. And those thorns have helped me since I was a boy. Those thorns have saved my life.
They’re holding you back, she says. They’re keeping you from growing. From evolving. You’re unevolved, Andre.

They divorced.

But now at the age of thirty six, Andre is
not the boy who started this odyssey.
He understands he needs to respect tennis because only respecting tennis he respects himself.
It is time to change.

You can’t go on like this. Change, change, change—I say this word to myself several times a day, every day, the idea that I must change completely, from top to bottom, brings me back to center.

Decisions, especially bad ones, create their own kind of momentum, and momentum can be a bitch to stop, as every athlete knows. Even when we vow to change, even when we sorrow and atone for our mistakes, the momentum of our past keeps carrying us down the wrong road. Momentum rules the world.

Momentum says: Hold on, not so fast, I’m still running things here. As a friend likes to say, quoting an old Greek poem: The minds of the everlasting gods are not changed suddenly.

He is like a tennis racket on which he has replaced the grip four times and the strings seven times—is it accurate to call it the same racket? Somewhere in those eyes, however, he can still vaguely see the boy who didn’t want to play tennis in the first place, the boy who wanted to quit, the boy who did quit many times. He sees that golden-haired boy who hated tennis, and he wonders how he would view this bald man, who still hates tennis and yet still plays. Would he be shocked? Amused? Proud?
Certainly he was proud to meet Nelson Mandela.
He always remembers about something Mandela said once in an interview:
No matter where you are in life, there is always more journey ahead. I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.
His meeting with Mandela makes Andre conscious that everything is going to be different. He is going to be different.
He is the captain of his fate.
Looking at Mandela’s eyes, though damaged by years of working in the harsh glare of the prison’s lime quarry, he sees wisdom, something out, something essential.
Mandela believes that we must all care for one another—this is our task in life. But also we must care for ourselves, which means we must be careful in our decisions, careful in our relationships, careful in our statements. We must manage our lives carefully, in order to avoid becoming victims. And Andre feels as if he’s speaking directly to him, as if he’s aware that he has been careless with his talent and his health.
Mandela affirms that racism, not just in South Africa but around the world, it is nothing but ignorance, he says, and education is the only remedy. In prison, Mandela spent his few free hours educating himself. He created a kind of university, and he and his fellow prisoners were professors to each other. He survived the loneliness of constant confinement by reading; he especially loved Tolstoy. One of the harshest punishments his guards devised was taking away his right to study for four years. Again his words seem to shimmer with personal relevance. Andre thinks of the work his friend Perry have undertaken in Vegas, our charter school, and he feels invigorated.
Life is a long journey and there is clarity and nobility in just being a journeyer.
Every journey is important, and that no journey is impossible.
Andre realizes he is pointed in the right direction.
He realizes that he had never before had a chance to realize the strength human beings have, to endure; he loves and reveres all those who suffer, even those who have failed to endure.
He is more nearly a grown member of the human race. Now he is more nearly a grown member of the human race.

I look around, and I can actually hear the sound of children in the future, laughing and playing and asking questions. I can feel the procession of lives that will cross this spot, and go forward from this spot.


PatrickPatrick wrote a review
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one of the best sport autobiography
Just finished reading this great book! Some of the reviews in Amazon.co.uk said this may be the best sport autobiography of all time. I think Andre Agassi truly opened his tennis life and inner self to the readers. Covered his high and low; sweet and bitterness, I will recommend this for all tennis fans. Agassi had revealed his mind of several important matches in his career. You’re almost like watching the game in the court again. They are brilliantly written.

There are some quotes that I would like to share:
“It’s no accident, I think, that tennis uses the language of life. Advantage, service, fault, Break, love, the basic elements of tennis are those of everyday existence, because every match is a life of miniature.”
“I won’t let myself down the way others have. It’s up to me to change the course of my future and I will never give up.”
Pat.LaLiberaPat.LaLibera wrote a review
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