Andre Agassi & J.R. Moehringer - Open
«Did you know that Agassi is an Iranian surname? It should be pronounced Agassì, with the stress on the last "i"».
No, I didn't know that when I was 12. But I kept that in mind, as you can read.
Now, the same fact that, back in 1994, my friend Amir (owner of an Iranian and final "i" stressed surname himself) told me something on Andre Agassi and I knew who that guy was means something.
One year before our teens, Amir and I were all but into tennis. Not that we didn't care about sports - football, basketball and even ski were among our chief interests -, but tennis was definitely not.
On the one hand, as self-proclaimed egalitarians, we looked at the racquet & ball discipline as an elitist pastime of the bourgeosie. On the other hand, the lack of a single talented Italian tennis player in the ATP circuit in those years left us with no one to cheer for.
And yet, Andre Agassi was somehow a household name for us. Why?
Did I care about stylish hairdo and weird outfits? No.
Was I a rebel? Most certainly not.
Agassi was a character. He did crazy things and the media loved or hated him for that due to the circumstances. When Agassi won, the man was a picturesque, charismatic star with the potential to revolutionize tennis for good. When Agassi lost, he became a bad model and a foul-mouthed buffoon not worthy to set foot on a tennis court.
I knew the name of Andre Agassi, but didn't pick a part.
After learning that the surname Agassi was of Iranian origin, I didn't care a bit about tennis for a couple of years. Then, at the age of 14 all this radically changed. I started reading the main tournaments results on newspapers and on teletext. I couldn't stand Sampras and Becker, the winners. I supported erratic players such as Rafter, Kuerten, Henman plus the old champ Edberg because I liked his serve and volley. Andre Agassi didn't stir positive or negative reactions in me.
What led me to follow tennis much more than I used to towards the end of the 1990s?
That's easy to say. Love. Not love for the game itself, even though I quite liked to watch the few tennis matches shown on TV (the Rome and Montecarlo Opens, the fortuitous Davis Cup final reached by the Italian male team).
Nay, love for a girl. Or so I thought at that time. Her name was the same of one of the then rising Williams sisters. She looked mysterious and unapproachable. Schoolyard rumours said she was a countess. Faced with aristocracy, my early egalitarianism went through a teenage crisis. Apart from slightly stalking the girl following her everyday on her way to our school, I did some research. You see, I desperately needed some common ground with her to start a conversation.
And I discovered she was the cousin of two professional female tennis players in the WTA circuit. Two sisters who, unlike the Williams, were far off from the best rankings, but still stayed in the top 100 for years.
To cut a long story short, I was too clumsy at that time to win a single point with my beloved girl. And when I managed to drag my possible countess on an actual tennis court, I played so badly that all I recall of that morning is my double faults. No metaphors involved. We played tennis. I was hopeless. Out.
Not so Andre Agassi. Even though the hairy bald man states umpteen times that he "hates" tennis in this book, he was a talent in the game.
He started winning local tournaments well before his teenage years and became an international sensation reaching number 3 in the world ranking at the age of 18.
The best part of Open is when Agassi and his Pullitzer-prized ghost writer J.R. Moehringer recount the early years of the champion. That crazy father of Andre torturing his son by the means of a self-built tennis balls shooting machine. The oddities of the Agassi family. Young Andre humiliating adults on a tennis court and being either mocked or patronized by the likes of John McEnroe and Ilie Nastase.
And, above all, it shines the time Agassi spent at the infamous Bollettieri Academy where the pygmalion of scores of tennis stars created the tennis equivalent of a Victorian mill. I believe Agassi and Moehringer exaggerated some details of life at the Bollettieri Academy, but reading those pages was highly entertaining. The antics of Mr Agassi himself and of, say, Jim Courier were priceless.
Less compelling were Agassi's late years in the ATP circuit, when he starts complaining about his back, his sentimental life, his unfair opponents, etc. I appreciate the man wants to show us how fragile he actually is, but he does that with too much victimism for my liking.
Let's face it, just like this review of mine, Open is a narcissistic accomplishment. Whatever Andre Agassi does in this book, the reader has to be on his side, no matter how wrong that is.
When Mr Agassi breaks the speed limits on his Corvette it's always for a good reason (charity, love, etc.). When Mr Agassi takes drugs or drinks too much it's because others took advantage of his trust and shattered feelings. When Mr Agassi loses a match with a low ranked player it's always because Andre is not focused on tennis, or injured or DECIDES to lose on purpose. I mean, get over yourself man!
And yet, Open is an engaging book. I was brought to the tennis courts where Agassi's career took its turning points for bad or for good. And the way Andre A. tells us what he had in his mind while playing those matches is fascinating although a bit unnatural.
Once a woman asked Louis Armstrong what he thought about as he played the trumpet. And Armstrong answered: "Lady, if I told you, your mind would explode".
Your minds will not explode after learning what Agassi thought when he played, but they will certainly have something to think about. Tiebreak.