Today’s the third time I played tennis since we moved into our new place sixteen days ago. For me, that’s a lot of tennis. If I were to guess, I’d say I’ve played the game maybe fifty times. In my entire life.
I should probably also clarify that when I say I’ve “played tennis” fifty times I actually mean I just swing at the ball and hope I make contact (getting it over the net and in bounds is just a bonus). I don’t actually know how to play play. I can’t serve (it feels super awkward to me), I don’t know how to score and I’m pretty sure the ball is anywhere BUT my racquet’s sweet spot on all but maybe one percent of my forehand returns.
At least when I do manage to get the ball over to my opponent (can you still call the other player that when you’re not actually playing?) I’m surprisingly accurate, ridiculous as my swing may look and however awful my form. But, more importantly, I actually like playing. Unlike running. Running is horrible.
I’m generally not into biographies (auto or otherwise), but I’d heard good things about the book so I figured I’d give it a go.
I’ll admit that when I first got a look at how big the book was, I didn’t think I’d finish it. Four hundred pages talking about tennis? Yikes. That’s quite the time commitment, I didn’t think I’d care. Plus, it’s not like I’ve always been a huge Agassi or tennis fan. Sure, I knew who Agassi was from back in the day, but it’s not like I really watched him – or anyone else – play.
So it was with some reservations that I began reading. But after just one chapter, I was hooked.
Since there were 400 pages, Agassi obviously covered a lot of ground. But there were just a handful of things I liked most.
It Was Raw
The first thing I noticed about the book is how unusually raw and honest he was about his life. He didn’t seem to hold much back. I know the book is called Open and all, but I didn’t expect it to be so soul-baring. His stories are full of so much pain – mental and physical – and you can’t help but to feel for the guy.
It Was Well Written
Agassi is an athlete not a professional writer or author, so I didn’t exactly have the highest expectations when it came to how well written the book would be. But I have to say, I was really impressed. The words flowed naturally and it was a really easy and entertaining read. I also enjoyed the unique way the book was composed (for example, he never used quotation marks for dialog) and I looked forward to reading it every night before bed. I finished the whole thing in a week.
I later learned that even though it’s just Agassi’s name on the book cover, he worked very closely with an established writer and author, J.R. Moehringer. Agassi had read Moehringer’s own memoir and liked the style so much he asked Moehringer to help him write his own. Moehringer agreed and even moved to Las Vegas where Agassi lived to work closely with him on the book.
It Was A Team Effort
This is the first and only sports (auto)biography I’ve read, so I have nothing to compare it to. But what struck me about Agassi is how important his team was to his success. While he talks about tennis being one of the loneliest sports, off of the court he made sure to surround himself with people who not only kicked ass at their jobs (like coaching and training) but were there to provide emotional support when he needed it.
Quotes from the Book
There are handful of passages in the book I particularly liked and thought applied to life in general. So I wanted to share those with you, too.
Here are a couple from Agassi’s coach:
“You try to hit a winner on every ball, when just being steady, consistent, meat and potatoes, would be enough to win ninety percent of the time.”
“Quit going for the knockout, he says. Stop swinging for the fences. All you have to be is solid.”
And here’s what Agassi said he talked about with Nelson Mandela when they met:
“Mandela talks about the road he’s traveled. He talks about the difficulty of all human journeys – and yet, he says, there is clarity and nobility in just being a journeyer… Mandela is saying every journey is important, and that no journey is impossible.”
Open felt more real than I ever expected it to be, and as I read it I almost felt as if I was intruding on Agassi’s intimate thoughts, creeping into his psyche. The way he wrote the book made me feel as if I was with him during his ups and downs, his wins and struggles. I found it fascinating to peer into the mind of an accomplished athlete, seeing the steps he took to get where he did.
Even though I don’t consider myself a tennis person, I really enjoyed the book. The tennis-y stuff wasn’t too tennis-y and there were plenty of real-life stories to keep me reading. Maybe I’ll even learn to play tennis properly one of these days.