Andre Agassi, Open; An Autobiography (New York: Knopf, 2009), 388pp.
Many people remember Andre Agassi as one of the greatest tennis players ever. Across twenty-nine years of competition he won 869 matches, placing him fifth on the all-time list for wins. What most people don't know, and what his candid autobiography reveals, is that he hated tennis from the beginning. He had good reasons. Agassi's father, a former Olympic boxer, epitomized the tyrannical father who was physically and psychologically abusive, firing tennis balls at 110 miles per hour at his little boy from a machine called "the dragon." When the son faltered, the father ranted and screamed. "This contradiction between what I want to do and what I actually do feels like the core of my life."
While many people also remember Agassi as the bad boy of tennis, flaunting his colored mowhawks and pierced ears, it's easy to empathize with him when he writes that he's spent half his life "as a stranger to myself." In this book we catch a glimpse of him trying to solve the "calculus of my psyche." That cannot have been easy. His father determined that if his little boy hit 2,500 balls a day from the dragon, he'd hit 17,500 balls a week, making about a million a year. When Agassi reached the seventh grade his father shipped him from his home in Las Vegas to a tennis boarding academy in Florida. It might have been the one place Agassi hated more than his father's drills. Naturally, as a normal human being, the young teenager internalized and then acted out his father's rage and violence. He was such a misfit that he quit school forever at the end of the eighth grade.
Agassi is lucky that by age sixteen he was good enough to turn pro and make millions. The day after he turned pro Nike called. He was also lucky to form a team around him that kept him pointed in the right direction, including his older brother Philly, a boyhood best friend Perry, a surrogate father named Gil who was his trainer, a pastor, and several coaches. As you would expect, Agassi's autobiography catalogues many of his memorable matches, the many famous people he met (Barbra Streisand) and married (Brooke Shields, Steffi Graf), and his drug abuse. But this story has a good ending, unlike so many stories of sports stars. In 2001 Agassi opened the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy in his home town of Las Vegas. Since then he's raised $85 million for the school in order to serve underprivileged children. Not bad for a guy who never went to high school.