When I read Lance Allred’s brilliant autobiography a few months ago, I thought that would be the sports book I measured all others against for a while.
Lance, I love ya. But move over. The Andre Agassi book I’ve just finished, “Open” blows you and everything else out of the water.
Let me state right off that I was never an Andre Agassi fan as a tennis player. I thought he was cocky, obnoxious, and didn’t respect the game. I thought he floated by on natural talent, never worked that hard, until the middle of his career, and didn’t really love the game that much.
In this brutally honest memoir (ghost-written, it should be said, with Pulitzer Prize winner J.R. Moehringer), Agassi revealed that, well, he hated tennis his whole life. Reading the book, I can understand why. He was basically a tennis slave for his father, Mike, for most of his childhood, and never had the chance to do anything else he might like.
I was pretty pumped up a few weeks ago when I wrote about reading the excerpts from the book, but let me tell you, the crystal meth admission, which got so much attention early on, is about the 28th most interesting thing in this book.
We learn about Mike Agassi’s dreaded ball machine that tortured Andre, and the great match with NFL legend Jim Brown when Andre was 8. We learn how shy Agassi was around girls, and about how lonely and tortured he felt at the boot-camp style Nick Bollettieri tennis academy, where he was shipped once hit double-digits in age.
There’s plenty of “inside tennis” stuff for fans like me: Agassi tells a great story about notorious player Jeff Tarango cheating when both were in a junior tournament and both were under 10. There’s an “in hindsight” hilarious dismissal of Pete Sampras’ career prospects, and some serious anger Agassi felt toward Sampras (a bad tipper, we learn), Boris Becker, Jimmy Connors (a jerk to Agassi several times in his life) and Michael Chang. The book opens with an incredible passage describing Agassi’s last U.S. Open win, a 5-set thriller against Marcos Baghdatis (a match yours truly has on tape, it was so good).
But this is so much more than a tennis book. There are fabulous stories about Agassi basically stalking Steffi Graf to go out with him; about Brooke Shields’ odd behavior, and about Agassi’s remarkably devoted friend/mentor/trainer, Gil Reyes (How dedicated is Reyes? He doesn’t ever get up to go the bathroom during Agassi’s matches, lest Andre look for him in the stands and not see him).
Most of all, it’s about the maturation of a spoiled kid who hated life into a remarkable man who now runs a school that helps poor kids get to college.
I urge you, for any person in your life who likes to read, to buy the Agassi book for them. It will stay with me for a long, long time.
***So Sports Illustrated named its Sportsman of the Year Monday, and as I sadly expected, it wasn’t Roger Federer.
They went with a nice, safe, American choice, the Yankees’ Derek Jeter. Can’t say No. 2 doesn’t deserve it; he’s been a classy Yankee for 14 years, doesn’t get caught doing drugs or steroids, or beating his wife. He’s a class act and a pretty humble guy considering he’s a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame. Like with so many things in life, it all goes back to good parenting.
Still, I wish SI had given Fed the nod. It is a pretty cool cover, though.
**Finally, I know most of you have probably started your holiday shopping, but look no further for the person in your life who loves pajamas, and presidential politics.
Presenting … the Ojamas! PJ’s with the president’s face all over them. Who doesn’t want this as a holiday gift, anybody???