I realised that, in case of certain of certain books, I don’t read them as much as devour them. I started reading Andre Agassi’s “Open” yesterday at 7pm. I think I finished it a little after 1am. Now here’s the catch: I didn’t read it in one sitting because it’s brilliantly written. “Open” isn’t brilliant and, like all autobiographies, it’s a bit manipulative and there are a few lines here and there that feel about as heartfelt as a Miss Universe-contestant’s wish for world peace. For the most part, however, it sounds like Agassi talking to the reader, and that’s why I had to read it in one sitting. You can’t just get up and leave in the middle of a conversation where a guy is pouring out his heart and soul to you, can you?
Agassi’s admission that he snorted crystal meth and lied to the ATP is what made “Open” reach the headlines. If I was Brooke Shields, however, I’d be making a voodoo doll because Agassi writes her as a vacuous, narcissist who can’t think beyond appearances. It’s such a cliché of the actress that one figures it must be true because surely J.R. Moehringer — who turned audio tapes of Agassi talking into this book — wouldn’t succumb to this stereotype otherwise. But it’s not Agassi’s revelations of his partying and his relationships with people like Barbara Streisand, Pete Sampras, Boris Becker and, of course, Shields that make “Open” an incredibly fun read. There are enough honest opinions in there; like, for example, his tooth-grinding dislike of Michael Chang, the fact that he (and the rest of the world) thought Pete Sampras was boring, and that Agassi hates Jimmy Connors. But it’s Agassi’s voice, which Moehringer either created or managed to manifest in words beautifully, that makes “Open” so much fun. What makes the book delightful is stuff like Agassi’s disintegrating hairpiece (he had a hairpiece!), his talking to himself in the shower or desperately wishing he could stop peeing so that he can go to say an apparently casual hello to Steffi Graf. Not to mention the near-fistfight that Andre Agassi manages to avoid by wedging himself like a burger patty between the burger buns that were his father and soon-to-be father in-law. The way Graf pops up across the book is just adorable and hilarious, like when Brooke Shields gets on a rigorous exercise routine to get perfect legs for her wedding dress and puts up a picture of Graf to motivate her. The Agassi-Graf love story is, predictably, one of the sweetest bits in “Open”. Just in case you were wondering, it all starts with the basics that many of us will never have: he can’t get over how beautiful she is and the reason she finally notices him is when he takes his shirt off to practice with her.
Unsurprisingly, the best bits of the book are the descriptions of various matches. It’s a testament to Agassi and Moehringer that they manage to take the actions and turn them into something so evocative and dynamic that you can actually play the match in your head. I say “play” because I’m not really a tennis buff so I haven’t seen most of these matches, which means it can’t be a replay. During Agassi’s brief school education (he only studied till eighth grade), English was one of his best subjects and others in the class actually begged him to do their poetry homework. I’m not so sure about Agassi’s poetry skills but the way he speaks in “Open” is delightfully engaging. Perhaps the credit for this goes to Moehringer but between the two of them, they’ve managed to create a character who is fun and yet terribly desperate because for all his talent, Agassi hates tennis and his body is eminently unsuitable for the game’s rigours but it’s all he can do because he never got past eighth grade and he got hooked to the life of a tennis player. That’s the addiction in the book, not crystal meth.