The extended time spent with most live sport suspended as the world grapples with the coronavirus crisis is a good time for some hobby reading.
For sports fans, the dearth of live action is a chance to explore a lesser-pursued side of the game – reading non-fiction books. In this series, we look at the books about sports and athletes that can be read during this time of physical distancing. This list serves the dual purpose of keeping us connected to the sports we love and spending time by indulging in a hobby we may not always have the time for.
‘Open – An Autobiography’ by Andre Agassi
Few autobiographies from the world of sport have gone on earn to the kind of acclaim Andre Agassi’s Open has in recent memory. The book gives a no-holes-barred account of Agassi’s childhood, the rise, the fall, and the stirring comeback of a top-level athlete as well as his relationships, rivalries, and more. Collaborating with Pulitzer-winning journalist JR Moehringer, Open released in 2009.
What it is about?
Open sheds light into Agassi’s troubled but storied life on and off the court. The American was already the toast of the world when most people his age were thinking of a college education. The eight-time Grand Slam winner made a startling revelation that he wasn’t interested in the game at all, and that he was pushed into it at a tender age (more on that later).
The now 50-year-old gets into gory details with his relationships, especially his time with Hollywood superstar Brooke Shields. He has also documented his tryst with drugs and later, his marriage to another tennis legend, Steffi Graf. Agassi’s hairstyles and on-field attire drew more attention than his game during his peak years in the 1990s. For all those who thought he was doing it to be on the covers of the biggest fashion magazines in the world, there is an interesting twist.
Of course, there is plenty of insight into the insecurities he’d grappled with as a youngster and the most interesting parts do involve the game of tennis. Agassi and compatriot Pete Sampras ruled the tennis world to the mid-to-late 1990s.
To be fair, “Pistol Pete” peak stretched into the 21st century too. The 14-time Major winner, unlike his famous rival, mostly just cared about collecting his next title. Agassi talks fondly about how he would have had a slice of Sampras’s “dullness” compared to the constant media scrutiny he battled with.
Also making its way into the book is Agassi’s heated duel with Boris Becker, the “f*****g German” who tried to mess with his head in a US Open semi-final. Agassi’s narration of a punishing 2006 US Open encounter against Marcos Baghdatis is also an episode that makes for compelling reading.
What makes it special?
“Instead of surviving, we should learn to thrive.”
“Adversity builds character.”
In these tough times globally, motivation, perhaps, is in short supply for many. While not all of us are destined to sit on top of a mountain of silverware like Agassi, there are enough life lessons along the way. Agassi draws from his own life experiences to narrate what he had witnessed as a player and a person. Agassi and Moehringer walk the tightrope of being inspirational without sounding preachy.
One can take heart from the fact that sportspeople, like every one of us, battle with their own share of inner turmoil. There are few autobiographies that go into such great detail about battling the demons in one’s head, as Agassi has in Open. It would be advisable to pick and chose here as Agassi admits that his quest for perfectionism took a toll on him. In his words, it is like “stacking the odds against yourself.”
Why you should read it?
One look at the current lot of the Indian cricketers would tell you that the modern day sportsperson lives in a highly sanitised environment; their images carefully constructed by a Public Relations machinery. The rest is left for imagination. This, despite the easy access some fans have to their heroes thanks to social media. For all their extraordinary achievements over the past two decades, it’s impossible to think Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal would write a book that would ruffle the feathers of the who’s who of the tennis world. There is a little chance that the duo, undoubtedly, the finest ambassadors across sports, would, say, talk about a love-hate relationship with a parent.
That is where the Open scores: it has something in it for non-sport lovers too. Batting great Sachin Tendulkar has often spoken about how he was madly in love with the sport that he excelled in. Agassi, meanwhile, showed disdain for the game of tennis when he started out. That the Open is such a drastic counter-narrative to the many sports autobiographies that have hit the stands is what makes it such a fascinating read.