Open: An Autobiography
Andre Agassi – 2009
Occasionally, someone comes along who does things differently and brings something new to the table. Some of those people have a drive to be different, stand out, take the stage, and enjoy the lights. Sometimes we reject those people because we prefer the familiar, the norm. We don’t easily accept “different” because it forces us to accept something new, like when an employee has a new idea at work but is told, “That’s just not how we do things around here.”
But sometimes the “different” is packaged the right way or has an unusual or unique element that is interesting enough to grab enough people, and enough of us sit up and take notice. From that point on, everything changes, whether we like it or not. That’s what happened when Andre Agassi collided with tennis, exactly as his father had planned.
Agassi was literally destined to play tennis before he was even born. Emmanuel Agassi attempted to first turn Andre’s older brother Philip into a tennis star, but he admittedly didn’t have enough of a killer instinct to finish off opponents. That left Andre, who was often taken to a tennis court instead of school, which is partly why he never graduated high school. Instead of facing teachers and homework, he faced The Dragon – a homemade tennis ball machine his father fired at him over 2,000 times a day.
Overbearing parents and demanding workouts are common chapters in success stories. What is not common is for someone who suffered to those things to come out on the other side as contrite, introspective, and pleasant as Agassi appears in his very accurately titled book Open: An Autobiography.
If you remember this commercial, “contrite” does not come to mind:
Filming and photography were wrapping up when the director asked Agassi to lower his sunglasses and spout the words that would haunt him: “Image is everything.” It perpetuated the bratty reputation, not undeserved, and sent him into a financially rewarding but mentally laborious future as a tennis star.
Agassi admits his responsibility for his rebelliousness and failed relationships, but those failures all seem to connect to the original failed relationship at the strong, angry hands of his father. When Agassi was using earrings, Mohawks, and Jack Daniels to piss off people at the Nick Bollittieri Tennis Academy in Florida, where his father sent him after seeing a segment about it on 60 Minutes, his rebellion was influenced by and aimed more at his father, not so much his tennis coach. Agassi’s life was a bit out of control and wasn’t getting better, not until he got smart.
A sign of intelligence is not always what you know. It’s also an awareness of what you don’t know and the steps you take to learn, which shows how smart Agassi is. He enlisted the help of a pastor named JP who kept Agassi grounded with a spiritual foundation. He convinced Gil Reyes, a strength and conditioning coach at the University of Las Vegas, to leave working with college students and to work strictly for him. Reyes took control of Agassi’s training and conditioning with a disciplined plan for exercise, weightlifting, and dieting. This added power, stamina, and a mental framework to his brilliant but misguided tennis skills. After parting with his coach Bollittieri, he brought former tennis pro Brad Gilbert on board to provide direction and strategy to his tennis game. This triad was the formula he needed to eventually become an 8-time Grand Slam champion, Davis Cup champion, Olympic champion, and International Tennis Hall of Fame member.
Open, like a good tennis player, is well balanced between his personal and professional life. It’s honest and compelling but without going too far, which is something Agassi admits to having done quite often both on and off the court. He admits to using drugs and hurling explicit and rude insults court officials that resulted in fines and disqualifications. But he doesn’t admit, nor should he, intimate details about his relationships with ex-wife Brooke Shields or former girlfriend Barbra Streisand.
It’s amazing that someone who through no fault of their own didn’t get past ninth grade not only shows so much intelligence but also invests millions of his own money in a charter school for underprivileged kids in the Las Vegas area. His dedication and desire to help those who can’t help themselves proves that a formal education can sometimes be less important than your own instincts and ability to learn from your mistakes.
Agassi made plenty of mistakes and learned plenty of things. You will too when you read Open.