World Number One tennis player for 101 weeks. Winner of 8 Grand Slams. The First American to complete a career grand slam. The first male to win all four different slams on three different surfaces. Gold medal winner in the 1996 Olympics. Three time Davis Cup winner. Oldest male to be ranked Number One.
And yet there is so much more to Andre Agassi. His phenomenal achievements not withstanding, much of what made Agassi so popular during his career was his rebellious, charismatic attitude. This was a man who wore outrageous clothes on court, was known for his earrings and ponytail and boycotted Wimbledon for years as he hated the dress code. Not to mention the Nike TV advert where he tells the camera “Image is Everything”, and got thrown out of a tournament for swearing at the line judges.
And what is astonishing about this autobiography is just how honest Agassi is. Beginning with a description of his Second Round match in the US Open in what he has already announced will be his last tournament, we feel the torture and total punishment he is putting his body through. For a man who repeatedly admits in his book how much he hates the sport, it is astonishing that he is still playing at the highest level at 36.
Because this is far more than an autobiography and a list of his achievements a set of people to thank. This is a man laying to bed a set of ghosts that have haunted him his whole life. Ever since he was born and his father, a former Olympic boxer, had already decided to make his youngest child the world’s best tennis player.
We see just how little of a childhood Agassi had. Hours after hours spent returning balls from the ‘Dragon’, a device that shoots balls at him at incredible speeds, made even harder by his father’s adapting of the hose for a more challenging angle. And in one of the few times he seems happy in his life, with a girlfriend and new best friend, he is dragged away to a new tennis camp set up by Nick Bollettieri. Expected to be just three months, his talent is such that he is told to stay there and his fees will be covered by the Academy.
But Agassi’s ability is extraordinary and soon after going professional he is qualifying for the later stages of Grand Slams. He is able to recall the slightest of details throughout his career. That includes his magnificent achievements, as well as shattering losses, including his first three losing Grand Slam finals.
Amazingly enough, for what their rivalry would later become, Agassi admits to feeling sorry for Pete Sampras after he demolishes him early in their career. He feels Sampras’ game has been tinkered with and he won’t make it. Yes, that Sampas who would later win 14 Grand Slams and be Agassi’s biggest rival.
The book isn’t without controversy. Agassi admits to using recreational drugs when his life is in turmoil after his marriage. He admits how stupid a decision that was, and how awful a moment when he was caught by drug testers. This is without doubt the most shocking part of the book and it’s hard not to feel disappointed in him.
There are plenty of unflattering mentions for rivals on and off the court. Nick Bollettieri is described as a bully and his tennis academy as like a prison camp, Sampras as robotic and miserly in terms of tipping, Boris Becker for flirting with his then girlfriend Brooke Shields and criticising him in public, and Michael Chang for letting his religious beliefs become part of the match. Jeff Tarango is said to have called a match-winning point out when it was in, when playing against an eight year-old Agassi in a juniors tournament.
But this is not a book about points scoring. Agassi spares no detail why his marriage to actress Brooke Shields ended, the devastation of losing his hair in his twenties and how he wouldn’t be where he is without his closest friends. Long-time trainer Gil Reyes, his coach Brad Gilbert, his older brother Philly, best friend Perry and local pastor JP all have moving descriptions.
For all his demons, it’s clear Agassi has finally found what he is looking for. He is happily married to Steffi Graf with two children, his Children’s Educational Foundation is helping thousands, and he finally has a better understanding of his parents. Quite a few people will have wanted him to keep things to himself, but whatever others think, Agassi is happy having put things out in the open.