“I look up. I’m lying on the floor beside the bed. I remember now. I moved from the bed to the floor in the middle of the night. I do that most nights. Better for my back. Too many hours on a soft mattress causes agony. I count to three, then start the long, difficult process of standing. With a cough, a groan, I roll onto my side, then curl into the fetal position, then flip over onto my stomach. Now I wait, and wait, for the blood to start pumping.”
These opening lines from “Open” (by Andre Agassi) – grip you and send you into the world of a champion sportsman and a tortured human being. The sweat-ridden years of ball bashing and a childhood measured in sets of six games. You realize the price a human being pays for being gifted – the agonizing pressure of being squeezed tightly into a shape and destiny molded by your talent. And you realize that the serrated fear of giving up even this one gift.
(“But if tennis is life, then what follows tennis must be the unknowable void. The thought makes me cold.”)
Open is at its least, a deeply moving story, and at its best, a transformational one, especially for anyone who’s tasted sport and its angst-filled romance. You get a ringside view of professional sport and uber-human beings, who have given up entire lifetimes to play a game at its highest level for a few short years, without any assurance of payback – you see dreams becoming mortal and entire sagas written in a few thousand square feet of real pain and victories all too fleeting. It deconstructs and demolishes the paradigm of effortlessness of champions; you see the painful imbalance of their natures in their compulsion to win, and the price they pay for this imbalance.
The content is deep but the language of this story is surprisingly and happily literary with a modern, staccato style that’s a sign of our times and our attention spans. Some phrases blow you away with their simplicity and some have you nodding in agreement, using words that could have been yours.
While Open does dive deep into the soul of the tale, its also a tale well-told covering lots of ground about Agassi’s life events, his childhood and professional life, his relationships and loves, his much talked about experiences with drugs – it comes across as a mostly honest tale, but maybe that’s a just a happy contrast to the little we had known and the lot that we had assumed.
Open is not a sad story or a happy one, its just real. Just like life, it leaves you at the end a little happy, a little sad but mostly with the fullness of an experience, a little wiser and little more human, with a degree of insight into life’s realities.
I hope you will read this book. For Andre Agassi and his story -he is a remarkable man with a perspective that’s even more remarkable for its objectivity, for Tennis – you will never watch a match the same way ever again, but most of all, I hope you will read it for the same reasons you ever read a great tale – for the way it moves you, teaches you and carries you along for a journey you may not have completely signed up for.
This post was submitted by Prameet Kamat.