Monday, 5 August 2013

Andre Agassi’s co-written autobiography, “Open”, is a work of comic genius

I don’t read many sports book – it’s an activity that makes me feel guilty. But I needed some light relief after finishing Southern Agrarian Richard M. Weaver’s seminal 1948 work of American conservatism, Ideas Have Consequences, and I was always a fan of Agassi’s tennis. I’d been put off reading the book when it was published four years ago because of its drugs revelations, tales of his wig almost falling off during a French Open final, and his repeated assertion that he always hated tennis.  But that was a mistake on my part. I’ve only read the first 60 pages, but I couldn’t wait to share its sheer brilliance with you.

Here he (and his co-writer, Pulitzer Prize-winner J.R. Moehringer) describe the two principals of the school he had to attend while at the Nick Bolletieri Tennis Academy:
Inside the metal front doors of Bradenton Academy stands the office, the nerve centre of the school and the source of much pain. Report cards and threatening letters emanate from the office. Bad boys are sent there. The office is also the lair of Mrs. G and Doc G, married coprincipals of Bradenton Academy, and, I suspect, frustrated sideshow performers. Mrs. G is a gangly woman with no midsection. She looks as if her shoulders have been set directly on top of her hips. She tries to disguise this odd shape by wearing skirts, but this only accentuates the problem. On her face she wears two gobs of blush and one smear of lipstick, a symmetrical triad of three circles that she colour-coordinates the way other people do their shoes and belt. Her cheeks and mouth always match; and always almost distract you from her gargantuan hands. She has mitts the size of rackets, and the first time she shakes my hand I think I might faint. 
Old Doc G is half her size but has just as many body issues. It’s not hard to see what they first found in common. Frail, gamy, Doc G has a right arm that’s been shrivelled from birth. He ought to hide this arm, keep it behind his back, or shoved in a pocket. Instead he waves it around, brandishes it like a weapon. He likes to take students aside for one-on-one chats, and whenever he does so, he swings his bad arm up onto the student’s shoulder, setting it there until he’s said his piece. If that doesn’t give you the heebie-jeebies, nothing will. Doc G’s arm feels like a pork tenderloin lying on your shoulder, and hours later you can still feel it there and you can’t help but shiver.
Now, Agassi’s co-author obviously deserves a lot of credit for comic writing of this quality. But the stories and all the details are evidently Agassi’s (he tells us he has a fantastically retentive memory – not always a blessing, evidently). His description of life with his fantastically dysfunctional family – especially the bizarre, bullying, violent father whose mania drove Agassi to the top of the world game - is rivetting. If the father bears some resemblance to Tony Soprano, his grandmother is Livia Soprano in the flesh:
My father’s mother lives with us. She’s a nasty old lady from Tehran with a wart the size of a walnut on the edge of her nose… If Grandma wants to go back home, I’m all for it. I’m only eight, but I’ll drive her to the airport myself, because she causes more tension in a house that doesn’t need one bit more. She makes my father miserable, she bosses me and my siblings around, and she engages in a strange competition with my mother. My mother tells me that when I was a baby, she walked into the kitchen and found Grandma breastfeeding me. Things have been awkward between the two women ever since.  
Unsurprisingly, the only thing Agassi showed any aptitude for at school was English, especially poetry.

Open: An Autobiography is available here - and the Kindle edition is a snip at £2.99.

I’ve never read a sports autobiography like it – and I can’t wait to retire for the night so I can get stuck into it again.


  1. I have already ordered it, gaijin.

    1. You will be relieved to hear, Colonel, that Jimmy Connors and Ilie Nastase turn out to be just as horrible as we had always suspected.

      Oddly enough, I was thinking of you during the recent heatwave, as this blog's extensive editorial offices began to bear a striking resemblance to "The Oven" in which you tortured poor Colonel Nicholson.

  2. Ha. You're gonna have a better grip on the intellectual history of The South than I do before it's over.

    1. I think you're safe, e.f. - despite the fact that I studied philosophy, the philosophy of language section of Weaver's book was so high-powered, it made my brain bleed, and it's going to take me a while to recover. Essentially, he's arguing against Wittgenstein - before Wittgenstein's later philosophy of language writings were actually published. Brilliant man, Weaver.

      Years ago, when I read "Confederacy of Dunces" for the first time, I wondered where the main character's medieval world-view came from - it was just so odd and unexpected and intriguing. Now I've started reading the Southern Agrarians, I think I'm beginning to understand. I'd be very surprised if John Kennedy Toole wasn't a fan of Weaver and Davidson. There's something almost heroic about their refusal to get with the programme!