First things first … it’s hard to talk about Andre Agassi’s autobiography Open without touching on the shocking substance abuse revelations in the book.
But, the only way to begin to discuss this book is to tackle one of its humiliating revelations front and center: Agassi’s former coach Brad Gilbert drinks tons of Bud Ice. Even when he and Agassi were in Germany, the capital of fine beer, all Gilbert could think of was scoring Bud Ice.
The other substance abuse revelation in the book, Agassi’s use of crystal meth and his lying about it, created a media firestorm that I don’t think Agassi expected.
There has been a lot of debate about why he would mention it. He probably needed the money. Agassi and his wife Steffi Graf made some bad real estate investments just before the recession.
Of course, for the many fans who love Agassi, the drug use, the possibility he might be seeking to maximize the money he can make off the book and the way he never says he likes tennis will all be buried under their support for him.
That’s fine, and let’s face it, as far as drugs are concerned, it is so much a part of society that there’s no reason to demonize him over it. We should forgive and forget. And like his supporters never tire of saying, the drug issue is only a small part of Open.
The broader picture is that after finishing Agassi’s book, you have to feel sorry for this famous billionaire. It’s not right to steal somebody’s childhood. And the lessons learned through this, kids, is to stay in school. Agassi talks about having to stick with tennis, which he says he always hated, because he was a ninth-grade dropout.
To read this book, packed with anecdotes as it is about Agassi not being aware of the television show “Cheers, at a time when it was the most popular show in the country, of holing up in his Paris hotel room ordering from McDonalds and Burger King and many other examples of how narrow his life was, makes me feel sorry for him. He was never exposed to things he should have been exposed to. Of course, it’s better to be rich and limited than poor and limited.
Still, it is almost criminal the way that first his father and then surrogate father figures like Nick Bolleterri kept this young man on a very narrow track. What school would have done would have been to have exposed him to other things in life besides tennis. You could argue that all tennis pros, and would-be pros, have a limited focus and it has to be that way. It just seems that Agassi was forced to wear especially narrow blinders in part because he was so good at such a young age.
Agassi himself comes off in the book as, in many ways, a great guy. He is generous, he’s always helping his friends, but it’s hard not to conclude that because of everything that was so unfairly taken away from him, including his education and his chance at a normal development, he is extremely passive about telling people what he wants. As a kid bullied by his father into becoming a tennis champion, that is understandable. As a rich adult who is unable to tell even his wife what he thinks about things, it is odd. And kind of sad.
Give Agassi’s collaborator, Pulitzer Prize winner J.R. Moehringer, credit as he puts this conflict front and center. Early on, he has Agassi talking about how “this contradiction between what I want to do and what I actually do, feels like the core of my life.”
So it’s not surprise that Open isn’t as open as it might have been. There’s no reason to think that Agassi isn’t continuing his practice of saying what he thinks or has been coached to think people want to hear. For example, there’s no mention of his break-up with his long-time manager Perry Rogers. Nor does the reader hear about Agassi having anything but long-term sexual relationships.
And there are places where Agassi isn’t well-served by Pulitzer Prize winner Moehringer. Moehringer lets Agassi sound whining and self-pitying far too often. In the publicity and interviews connected with the book, Moehringer is nearly always described with Pulitzer Prize winner in front of his name.
Describing one of the many vacations his then-wife Brooke Shields drags him on, Pulitzer Prize winner Moehringer has Agassi say, “I fantasize about the engine sputtering, the plane spiraling down into the mouth of a volcano. To my chagrin, we land safely.”
This is just one of many passages in which Moehringer lays it on too thick.
In all, you have to give Agassi credit. Just as his career and his game were unique, so is his book. Maybe a lot of the credit in that regard goes to his collaborator, but once again, Agassi has done it his way.
Sure, the two guys exaggerate how bad it could be to spend a week on a tropical island with Brooke Shields. The thing about sports autobiographies is that when everyone has forgotten this and the meth use, Agassi will still have four Slams on four surfaces.