Friday, February 19, 2010
I first learned about Agassi's tell-all memoir when I saw him promoting it through the interview circuit. I was strangely moved by the man's obvious desire to purge all of his demons, and his brutal honesty. I mean, look at the face on the cover of the book! This is the face of a man who's been through it, and taken a big swallow of humility. While memoir-writing is the latest form of therapy for the rich and famous, this one seemed it could be a little different. After all, this was the cocksure bad-boy who was happy to flip the bird to the media, dated Barbara Streisand, and is one of the most decorated tennis stars in history. I wanted to hear his side of the story.
I also have always loved tennis. I played it in high school (with a bit of an attitude, but then again, McEnroe was our role model), and was even the activity of my second date with my husband. Before Robert and I had kids, we watched ALOT of tennis. (OK, I still watch it now when that hot little number Nadal plays!) We were among the masses that scoffed at Agassi's antics, jeered at the parade of women sitting in his spectator box, gaped at the loss of his poofy hair, and begrudgingly gave him credit for being the last man standing in his generation.
What we see in this memoir is a completely different side of the public Agassi. He was raised by a hot-headed, controlling father who forced his dreams onto his son, creating Agassi's fear and loathing of the sport. Predictably, Agassi rebelled, quit school in 9th grade, and forever defied rules. Despite his brash persona however, he was an introvert, preferring to stay in with friends and detesting the social demands of his job. In fact, I found him to be very emotionally needy (albeit bratty), and would cling to a core group of friends for support...a reverend-turned-songwriter, his trainer, his coach, a childhood friend. In return for their support, he was loyal to a fault, and would give his last penny to help them if they needed it. After all was said and done, Agassi outgrew the brattiness and came to realize that giving to those in need brought more peace to his life than winning any Grand Slam Tournament.
We also get a peek at the juicy stuff...his brief dabble with drugs (and getting caught by the ATP), his struggle with losing his famous mane of hair, that Jimmy Connors is a total ass, and the progression of his relationships, particularly with ex-wife Brooke Shields and his current wife Steffi Graff.
A majority of the book, however, is play-by-play details of his training and his matches, including some pretty classic battles with Becker, Courier and Sampras. If you aren't interested in tennis, you might find these portions of the book a little slow. On the contrary, I found it exciting to relive these phenomenal matches, all the while thinking with fascination...did he really go commando in that match? Did he really use a spectator's shoe to replace his own damaged one in that match? Did he really intentionally blow that match because his friend's daughter was clinging to life in a hospital?
The prose in this book is far from what you would call literary. It is straight-forward and blunt, with a number of swear words. It all feels authentic though; it's Agassi. I wouldn't expect him to recount his life with poetic, flowery words. Similarly, the narrator isn't a Jim Dale or a Simon Vance, but did sound an awful lot like Agassi's voice, which worked well.
I didn't so much like Agassi during my years of tennis worship, and I usually rooted against him. I wish I would have known then what I know now. I find it heart-warming to know that he has found a soul mate who understands him, and that his mission and reason for being is to give back to children in need. All has been forgiven.
4 out of 5 stars