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“Open”

Posted by Team UT on January 5th, 2010   Books

“Open” is Andre Agassi’s autobiography written with Pulitzer Prize winner, J.R. Moehringer, and published by Knopf Doubleday. The book is setup in three segments (The End, Chapters 1-29, The Beginning), and at 386 pages is a surprisingly quick read.

Before getting into my review of the book, I should note for over seven years we developed and maintained the website AgassiOpen.com devoted to all things Andre Agassi. We monitered and updated his every match, every commercial, every article covering him – so yes there is a built in positive bias, but we also believe our review comes from a unique viewpoint.  In our blog I’ve also previously provided thoughts on the book’s marketing which can reviewed here.

The book starts with Andre’s final tournament – the 1996 U.S. Open – aptly titled “The End”. From there the book takes the reader on Andre’s tennis and life journey (Chapters 1-29) starting when he’s 7 years old and ending right after his final match in the player’s locker room. The book concludes with a look at Andre’s work with Agassi Prep – also aptly titled “The Beginning”.

If you’re an Agassi fan or a tennis fan in general, then reading the book is a given – as it covers Andre’s career in detail, and is superbly written. What’s interesting is that Andre is so truly “open” in this book that the greater benefit may be to general sports fans in reading this book – because you gain a realization that Andre, while one of tennis’ all-time greats, is first and foremost a human being. He is not perfect, he has flaws – and the real world experiences that effect all of us in our daily jobs and relationships – also effect Andre and every athlete. That humanizing realization is one of the great takeaways from the book.

As I read through the book this past week, I took note of parts of the book that truly stood out – and also ones I wish would have been touched on more. Here’s the rundown:

Early Years & His Dad
As a fan of Andre’s I’ve seen all the articles, profile pieces, etc., that mention Andre’s dad pushing him at a young age to play tennis – and even read his father’s book. You just don’t get a real sense of what it was like for Andre growing up until you read this book. It’s an amazing story filled with many twists and turns. You the know the story on a macro level, but reading it at a micro level through Andre’s eyes is riveting. It sets a tone for the entire book.

Sponsors
The book mentions a few of Andre’s sponsors (Nike, Ray Ban, Canon), but other than the story of “Image is Everything” there is no real detail on Andre’s relationship with sponsors. Nobody can argue that Andre is a true sports marketing case study and considering at one time or another all the sponsors Andre has had (Nike, Ray Ban, Canon, Mountain Dew, Kia, TwinLab, Genworth Financial, Adidas, Donnay, Head, Golden Grahams, Wheaties, T-Mobile, Longines, All-Star Cafe, two video games) it would be interesting to hear his thoughts on his own marketing strategy, sport marketing in general, and the role it played in his career.

Nike
Andre notes in the book he was signed up by Nike rep Ian Hamilton (who later ran All-Star Cafe) in 1986 for an initial two-year deal worth $20K in year 1, and $25K in year 2. Other than that there is no other real mention of Nike in terms of his relationship with the company that lasted until 2005 when he switched to Adidas.

Do a search on “Andre Agassi Nike Commercial” on YouTube you get 33 results. Do a search on “Andre Agassi Nike” on Google you get over 100K results. In Donald Katz’s 1994 book “Just Do It” on Nike he mentions Andre on 32 pages. Some interesting quotes attributed to Andre in the book on pages 227 and 228:

On Nike’s “real-life Andre” ads: “What people want is the Andre Agassi who’s in Nike commercials. What they want me to be is the kid leaping around the court, the guy gunning around in cool Nike ads. The real Andre Agassi is a boring kid. The real Andre Agassi hangs out with his friends in Las Vegas and goes to movies. The last thing I want is for people to the see the real me.”

Agassi was one of the only Nike stars who sat at a table and talked about himself as if he were somebody else. Andre when he was 21: “This is the reality of the life I have. What people want to see and need to see is separate from what is. The Agassi in their minds – not me – is the thing that motivates them…to play and to buy.”

No mention of the Nike relationship, no mention of the feelings when Nike signed Courier and Sampras, no mention when he parted ways and went to Adidas in 2005. The book certainly doesn’t lack with Nike’s absence, but it would have been interesting to hear Andre’s thoughts on the sponsor he was so closely aligned for so many years.

Relationships
I was surprised to see Andre only mentioned three significant relationships (Wendy, Brooke, Steffi) – each with a unique story and at very different times in Andre’s journey. He mentions a girl from Memphis in passing while analyzing how his relationships went in 2-yr intervals, and he also touches on his friendship with Barbara Streisand, but the focus is squarely on those three relationships.

Brooke
What can you say, it was like reading a romance novel and the National Inquirer all in one when Andre covers Brooke in the book. The journey he takes with Brooke and its affect on his personal life and tennis career is really interesting to see through his eyes.

Steffi
Andre’s pursuit of Steffi should give every guy who has a dream girl out there hope. You never know how things will turn out. The twists and turns of Andre’s pursuit of Steffi is really incredible stuff – at times hilarious, at times truly touching. You feel just how much Steffi means to Andre, and her positive presence on his tennis career and life. From the missed Wimbledon Champion’s Dance, to tipping ferry captains for inside info, to their first call, Andre running into Brooke before their first date, father’s almost throwing down, to the Appreciation Board, to Andre introducing Steffi at her Hall of Fame induction with: “Ladies and gentleman, I introduce you to the greatest person I have ever known.” – you witness the full love story.

Gil Reyes
Perhaps the most interesting relationship written about in the book, is that of Andre and Gil. From the time Andre goes to the UNLV gym in 1989 and meets Gil – his presence in Andre’s life is unmistakable. The depth of their friendship is revealed in the book in ways no previous article or interview could ever do justice. Really great stuff…

Perry Rogers
Perry is prominently mentioned in the book from childhood through Andre’s professional career. In light of recent developments (ie Rogers actually sued Steffi, and resigned as President of Agassi Enterprises) it would be interesting to hear from Andre where things stand with Perry – a person that seemingly played such a big role in Andre’s life.

Athlete Mindset
As a fan it was sometimes hard to read Andre write about being in matches and not really being there – thinking about other aspects of his life that were happening and lose matches as a result. As a fan you remember watching the specific match, you remember thinking Andre this guy can’t handle your game, you remember feeling the loss and taking it personally. But reading the words from Andre on what was really going on his mind, his life at the time – the specific moment, you realize he and all other athletes are really just like you, they are not always 100% singularly focused on winning, they are in fact human. It’s an important realization that we as fans forget and instead keep our favorite athletes on the pedestal. Reading about so many insider situations from Andre as he’s going through life and at the same time playing is truly a great part of this book.

Crystal Meth & “I Hate Tennis”
So much was made of these two parts of the book in excerpts and pre-release interviews, there’s really not much else to say, but you just have to go read the book to get the full story. From there each individual will form their own opinions.

Federer
Andre touches on Federer a couple times from beating him at Miami in 02, to losing to him at the U.S. Open in 04 and 05, and also losing to him at the 05 Oz Open. After losing the 05 U.S. Open final Andre remarks that Federer has no weaknesses. Looking at their matches Andre won the first three easily covering Federer’s first 5 years on Tour. The turning point was the 2003 Masters Cup RR match in Houston where Federer finally broke through in three sets 6-7(3), 6-3, 7-6(7). He went onto take Andre in straights in the final, but that RR win was a huge confidence boost for Federer to get the first win over Andre. Federer would win their next six match-ups, but three were close (04 IW, 04 USO, 05 USO). I would have liked to see Andre compare his form from 1995 against Federer’s best – how he would see that match-up going down. I realize these hypothetical match-ups are hard to do and only serve the purposes of curious fans, but Andre is highly analytical of his play and his opponents so it would make for an interesting read.

Restaurants – AE Business Ventures
It’s well known that Andre is a partner with celebrity chef, Michael Mina, in Mina Group, LLC which owns numerous restaurants, but there is no mention of this or any of the other business ventures Andre has undertaken through Agassi Enterprises.

Agassi Prep – Charity Work
From setting aside Nike stock to help a friend’s kids get a college education, to covering friends medical bills, to starting his Foundation, to seeing a dream come true in the opening of Agassi Prep – you see what a big giving heart Andre has and how much it means to him to help others. What’s interesting though is how much else Andre has done in the charity work arena that was not covered in the book. His annual charity gala “Grand Slam for Children” is a case study for other athlete’s, his Foundation does so many other things than just Agassi Prep, he consistently participates in charity events for other athletes, he helped co-found “Athletes for Hope”, etc. The final part of the book “The Beginning” does do a really nice job of outlining Agassi Prep and every meaningful detail that went into it.

In conclusion, I can’t state again how well the book is written with the help of J.R. Moehringer, and in combination with all the “reveals” in the book by Andre on his life/tennis journey the book becomes a must read.

More Information:
Agassi Foundation – www.AgassiFoundation.org
Book’s Twitter page – http://twitter.com/agassiandre
Knopf’s book site – http://knopfdoubleday.com/agassi/
Purchase the Book at Amazon.com

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