Opening Up About Agassi
by Dan Martin | January 14th, 2010, 9:17 am

Albert Camus’ The Fall centers on a man confessing a horrible personal failing and then claiming that such a public airing of his actions actually made him feel better. In an era of reality television, self-glorifying blogs and hours spent on social networking sites, decadent focus on the self has never been stronger. Given the pre-sale snippets, my concern was that Andre Agassi’s autobiography Open might venture into this sort of narcissistic self-disclosure.

Thankfully, my apprehension was well off the mark. There were a few moments in the book that I felt could have been handled better. Pat Etcheberry’s approach to tennis helped Jim Courier, Pete Sampras and Justine Henin. Etcheberry deserved better than being repeatedly called a “spitting Chilean” and having his methods questioned. Agassi’s descriptions of marital problems with Brooke Shields were awkward to read at times.

On balance, Open is a great read. I agree with most reviews that the co-author crafted a book that flowed easily while also being intellectually engaging. This is not an easy balance to attain. Stefanie Graf and Gil Reyes come across as being virtuous people one would want as friends. A lot of ink has already been spilled on this book so rather than give a blow by blow account of Open, I will discuss Agassi’s impact on junior tennis in the 1990’s, discuss Open in light of two other tennis books and offer a concluding thought.

Junior Impact

Andre Agassi has been a big part of the tennis scene for most of my time as a fan and player. I am roughly 5 years younger than Agassi and started to play tennis competitively around the same time I became aware of Andre’s existence. I remember writing a piece on Agassi in 1987 for my grammar school newspaper. When I was 12 I excitedly hit tennis balls against the wall of my parent’s house on the day of Andre and Jimmy Connors’ 1988 U.S. Open quarterfinal clash. I tried to break down the match in my head as I played Jimbo and the wall played Agassi. I fared no better against the wall than Connors did against Agassi.

Between 1990-1994 I had a first hand look at USTA junior tennis, high school tennis, team tennis, and recreational tennis. Agassi’s impact was quite obvious to any teen playing the sport. It was common to see rubber bands used as vibration dampeners. Many players wielded fluorescent Donnay rackets or black Prince Graphite Oversize rackets. Taking the ball early was not something Agassi invented, but junior tournaments in this time period generally featured players trying to aggressively attack serves and trying to hover close to or inside the baseline during rallies. Agassi was not alone in impacting junior players. I was playing in a statewide qualifying tournament for the Southern Closed regional tournament, and the second day of the event was the Sunday of the 1991 French Open final that Jim Courier won over Agassi. In an act a sociologist might describe as contagious magic, almost every competitor was wearing a white baseball cap during the hundreds of matches being contested. Perhaps we all assumed that the baseball cap gave Courier his grit, fitness, and powerful forehand. At any rate, countless young players were inspired to take up tennis by competitors from Agassi’s generation, but no one had a broader impact on the average junior player from this era than did Andre Agassi.

Other Perspectives

I have also read Jon Feinstein’s Hard Courts and Nick Bollettieri’s My Aces, My Faults. The context provided by these books made Agassi’s descriptions of the 1990 season and of Wimbledon 1995 more vivid. Bollettieri coached Boris Becker from 1994 through Wimbledon 1995. While reading about Agassi’s “Summer of Revenge” during the hard court season of 1995, I could not help being annoyed that Becker unexpectedly dumped Bollettieri before the 1995 U.S. Open. To get an added glimpse inside of the Agassi-Becker 1995 U.S. Open semifinal would have been great. Maybe B.B. Socrates could explain why he blew kisses to A.A. Aristotle’s wife.

Final Thought

Open offers a lot of context to the cycles of success and failure one saw in Andre’s career from 1988-1997. I think the story of Agassi coming to terms with his gifts, his childhood and his goals is one worth reading. From Rudy to Rocky, many true and fictitious sports stories center on an underdog finding a way to go the distance while defying the odds. Few stories focus on a world class talent going the distance. Talent can be a heavy burden as most failures rest firmly on the shoulders of the talented. Outside of Sampras and a select few other players, if Agassi lost during his twenties, the defeat almost surely was attributed to lack of preparation, lack of confidence or poor strategy. Agassi did at times fail to train or complete as hard as he could have, but tennis fans can also look at countless examples of talented players who never came close to going the distance or to making a recovery from earlier struggles. Agassi may not be the classic underdog, but that makes his story interesting. A player with limited options such as Brad Gilbert has no other choice but to maximize everything to achieve the odd high ranking and an occasional grand slam quarterfinal. Agassi had many options, and still in the end found a way to maximize his abilities and hit the finish of his career at full speed. To me Open is a personal and professional success story that could have easily ended in failure.

An After Thought

Jim Courier and Andre Agassi both spent their formative years at together in Bradenton. I think each would say life as a top flight junior tennis player living at a tennis academy was a strange way to come of age. Courier served as executive producer for the 2007 documentary Unstrung that explored the lives of the top prospects in U.S. junior tennis at that time. Andre Agassi wrote Open. I think Agassi and Courier were in part trying to make sense out of the strange world from which each emerged into adulthood. Courier looked outward to younger junior players and Agassi looked inward to his own story to seek understanding. I think holding the two works together offers great insight into the world of elite tennis.

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15 Comments for Opening Up About Agassi

jane Says:

Great introduction to this article, in particular, Dan; I really enjoyed your review and the digressions as well.

Gerry Koppe Says:

I started playing tennis because of Andre Agassi and can relate to a hate/love or love/hate relationship with the sport. I cannot even begin to imagine how it would feel to have no options given to you at age 7. Most kids grow up being able to chart their own course with some guidance from parents. However, Andre had none of that it was TENNIS OR BUST. He knew nothing else so a hate relationship would begin to develop before a love one because it was not what he wanted but what his pops wanted.

The book was wonderful – beyond wonderful – it is a real learning experience. How a young boy grew up and could have remained a spoiled brat but decided to take ownership of his life and make things right. He made them right by giving back (as many athletes should do as they have the fame and the money to make this work better for others). His school is a masterpiece (not unlike the many matches I witnessed him playing). He can be very proud of what he has done not only for tennis but for the community in which he and his family live in on a daily basis. He is beyond a tennis great – he is a real human being great.

Kimo Says:

Open really is a great book. The most surprising thing for me was how much Andre really hated tennis, and for a long time too. I didn’t know this because I only saw him in the last 7 years or so of his career, when he was sort of the active living legend to all the younger players around him.

I found it kinda funny that whenever he confessed his hate for tennis to other people, they always answered: But you don’t really “hate” tennis. But when he told that to Steffi (she likes to be called Stefanie) she answered: Sure, doesn’t everyone?

Dan Martin Says:

Jane thanks so much. Kimmo I agree Stefanie seemed to get Agassi’s hatred of tennis in a way no one else did.

For the record, I was a pretty terrible junior player. My one handed backhand was pretty easy to victimize until I developed enough strength to really hit through the ball. Even at my low level and with my poor results there were aspects of junior tennis I disliked. Players are human and can make line judge errors, but the gamesmanship and blatant cheating I saw even at state level tournaments really threw me off mentally. Tennis is a funny sport for a kid at that age because a player is out there all alone, no coaches, no teammates, and therefore failure is one’s sole burden to bear.

I remember playing the #2 seed in the first round of an event and he kept calling bad lines. This kid would have destroyed me playing straight up, but for whatever reason he would call stuff out that was 2 feet in and would call serves in that were clearly long so he could clock a return winner past me as I was mentally preparing to hit a second serve. He would try to quick serve me etc. It was pretty frustrating. This particular player was hated by virtually every player in the city so I did get to bond with some kids after the match who were waiting for the court for their 1st round match. As we walked off court, they walked on and were quick to tell me and my opponent about his terrible calls. An odd experience for a 15 year old to say the least. I can’t imagine what the matches, atmosphere and line calls were like in Bradenton.

Cindy_Brady Says:


Why didn’t you return the favor and “on-purpose” make bad calls back at this tool of a #2 seed? Out him for the cheat that he is. Create turmoil. Maybe you had more class than that, but if it was me that a-hole would have been toast.

Brady out!

Texastennis Says:

Good review, Dan, and I agree absolutely how any real sense of even junior tennis will give you a sense of tennis’s potential for alineation. My daughter is a very good tennis player (state) and we’ve watched untold matches with wild cheating, even as you say by much better players. Our “favorite” was a brutal loss to a much better (national level) girl who as our daughter said after would have crushed her in any circumstances – so why did she need to cheat? A lot of parental pressure no doubt … But there’s something too abou the mano a mano quality of tennis that can be very wearing psychologically. As we see re Agassi…
Etcheberry – he carefully doesn’t name him, but honestly I thought Gil Reyes’ critique of the training he had Agassi do seemed sensible, and I frankly think that Etcheberry has contributed to breaking some of those players down, perhaps mentally as well as physically.

Dan Martin Says:

Gerry and Texas good points. Cindy at 15 I was not that mean. Today, I probably would have stopped play and told the guy either call the lines right or we’re going to have an issue.

One of my best friends who played regional level USTA junior events chased a kid around the court after the kid called a bad line call. It is a funny story. I was a better bet to beat that seeded player in a fight than in a match so maybe I should have escalated things.

aces Says:

“Create turmoil” That should be your middle name Cindy_Brady.

Andy Says:

Excellent piece. I like the way you find some of the same motivations behind Courier’s work on Unstrung and Agassi’s Open.

I thought Open was excellent. There was more I wanted to know (whatever happened between him and Perry Rogers?), but it was a completely engaging story.

By the way, it’s interesting to read Agassi’s and Sampras’ books side by side. There differences on the court translate to the page.

I wrote a short post comparing their preprations for the French Open during their best runs at Roland Garros.


Andy Says:

Excellent piece. I like the way you find some of the same motivations behind Courier’s work on Unstrung and Agassi’s Open.

I thought Open was excellent. There was more I wanted to know (whatever happened between him and Perry Rogers?), but it was a completely engaging story.

By the way, it’s interesting to read Agassi’s and Sampras’ books side by side. Their differences on the court translate to the page.

I wrote a short post comparing their preprations for the French Open during their best runs at Roland Garros.


Dan Martin Says:


The Perry Rogers question is a good one. I wonder if their business partnership made it difficult if not impossible to describe the falling out without opening Andre up to lawsuits. Rogers and I went to the same school undergrad wise although he graduated before I started. Maybe I can get his number off an a alumni phone bank … Heck, I think I am a good writer maybe I can co-write Perry’s book for 5% of what Andre’s co-author got paid.

I need to read Sampras’ book. Oddly, Pete wants to talk to Agassi about how and why he described Pete the way he did in Open –;_ylt=AgFWnTc2RvrBeVuV3ZkMYzg4v7YF?slug=ap-sampras-agassibook&prov=ap&type=lgns

Texastennis Says:

Rogers falling out – occurred AFTER 2006 when the book ends. (In fact not until 2008.) So that’s why it’s not in the book. I think Perry is portrayed remarkably favorably in the book, given the falling out.
That story is for the sequel:-)

Bill Says:

Hey great comparison between the two. I like Courier a lot and hated Agassi and then a few years later Agassi become my favorite player by far.

I am just reading “Open” now and it seems somehow strange to me that even with so much talent that Agassi hated tennis so much. The book is fantastic though in seeing what he was thinking while on court, that is the kind of thing that you never really sure of and you get to see it in the first chapter of “Open”

Mike Swanquis Says:

Hey, it wasn’t just one bad line call. He was hooking me on the friggin’ score and then pretending he didn’t know what I was saying to him because he was one of them there ferners (who was also blatantly getting coached by his dad in ferner-talk…another issue!) But yeah, maybe I shouldn’t have jumped the net to pry the balls from him when he wouldn’t acknowledge that I had just broken his serve.

As far as Open is concerned, I haven’t read it yet, but I intend to at some point. Never was a bit Agassi fan, though I begrudgingly bowed to his inhuman hand-eye coordination. Heck, I guess I even had a haircut somewhat like his when I was 12…though my tennis-mullet was all natural, baby.

Dan Martin Says:

I told you it was a funny story.

Mike’s beatings of me on the tennis court never involved hooking. I think on a slow hard court when I had been playing every day for months and Mike had not been playing for let’s say 6 months I did manage to lose a set 6-4.

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