This one’s for you if you’d like to know more about tennis at the highest level, or about Agassi’s fascinating hatred of tennis.
One of the most common debates in sport is whether nature or nurture is more important in setting champions apart from their competitors. Andre Agassi could not have been given better nurturing as far as his tennis was concerned. His dad started his training program when Agassi was a baby, and spent long days with him on the tennis court in the garden with a contraption that Andre named “the dragon”, which fired balls at the young tennis prodigy. From his first tournaments in the under 10 age group, his talent caught people’s eye. But the long term psychological effects of being pushed into a sport so intense at such a young age, with incredible amounts of pressure from his father are evident, and described very openly in this book. Aside from Agassi as a person, it is interesting to grasp what is really goes on behind the scenes: all the injuries that are never spoken about, the easily explainable losses that are used by the press as ammunition with which to attack players, and the personal ups and downs that are inevitable for players who, at the end of the day, are only human. It really makes you appreciate how little the press really know about what is going on with each player. As a result they go on little nuggets, and have no problem filling in the gaps with whatever they feel will make the best story. As you suspect from watching on TV, the mental challenges that players face during the hours and hours of a single match are fascinating to read about.
“it’s the Four Seasons, so it’s lovely, but it’s still just another version of what I call Not Home. The non- place we exist as athletes.” p6
“I’m like a tennis racket on which I’ve replaced the grip four times and the strings seven times- is it accurate to call it the same racket?” p7
“It’s no accident, I think, that tennis uses the language of life. Advantage, service, fault, break, love, the basic elements of tennis are those of everyday existence, because every match is a life in miniature.” p8
“one loss has caused me to take up his rant. I’ve internalised my father- his impatience, his perfectionism, his rage- until his voice doesn’t just feel like my own, it is my own. I no longer need my father to torture me. From this day on, I can do it all by myself.” p38 Aged 8, having won 7 u10 tournaments in a row, Andre loses a match.
“You’re a tennis player! You’re going to be number one in the world! You’re going to make lots of money. That’s the plan, and that’s the end of it.” p57 After injuring himself playing football, Andre goes back to play again a few weeks later, much to the anger of his dad who removes him from the pitch.
“The warden has tacked several years to my sentence, and there’s nothing to be done but pick up my hammer and return to the rock pile.” p77 Andre goes to the Bollettieri Academy, which he compares to a prison, and after seeing him play for the first time, Nick Bollettieri phones his dad to offer to keep Andre on for free. Andre only decided to go because he thought he could go home after a few months, and nobody asks if he wants to stay.
“I learn about myself, create myself through imitation. How else could I do it? I spent my childhood in an isolation chamber, my teen years in a torture chamber.” p141 On the value of the team he built up around him.
“But I don’t feel that Wimbledon has changed me. I feel, in fact, as if I’ve been let in on a dirty little secret: winning changes nothing.” p165 Following 1992 Wimbledon.
“After all these years I’ve got what I’ve always wanted, something to play for that’s larger than myself and yet still closely connected to me.” p267 The Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy.
“No matter what your life is, choosing it changes everything.” p359
“Transformation is change from one thing to another, but I started as nothing. I didn’t transform, I formed…I think older people make this mistake all the time with younger people, treating them as finished products when in fact they’re in the process. It’s like judging a match before it’s over, and I’ve come from behind too often, and had too many opponents come roaring back against me, to think that’s a good idea.” p372 after a question from the press on his transformation.