Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Being Open about ‘Open’: Team Agassi

[You are reading the fifth in a series on Andre Agassi's 'Open'. Click here to start at the very beginning]

I’m in the last third of the book now, and I love it’s pace.

Match granularity is sufficiently detailed, without getting stifling or turgid.

Significant events are recounted, with the emotional responses noted without dwelling unnecessarily for effect; there seems at times a conscious effort being made to ensure nothing affects the tempo and flow of the narrative.

If I have but one criticism, it’s that it occasionally borders on being too clinical.

Emotions are messy, and the events that provoke them are usually overwrought affairs that often involve getting more than just your hands dirty.

I actually think that ‘Open’ got the balance right for the most part – any ‘kinkier’ though, and we’d be back in Raymond Chandler territory.

You might have expected Agassi to emerge from winning his first Slam a more focused, confident figure – and to a large extent this is true.

Concerns about win/loss relativism aside, the team was beginning to take shape.

Another turning point.

The team also suffered two, not entirely unexpected casualties: Wendy, Agassi’s two year girlfriend, with whom he somewhat appropriately shares what she describes as an ‘Open’ relationship (which basically means he’s allowed to have a thing for Steffi Graf’s legs) , announces her intention to call it quits, and the need to “discover herself”. Understandable enough, given that Agassi himself is embroiled in the same struggle.

The other loss, Bollettieri, is perhaps more expected; though the way in which the news is delivered is anything but. Agassi ends up reading about it in the Press.

Bollettieri seems to be taking what Agassi heaps upon him, on the chin.

Bollettieri said that was "one of the biggest mistakes" he has made, adding that "I should have gotten on a plane."

"Andre is right — I didn't know my ass from my elbow," said Bollettieri, a failed paratrooper who dropped out of law school and only started playing tennis in high school. "But I knew people. You don't make the record I have without knowing something."

Bollettieri took umbrage at the characterization that he feeds off his players' success, saying he never made a penny from the likes of Jim Courier and Monica Seles, who like Agassi were on scholarship at his Florida academy.

"I wish I had all the money Andre made," he continued, adding, "I don't have to defend myself. I think Andre has to defend himself now."

(USA Today)

Much of it on the chin, I should say. And I still have a hard time with those that take exception at him making money from what is after all, a business.


Step in Brook n’ Brad.

Brook first.

Andre is introduced to Brook by the spouse of a friend, and the match up seems destined given Perry predicted the pairing many years back.

The two initially communicate via faxes, as she is in the middle of filming somewhere in Africa.

Although the medium is impersonal, the two quickly move from “flirting” to “fondness” to “intimacy”.

The trend continues when they meet in person, though Agassi describes the interplay as more nuanced, with “subtext” with “body language”.

They even share a fondness for “Shadowlands”, you know, that film where Anthony Hopkins plays C.S. Lewis, the stuffy but brilliant Oxford Don, and as the film would have you believe, with the emotional intelligence of a Dormouse, until Debra Winger’s Joyce Gresham puts him right.

You might find this section difficult to deal with given what we know about how ill-fated the match up was, but it’s all very innocent and honest; we might all recognise the starry-eyed, euphoric interchanges of a relationship in it’s infancy.

The other addition is Brad Gilbert with whom Agassi is already familiar, having played him so many times, the recent author of “Winning Ugly”, which tells you all you need to know about his playing style, and whom Agassi terms “the consummate overachiever” to Agassi’s “classic underachiever”.

Brad is taken on after giving a straight-talkin’ critique of Agassi’s game which essentially amounts to the need for Agassi to strive for, and be more content with, less perfection in his game.

He puts forth his philosophy on tennis using colourful, almost Bruce Lee like expressions such as, “be like gravity”, and tapping into Andre’s Vegas connection “the house always wins, be the house”.

It’s difficult to discern how much of Brad’s evangelism Agassi actually agreed with – I personally think he was drawn more to his personality and straight talk – the tennis equivalent of what Perry and JP were doing for his heart and soul.

I’m also unsure of just how conservative the post-Brad Agassi was in comparison to the one that won Wimbledon. Agassi was one of the best shotmakers that’s ever lived – and though he may have striven for too much, there was always a sense of urgency about his tennis, an urgency that I don’t believe went away post-Brad.

Whatever the case, the partnership obviously worked – though not straight away - “Good things are about to happen”, Brad assures him gently over a run of losses during 1994.

Good things happened that year in Flushing when it all came together and Agassi took the title - the last unseeded men’s champion was Frank Shields in 1966, grandfather to the lady sitting in Andre’s box.

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