28 January 2014
Open, Andre Agassi
by Dr Mark Keown
In the last blog, I talked about some great Kiwi theological reads. My next read was Open by Andre Agassi. What a great book, and not without relevance for Christians.
To sum up my thoughts: What a brilliant book! And I mean brilliant! I couldn’t put it down. I am not alone in this sentiment, with many people rating it very highly.
The book starts dramatically with an account of Agassi’s dramatic final match at the US Open. That chapter alone is worth the read. Then the story is told of his upbringing. I won’t go into details and spoil it for you, but it is an amazing account of a driven father, a son who hated tennis (yes, hated, he always did, even to the end), and the development of a tortured child-prodigy. As a father who has been a ‘sporting parent’ with three very talented children, I can sort of relate. I think we did a better job, but sometimes I am not so sure.
The story that unfolds is one of tennis, the quest to find identity, relationships, and the nitty-gritty of real life. While he has a bit of a crack at Michael Chang especially for his “blend of egotism and religion that chafes’ him (p. 151), God is there in his story. He gives his trainer Gil a necklace which is a gold pyramid with three loops representing the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost (to use his words, p. 153). One of the key characters is JP introduced to him by Philly his brother who takes him to church. JP becomes a mentor, part of the Agassi team, who plays a great part of Andre Agassi’s pilgrimage. JP gives us all a real lesson on how to relate to postmodern people struggling on the journey (esp. read pp. 121–126). He walks with him and they grow together. Agassi is a kind of Johnny Cash Christian figure; tortured, struggling, and yet there is faith burning in his amazing engine.
Tennis runs through the book, but this is a book that is much much deeper than merely a recitation of sporting achievements and disappointments. It is a psychological saga. No disrespect to Richie McCaw (he is a hero of mine); it has everything his book lacked! (See my earlier blog – http://drmarkk.blogspot.co.nz/2014/01/the-open-side-richie-mccaw.html)! And I mean everything. Analysis! Deep! Psychology! Critique! Depth! Passion!
That said, as a sporting enthusiast who has had a moderate sporting career below the higher echelons, I was drawn into the sport of tennis – a game I have only dabbled in. What a game! Agassi likens it to boxing, but lonelier. On the court, it is you, a racket, a ball, and an opponent who is trying to batter you into submission. It is physically ridiculous, like the Tour De France, beyond the ability of anyone to endure. It is a brutal mind-game. Those who succeed are some really amazing athletes and people with real resilience.
After reading the book, I watched the Australian Open and felt far greater understanding of the psychology of what was going on. It made me love it more. I thought of Agassi’s book especially when watching the amazing final with Stanislas Warwinka and Rafael Nadal. What a saga! Wawrinka without a chance; supposedly! He then dominated the first set and a bit. Rafa, the favourite, looking worried. The crowd stunned. Then Rafa’s back injury. Wawrinka’s argument with the umpire. The crowd booing the darling Rafa. Then Wawrinka’s inability to finish him off. Then his rally. Then his moment of glory. The realisation that Rafa was for real; so his redemption before the crowd. They were both winners. It felt like a chapter of Agassi’s book. I thought of moments in Agassi’s career as I watched the game. Tennis is indeed a microcosm of life, as is all sport.
What I loved most about this book is that it is a story of redemption, it is a ‘gospel’ story in the sense that from those broken beginnings, Agassi gets put back together and is now a great benefactor to people in need. With God involved, he found his way. It also challenged me that someone can hate something and yet it is their gift, and they can find the path in it and through it. I have to say, Agassi is at the top of the list of people I would love to have a coffee and chat with! I won’t say anymore. I don’t want to ruin it if you haven’t read it. Whether you like sport or not, get it and read it.