I’m not a sports fan. I run and I work out, but I can’t be bothered with watching other people do it. Except for Wimbledon, that’s different, though. I watch Wimbledon most years, and that’s how teenaged Claire came to fall for a young Andre Agassi. He was cute, he wore silly clothes, he had 80s hair (in the 90s), he whacked the ball pretty hard, and raced around the court like an energetic, excited puppy, what’s not to like? He seemed so cheerful and sweet. But apparently he was not. He hates tennis. He tells us this many times in the book. One was enough, in my opinion. On the third or fourth telling he starts to sounds like a whining teenager.
Now that I live in Las Vegas, as he does, there is an ever-so-slightly greater chance of my bumping in to him, so I thought it was time to learn more about him. I listened to the audiobook while walking my dogs. Agassi doesn’t read it, so he’s already lost points with me, I think the writer should be made by law to read their own audiobooks. I’ve had a few bad experiences with poorly chosen audiobook voices.
We start at the end of Agassi’s career, where he’s grumbling about hating tennis and having a bad back and suchlike, and then we go on to his childhood. His dad was born in Iran, and, after a very poor childhood he managed to emigrate to the US. He was a boxer, and worked hard in the Las Vegas casinos, he wanted his children to have a good life, and to him that meant they should become tennis players. He bought a house with a backyard big enough for a court and encourages them all to play, Andre is the youngest, and obviously, the best. I think Mr Agassi senior is doing this for all the right reasons, it does seem a bit odd not to let them find their own skills and interests, and he does sound like quite a bully, but people from poverty will often put extra pressure on their kids to achieve. It’s understandable. Well, it is to me, not to Mr Agassi junoir, and it’s this whining teenager attitude that grinds me down after a while, with constant references to his father’s poor child-rearing skills. He’s retired from tennis now, and as far as I know, he hasn’t got any better ideas than his dad, he hasn’t retrained as an accountant or TV repairman, or a baker. Oh, no, of course he hasn’t, there’s no need, that’s because he’s a squillionaire from playing tennis, which has dad made him do, the poor thing.
The book is a lot longer than I expected, and I think that’s because there’s an awful lot of detail about many games, I didn’t feel like I needed to know all that, but I suppose to the bigger fan, it’s good to relive those games. He talks about other players, and I get an insight to them, through Agassi’s eyes, which I quite liked.
He tells us about the people who have meant a lot to him, in particular his trainer who was a father-figure to him, and about his entourage as a tennis player. He tells us about his wearing a hair-piece back when I was in love with him, which I didn’t know, but I can’t really manage to care too much about. He tells us about his experimenting with methamphetamine, which apparently he got caught doing, but he told a lie about it and got away with it, so he didn’t have to be so honest with us, and I’m impressed that he did. But it just adds to the general melancholic mood of his story.
He talks about his marriage to Brooke Shields, who I can tell you is still going strong – I saw her in a Broadway production of Addams Family last year and she was looking and sounding great. He says some unkind things, he says he never really wanted to marry her, even at the wedding, even at the proposal. I find him a difficult person to understand or empathise with. Relationships end, but there’s no need to say so publicly that you were never really all that in love with someone after you’ve broken up. So, he was in love with Steffi Graf from the moment he met her, apparently, and this was before he married Brooke. I’m not sure I buy the fairytale-ness of the romance but I like the symmetry of a super-successful tennis-playing couple.
So, now he’s retired and he is benefactor of a very successful school in Las Vegas, which is a wonderful achievement, and well worth playing all that tennis he so despised. I just hope he’s finally doing something he likes with time now, and he manages to be a very different father to his kids than his dad was to him.