Open and shut case


I'm sitting and writing this in a hospital room,  where I'm doing overnight duty with my father,  who's just had surgery. As we all know,  hospitals are rather boring places,  but one good thing about being in a hospital room for an extended period (at least as far as I'm concerned) is that it gives you the opportunity to catch up on some reading.

Most of us have stopped reading (and by reading I mean books, not websites), which is really rather sad, since it's a source of such pleasure. I'm guilty of this too, and to salve my conscience, I have been reading an excellent book - Open, which is Andre Agassi's autobiography.

Fanboy alert: I hereby confess that Agassi is my favourite tennis player of all time, so I'm not likely to be too objective about much that I have to say here. Neverthless, not just as a fan but as someone who appreciates a good read, I highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in sport in general and tennis in particular.

Agassi is no Tolstoy or Dickens, which is probably just as well, because his simple, forthright and brutally honest style of writing makes his book that much more accessible. His descriptions of various matches that he played are riveting - you really feel like you have a courtside seat as he slugs it out with some of his rivals and contemporaries. Pete Sampras, who he greatly admires but is unable to beat very often; Boris Becker, whose guts he hates and whom he beats often enough; Jim Courier, with whom he has a prickly relationship; Michael Chang, whose deeply religious nature he finds equally deeply annoying, and many more.

He is unsparing in his feelings about other players, but even more unsparing about himself. He freely admits to tanking matches because his mind wasn't in them; he describes in detail how he takes crystal meth, gets busted in a random dope test and lies his way out of it (these two bits caused quite a stir when the book came out); his wild, rebellious ways as a teenager are dealt with at great length and, most surprising of all, he describes how he hated tennis, but couldn't live without it either because it was all he knew - his highly overbearing father was determined to make him a tennis champion, and he grew up living and breathing the sport, with no choice in the matter.

Some of the book's very best moments are the ones where he talks about his ardent pursual of Steffi Graf, whom he later married (fanboy alert 2: Graf is my favourite woman tennis player of all time). He is literally reduced to a gibbering wreck in her presence, and he says that if he had spent half as much time strategising about tennis rather than coming with plans to get into her good books, he would have won twice as many titles! A particularly hilarious incident occurs later in their marriage, when he attempts to give their infant son a haircut, with disastrous results, and she walks in just when things are really going south.

This book has nothing to do with cars or bikes, of course (well, he does talk about the flash cars that he buys), but it is an extremly honest, educative, moving and funny piece of writing, and I thought I'd say as much and urge you to go out and read it. It never hurts to broaden your mind, does it?