Book notes: Open

Open book summary by Marlo Yonocruz

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Open by Andre Agassi

Synopsis: “From Andre Agassi, one of the most beloved athletes in history and one of the most gifted men ever to step onto a tennis court, a beautiful, haunting autobiography.
Agassi brings a near-photographic memory to every pivotal match and every relationship. Never before has the inner game of tennis and the outer game of fame been so precisely limned. Alongside vivid portraits of rivals from several generations—Jimmy Connors, Pete Sampras, Roger Federer—Agassi gives unstinting accounts of his brief time with Barbra Streisand and his doomed marriage to Brooke Shields. He reveals a shattering loss of confidence. And he recounts his spectacular resurrection, a comeback climaxing with his epic run at the 1999 French Open and his march to become the oldest man ever ranked number one.

In clear, taut prose, Agassi evokes his loyal brother, his wise coach, his gentle trainer, all the people who help him regain his balance and find love at last with Stefanie Graf. Inspired by her quiet strength, he fights through crippling pain from a deteriorating spine to remain a dangerous opponent in the twenty-first and final year of his career. Entering his last tournament in 2006, he’s hailed for completing a stunning metamorphosis, from nonconformist to elder statesman, from dropout to education advocate. And still he’s not done. At a U.S. Open for the ages, he makes a courageous last stand, then delivers one of the most stirring farewells ever heard in a sporting arena.

With its breakneck tempo and raw candor, Open will be read and cherished for years. A treat for ardent fans, it will also captivate readers who know nothing about tennis. Like Agassi’s game, it sets a new standard for grace, style, speed, and power.” -Amazon.

Opening thoughts: A friend of mine actually bought this book for me back in college but I never picked it up because I wasn’t really into books at the time. 5 years later, I saw this book on a recommended reading list from someone I respect so I kept put it on my to-read list. Since I already had the physical book,  figured I might as well read it. I’m not really into tennis but I’ve had great experiences reading biographies and autobiographies of top performers so I figured I’d get a ton of value and learn a lot of great insight, especially in a field I have no familiarity with.

12 Life Lessons of Open

1. It’s dangerous to surrender to fears. Fear is like a gateway drug, once you give into small ones, you’ll give in to bigger ones

2. The only perfection there is is helping others. This is the only thing we can do that has any lasting value or meaning. This is why we’re here, to make each other feel safe. Always value others, there’s so much peace in taking care of others

3. Open yourself up to love, love is what helps us grow up

4. Odds and percentages. Be the house, stack the odds in your favor. By being a perfectionist and trying to be perfect you’re stacking the odds against yourself

5. Millions of people do what they hate for a living. Maybe the point is to do what you do well and cheerfully

6. Work is always the answer

7. Simplify your thought process. Positive thinking

8. The power of having a strong “why” when you’re working for something bigger than yourself

9. Pain will make you a more resilient player in the long run. Without challenges, struggles, and pain, you might go down as a better player, but you would be less

10. The margins can be on a tennis court, or in life, are very slight. The space is narrow between greatness and mediocrity, fame and anonymity, happiness and despair

11.  Older people make the mistake of treating younger people like they’re finished products when in fact they’re in process

12. Life is a tennis match  between polar opposites. Winning and losing, love and hate, open and  closed. It helps to recognize that painful fact early, and then recognize the polar opposites within yourself. If you can’t embrace them or reconcile them, at least accept them and move on. They only thing you cannot do is ignore them

Key ideas/notes:

  • Love is the supreme power that opens the prison
  • He’s experienced two, equal and opposing forces: one trying to push him across the finish line and the other trying to pull him back away from it
  • Tennis is the loneliest sport. You feel isolated on an island and can’t talk to anyone, which causes you to talk to yourself
  • What you feel doesn’t matter in the end, it’s what you do that makes you brave
  • The key is to figure out your butterflies, deciphering what they say about the status of your mind and body. This is the first step to making the butterflies work for you
  • Your tennis bag is like your heart, you have to know what’s inside it at all times
  • The singular importance in this world is a job well done
  • His father believed in math, numbers don’t lie. A child who hits 1 million balls each year will be unbeatable
  • When he does something perfect, he enjoys a split second of sanity and calm
  • His father believed thinking is the source of all bad things, because thinking is the opposite of doing
  • When his father boxed, he always wanted to take the other guy’s best punch. When you know you’ve taken the other guy’s best punch and you’re still standing, and he knows it, you’ll rip the heart right out of him
    • Attack your opponent’s strength. Take away whatever it is
    • Contrarian strategy: “putting a blister on the other guy’s brain,” his father turned him into a counterpuncher
  • He never questioned his father’s love for him, he just wished that he wouldn’t love so hard or loved a little less and gave Andre the freedom to do what he wants
  • Because he has no say in who he is or what he does, he puts obsessive thought into the things he does have a saying in, like what he wears and who he hangs out with
  • He doesn’t like anything that’s rigged so he doesn’t put much effort into things like school
  • As a teen, he wanted to squeeze every ounce of rebellion out so that nobody pays attention anymore. He was desperately trying to show people he didn’t want to be there
  • At age 14, he negotiated his way out of school and was forever free from education
  • At 15, he’s labeled a prodigy, the prettiest word ever used to describe him. He’s moving up the ranks and wiping the floor with adults
  • On his 16th birthday, he accepts a check and becomes a professional tennis player
  • He wasn’t prepared for his first U.S. Open. He sees the gap between where he is and where he needs to be, but is confident he can close the gap
  • “Pressing” is the tennis term for not letting things flow, which is what he does against bad players
  • Leonardo da Vinci: to be inspired is the secret
  • First time in Wimbledon and he doesn’t like it. He’s a sheltered kid from Vegas with no education and he rejects anything alien
  • He resents rules, especially arbitrary rules like wearing white
  • He won his first tournament as a pro in Brazil
  • At the car dealership, he is slightly envious of his father’s rage. He wishes he could tap into some of it during his matches
    • Along with his father’s rage, he wishes he had a fraction of his mother’s calm
  • He’s shy but craves attention. The fame satisfies a deep craving he didn’t know he had
  • With his style they say he’s trying to stand out, but he’s just trying to hide. They say he’s trying to change the game, but he’s just trying to prevent it from changing him. They say he’s trying to be a rebel, but he’s just conducting an everyday teenager rebellion
    • He’s just trying to be himself, and since he doesn’t know who he is, his attempts to figure that out are scattershot, awkward, and contradictory
    • He’s doing what he always did, bucking authority, experimenting with identity, sending a message to his father, thrashing against the lack of choices in his life
    • Whatever he’s doing, it strikes a chord as he’s called the savior of tennis. He’s flattered and embarrassed by all the imitators of his style and mullet haircut
    • If he can’t understand his motivations and demons, how can he help to explain to journalists on a deadline?
  • Each of the 4 courts are like a different season, each asks something different of you. Each has different costs and radically alters your outlook. Each remakes you on a molecular level
  • The media hates him, the millions of fans love him, so he continues to play the role of rebel
  • Perry is a reworder. He reshapes Andre’s anguish, makes it more logical and articulate. First, he redefines the problem as a negotiation between him and the world. Then he clarifies the terms of the negotiation
  • He respects and adopts JP as his pastor and friend. He is calm and casual, simplifies the Bible with no ego and no dogma, just common sense and clear thinking. He wants his church to feel not like a church but a home. He doesn’t have answers, he simply read through the Bible several dozen times and shares his observations
  • He’s a kid who still lives with his parents, but he’s known around the world. He tries to express himself artistically and creatively but he gets slammed at every corner
  • JP tells Andre that God is the opposite of his father, all the hate and resentment and anger inside him is the voice of his father, not God
  • Over the years, one of his ways of dealing with stress is lighting things on fire unconsciously
  • JP tells Andre that he’ll find his way out of his crisis. It is momentary and one of many for sure. Treat it as practice for the next crisis
  • People don’t understand the weight of losing in the finals
  • The slogan “image is everything” becomes attached to him and his public image
  • If your workout routine can fit on a piece of paper, it’s not worth the piece of paper it’s written on. His current workout doesn’t leave any room for how he’s feeling, where he is, and what he needs to work on. It doesn’t allow for change
  • Losing is one thing, being outgunned is another
  • If the media isn’t trashing him for losing on purpose, they’re ragging on him for the way he wins
  • To know what your body wants and to understand what it needs and doesn’t, you need to be part engineer, part mathematician, part artist, part mystic
    • The best exercises exploit gravity. Use gravity and resistance to break down a muscle so it will come back stronger
  • Calories are simply measure of heat. It’s when you eat, how much you eat, the choices you make, that’s what makes all the difference
  • Gil can sense he’s a father figure to Andre, and Andre is a son he never had
  • Gil does what a father should do, which is make him stronger
  • If he must play tennis, the loneliest of sports, then he’ll surround himself with as many people off the court. Everyone has their specific role
  • Gil gives a beautiful monologue to Andre in the parking lot about helping Andre reach the stars by standing on his shoulders
  • After 22 years and 22 million swings, he’s 1992 Wimbledon champion
    • Dirty little secret: winning changes nothing and winning doesn’t feel as good as losing feels bad, and the feeling doesn’t last as long
    • Wimbledon made him legitimate and famous; he quickly learns how mundane fame is
    • Money can’t buy happiness, all these famous people are insecure and hate what they do, and they are uncertain
  • Wendy breaks up with Andre because she feels they need to find out who they are and grow separately
  • He had an interesting relationship with Barbara Streisand. They had many things in common, she was a tortured perfectionist who hated doing something at which she excelled
  • It’s dangerous to surrender to fears. Fear is like a gateway drug, once you give into small ones, you’ll give in to bigger ones
  • His hypocrisy reached a crescendo when he go Barbara to perform again
    • Dating Barbara Streisand who is 28 years his senior but they go well together and scandal adds to the fire
  • Brooke is the opposite of Wendy, she knows exactly what she wants even if she’s having trouble figuring out how to make her dreams come true
  • Brooke says Michael Jackson is just like them, a prodigy that didn’t have a childhood
  • Brad says he has natural talent but lost his fire. His big flaw is his perfectionism he got from his father
    • Odds and percentages. Be the house, stack the odds in your favor. By being a perfectionist and trying to be perfect he’s stacking the odds against himself
    • When you chase perfection you’re chasing something that doesn’t exist and make everyone around you miserable
  • Simplify your thought process. Positive thinking
  • After adopting Brad’s strategy, he had a losing streak. He needed time to internalize Brad’s philosophy. Just waiting for one breakthrough then he would be unstoppable
  • Gil’s advice: control what you can control
    • Knowing the mind of your enemy is a powerful thing
  • You know everything you need to know about people when you see their faces at the moments of your greatest triumph
  • He becomes the first unseeded player since 1966 to win the US Open
  • Ceremonial head shaving and invites Wendy
    • Brooke was right, and his hair was the shackles that held him down
  • in 1995, he comes out like the Hulk in his first Australian Open, wins, and turns number one
  • Gil is a paradox and Andre likes contradictions in a person
  • He realizes his father is the way he is and he forgives him. Few of us are granted the grace to know ourselves. Until we do, the best we can do is be consistent. His father is nothing but consistent
  • He needed a new goal. The problem was he had the wrong goals. He never wanted to be #1. He truly wanted to win all 4 slams, the true holy grail that shows versatility and a complete resume
  • Andre likes talking to his fans, it’s preferable over reporters
  • Every tennis player eventually compares tennis to boxing
  • A beating in tennis is just below the surface, similar to beating someone with a bag of oranges that doesn’t leave an outward mark
  • He wins 26 straight games in the “summer of revenge” and loses the one final game agains Pete in the US Open
  • Even if he doesn’t like television and acting, he respects hard work and dedication
  • On tour he’s called “the Punisher” but feels terrible for ruining Brooke’s show, smashing his trophies, and losing the US Open
  • It’s always easier psychologically to lose in the semi’s than in the finals
  • Sometimes its almost harder to lose on purpose because even if your mind is tanking, your body’s muscle memory is fighting against it
  • Frankie, the manager of his favorite New York restaurant, is honest, hardworking, and sincere, which is Andre’s kind of people
    • He puts away some Nike stock for Frankie’s kids’ college fund as a gift
    • Helping Frankie gave him more satisfaction and connection and felt more alive than anything else he did that year. The only perfection there is is helping others. This is the only thing we can do that has any lasting value or meaning. This is why we’re here, to make each other feel safe
  • As soon as he starts to enjoy and get value form someone or something that Brooke introduced to him, she casts it aside
  • Open yourself up to love, love is what helps us grow up
  • Andre proposes to Brooke during the sunset on the beach, though neither of them are ready
  • Andre competes in the Olympics and becomes an Olympian like his father
  • Winning a gold medal and standing on the platform exceeds his expectations. His heart begins to swell because of the special moment, precisely because it’s not his
  • He doesn’t mind rock bottom. He says it can be cozy because at least you can rest
  • He and Brooke get married in April of 1997 in Monterey
  • Work is always the answer
  • For the first time he’s envious of Pete and his lack on inspiration, or lack of a need for inspiration
  • Millions of people do what they hate for a living regardless. Maybe the point is to do it well and cheerfully
  • The idea of changing himself from top to bottom and reciting it daily brings him back to center
  • Momentum and momentum of our past keeps us down the wrong road and prevents change
  • He is finally financially able to start giving back with his charity foundation with Perry
  • To help at-risk children, you need more, if not all, of their day to be occupied
  • He takes a trip to Africa and meets Nelson Mandela, a huge inspiration for Andre
    • We must care for one another, but we must also care for ourselves, be careful in our decisions, in our relationships, in our statements, manage our lives carefully so we don’t become victims
    • Racism all over the world is simply ignorance, and education is the key
  • Every journey is important, and no journey is impossible
  • This time he has a strong WHY, he’s playing for his team, and visibility and money for his foundation. He’s playing for something bigger than himself, but still closely connected to him
  • From now on after matches, win or lose, he’ll express gratitude by blowing kisses to all 4 corners of the earth
  • Both Steffi and Andre are the only 2 players to win golden slams, and brad predicts they’ll be married by 2001
  • Some people are thermometers, some people are thermostats. He is a thermostat because he doesn’t register the temperature in the room, he changes it
  • Beach date with Steffi, he tells her he hates tennis and she’s the first person to understand
    • Coincidentally, they have the same favorite movie
  • He’s training again to be number one, for himself, the US Open, and for Steffanie
  • He wins the US Open and his fifth slam while Steffi watches
  • He feels New York was rooting for him because they had watched him grow up and faced high expectations
  • On their way to Germany, they talk about having kids
  • He not only reaches #1, he finishes 1999 in the top slot and knocks off Pete’s six year streak
  • He’s the first man since Laver to reach the finals in four straight slams
  • Brad tells the Washington Post that Andre has a 27-1 match record in the last four grand slams, with nobody but Rod Laver, Don Bunch, and Steffi Graf having done better (Andre is floored to be mentioned with that group of people)
  • Both Andre and Steffi’s fathers meet and its a hilarious fiasco
  • He will always regret that he cannot relive the 1999 French Open again and again
  • Steffi’s advice to Andre: stop thinking, it’s all about feeling
    • Sometimes its not just not thinking, but letting yourself feel
  • He realizes his mother has unbelievable strength in her resilience and she wants to prove to Andre that he’s made of the same stuff
  • He wins the Australian Open making it his 7th slam and 10th on the all-time list
  • He writes a daily appreciation board for Steffi
  • Despite his ongoing rivalry and affect they’ve had on each other’s lives, he and Pete are still strangers
  • Steffi get’s pregnant and they’re both delighted and nervous at the same time
  • They name their son Jaden Gil and hopes he’ll be half the man Gil is, and Andre hopes to be half the father Gil was to him
  • Their foundation is committed to investing heavily in kids education, as he believes in most things in life you get what you pay for
  • Time and practice equals achievement, and insists that parents become intimately involved in the school
  • Off all his contradictions, his school is the most amazing and amusing. A boy who feared school becomes inspired and re-energized by building his own
  • 2001 US Open agains Pete
  • Steffi and his mom are both shy and get along, and he loves Steffi’s mom
  • His father doesn’t like weddings and doesn’t care how it’s done, he just wants them to get married. She’s the greatest women’s tennis player of all time so what’s there not to like? (haha)
  • When his son is born, his heart is split open and bursting with joy. At the same time he wonders if he’ll be a good dad since he’s a stranger to his son and to himself
  • He and Brad split off for Andre’s home stretch since they’re at different points now and don’t want to become enemies
  • He becomes a father first and a tennis player second as coming home to his family quickly pushes tennis out of mind
  • He accidentally shaved Jaden’s head bald like him. Steffi blows up but then they all started laughing and giggling
  • He wins the Italian Open because of the new strings that Darren recommended
  • He faces pete in the 2001 US Open finals
    • They’re the oldest tennis players to meet in the US Open finals in 30 years
  • Every night he writes notes to Jaden in his journal because he’s scared of not being able to share all he’s learned
  • Always value others, there’s so much peace in taking care of others
  • He wins the Australian Open as his 8th slam and one of his best performances ever
    • He’s the oldest player at 31 years to win a slam
    • His lack of flexibility and form actually makes him more durable an increases his longevity
  • Right before his 33rd birthday, he is the oldest player ever to be ranked #1
  • He plays his 1000th professional match and he says he remembers all of them
  • Although losing to Pete has caused him a lot of pain, it has made him a more resilient player in the long run. If he had beaten Pete more often or had he been in another generation, he might have gone down as a better player with a better record, but then he would be less
  • After Pete announces his retirement, Andre becomes the last American slam winner still playing and he feels a sharp loneliness. He tells reporters you sort of expect to leave the dance with the ones you started with, but they are all leaving and he’s the last one dancing
  • Their daughter is born in October of 2003 and for both of their kids they secretly vow that they won’t play tennis. They’re both resolute that they don’t want this crazy life for their kids
  • They decide he needs more rest between big matches and passes many tournaments in order to be rested for the French Open
  • Steffi is inducted into the tennis Hall of Fame and Andre introduces her
    • He’s nervous but starts to relax one he starts because he says the subject is his favorite and he’s an expert. Every man should have the chance to introduce his wife at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony
    • He introduces her as the greatest person he’s ever known
  • Steffi is an amazing supporter as she knows exactly what she needs to do to help Andre focus on tennis
  • He faces Roger Federer who is slowly growing into one of the greats
    • He thinks Federer is going to be the best ever yet
  • He plays not only because people benefit like his family and foundation, but also because he chooses. When you choose something, it becomes completely different
  • He realizes especially after wins that tennis is a beautiful sport. It has treated him well and he wants to honor it. He feels guilty for hating on tennis despite it being a lie
  • Stepping on the court for his 50th slam instantly set the record for the most
  • When Jaden is old enough to watch, he plays and wins the Mercedes cup. Jaden runs onto the court during the trophy ceremony thinking it’s his, which it is
  • At the 2005 US Open, he feels like a novelty and a sideshow being 35
    • It is his 20th year at this tournament. Many of the players there haven’t been alive for 20 years
  • His opponent respects and admires him, especially for making him work and dig down deep into himself and learn about himself
  • When he gives up on winning, he feels himself play better instantly. He stops thinking and starts feeling, which makes him quicker. He relies on instinct over logic
    • The 5th set has nothing to do with tennis, it’s about emotion and conditioning
  • He wins against Blake and everyone is astonished at the amazing product they created
  • It’s not possible but at 35 years old he’s in the finals of the US Open
  • His sleep schedule drastically changed after having kids. He wakes up earlier because his kids want to see their father, and more their father wants to see them
  • He’s reminded how slight the margins can be on a tennis court, how narrow the space between greatness and mediocrity, fame and anonymity, happiness and despair
  • Andre tells reporters, “It’s real simple. Players have weaknesses. Federer has none.”
  • No matter how he feels about tennis, the game is his home
  • He announces his retirement at Wimbledon. The finish line is that he can’t play, not that he won’t
  • People say he transformed, but he disagrees. He didn’t know who he was so he simply formed from rebelling to what people told him he was
    • Older people make the mistake of treating younger people like they’re finished products when in fact they’re in process
    • His first incarnation is what people first saw. He didn’t alter his image, he discovered it. He didn’t change his mind, he opened it
    • People have been fooled by his changing looks into thinking he knows who he is. People see his self exploration as self expression
  • He sees his family of four and sees four different personalities, four different surfaces and yet a complete set
  • His dad says he’s been praying for Andre to retire and tired of seeing him suffer. He has the look in his eye that hates tennis
  • Officials let him say a few words to the crowd and his fans after losing his last match
    • In his speech, he gives them the highest compliment by comparing them to Gil
  • He tells his fellow players in the locker room that no applause will mean more to you than that applause from your peers, and wishes they hear that at the end
  • His school is about excellence, and the whole community takes pride in it
    • They asked that all their teachers believe that any student can learn, and they must be passionate about their students’ education
    • Because his school has uniforms, he loves the irony since he was against it in his youth
    • He has a code of respect that he promises to students if they memorize it and keep it close to their hearts, they will go far in life
  • A 15 year old boy tells his story to Andre about how his life was terrible, but prep school changed his life and wanted to tell Andre thanks in person
  • Life is a tennis match  between polar opposites. Winning and losing, love and hate, open and  closed. it helps to recognize that painful fact early, and then recognize the polar opposites within yourself. If you can’t embrace them or reconcile them, at least accept them and move on. They only thing you cannot do is ignore them
    • What other message could he deliver as a 9th grade dropout who’s proudest accomplishment is his school?
  • Steffi and Andre play a practice match in the rain on a public court and people gather to watch
  • Andre’s 3 most influential people in his life are his father, Gil, and Steffi, none of which are native English speakers. With all 3, the most powerful mode of communication may be physical
  • It’s both a joy and privilege to watch Steffi play, each shot is important, she never tires and never misses

Closing thoughts: I feel like I alway say this but this book was fantastic. Definitely one of my new favorite autobiographies. Andre’s tells his story in a way that beautifully weaves together all the themes he has discovered looking back on his experiences which we can all learn from and connect to. This is definitely a book I will revisit in the future.

Nutshell: Legendary tennis champion Andre Agassi recounts his journey of self-discovery growing up as a tennis prodigy, the struggles of finding out who he is, working through the powerful contradictions of life, and discovering the things that give true fulfillment and meaning to one’s life.

Rating: 5/5

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