On opening Andre Agassi’s ‘Open’

I can’t play tennis for shit. Or money. But I am a committed fan, perhaps one that should be committed. Mornings when I trade the world of dreams where I spend my nights for the world wide web where I spend my days, it’s a toss up between first checking my email, bank balance or the ATP tennis results.

I write for love. And money. Over the years, I’ve spent thousands of hours writing. I’d like to think I got better along the way. That’s the right and proper order of things, that you get better at the things you work hard at. Not being able to play tennis so that I can write seems like a fair trade to me and I assume the opposite also holds true.

My assumptions were challenged, though, when I opened Open, the autobiography of Andre Agassi, who doesn’t need an identifying sub-clause. The part I read was so well written that I wanted to challenge, bring hawkeye into the question to see if that was indeed a fair call. I mean, how can someone who has been one of the world’s top tennis players of the last two, three decades also be such a good writer?

The answer, it turned out, is that he isn’t. He simply picked an excellent ghost-writer in J.R. Moehringer.

While doing this research, I also learned that despite the game’s genteel pretensions, tennis players are on average less educated than all professional sportsmen except boxers. This makes me appreciate Janko Tipsarevich’s Dostoevsky tattoo even more, as well as the decision of Tobias Kamke to finish his degree before turning to tennis full-time. (Good thing too that he has something to fall back on, considering his recent results.) The players who played on the American college circuit presumably did some study as well – John Isner, Kevin Anderson and the like. Perhaps these players can write their own autobiographies one day.

Or perhaps they can just shut up and do what they’re good at.

It is a perplexingly popular assumption that people who have found fame in some human endeavour will also have worthwhile things to say about others. Why should anyone attach importance to what a film star says about climate change, pay attention to a rock singer’s views on global politics, or want to read what novelists say about religion… or sport?

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