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Open by Andre Agassi was unexpectedly good. The pace, tone, and voice were all unique. Here are a few notes.
This book circles and Agassi’s life spiral around the essential question; why am I doing this? For Agassi, it took a long time to figure out.
Agassi didn’t start playing tennis, his father started for him. The early stories of overbearing are thick. A product of his circumstances, his tennis improved but his love for the game didn’t. But what else does someone with a ninth grade education do? He played but knew tennis didn’t answer the essential question.
He dated (and married) Brooke Shields. This is not the answer. He took drugs (and maniacally cleaned). This is not the answer. He considered retirement. “I tell myself that retiring won’t solve my problem.”
Then his coach’s daughter ends up in the hospital. Agassi buys an inner tube for her head. It’s a small, spontaneous act but it gives him a peek. “This is why we are here. To fight through the pain and, when possible, to relieve the pain of others.” The idea is planted. Agassi forms a charity. He starts a school. “I go to Key Biscayne. I want to win, I’m crazy to win. It’s not like me to want a win this badly…and I realize precisely why…I’m playing to raise money and visibility for my school.”
This is Agassi’s answer to the essential question.
“I”m only slowly becoming aware of the full story myself. I play and keep playing because I choose to play. Even if it’s not your ideal life, you can always choose it. No matter what your life is, choosing it changes everything.”
We all need to answer our own essential question. Once we do the path becomes clear, the direction set.
There are two parts of tennis in the same game. The first is forehands and backhands and everything we see. That’s the 10,000 hours game. The second is the indirect game. We don’t see it, but it’s just as important.
“My father says that when he boxed, he always wanted to take a guy’s best punch…When you know that you just took the other guy’s best punch, and you’re still standing, and the other guys knows it, you will rip the heart right out of him.”
“I see fear creep into Pete’s face. We’re tied, two sets apiece, and doubt, unmistakable doubt, is trailing him like the long afternoon shadows on the Wimbledon grass.”
“When you think it’s your day, it usually is.”
“I see the pilot light in Hewitt’s eyes go out.”
There are two games of tennis, the one we see and the one we don’t.
Through tennis, Agassi lived other things too.
Loss aversion. “A win doesn’t feel as good as a loss feels bad, and the good feeling doesn’t last as long as the bad. Not even close.”
Frequency and magnitude. “Reporters ask how it feels to win twenty-six matches in a row, to win all summer long, only to run into the giant net that is Pete. I think: How do you think it feels? I say: Next summer I’m going to lose a little bit. I’m 26-1, and I’d give up all those wins for this one.” Fifty one dollar bills equal one fifty dollar bill. One tennis tournament does not equal another.
Debt. “In the fifth set, however, he’s spent, whereas I’m just beginning to draw on funds long deposited in the Bank of Gil.” Agassi’s serendipitous meeting with Gil Reyes transformed his career. One way was building up his “bank of fitness.” Code debts, relationships debts, volatility debts all come due.
Media commentary. “Overnight the slogan (Image is Everything) becomes synonymous with me. Sportswriters liken this slogan to my inner nature, my essential being. They say it’s my philosophy, my religion, and they predict it’s going to be my epitaph.” Outsiders have one point of view, sometimes it’s the wrong one.
Hedonic adaptation. After winning some prize money, “item one on our agenda is what model of cool but cheap car we’re going to buy. The main thing is to buy a car with a tailpipe that doesn’t blow black clouds. Pulling up to Sizzler in a car that doesn’t smoke – now that that would be the height of luxury.” Everyone has a normal day but none are the same.
Be the house. After Gil, Brad Gilbert, author of Winning Ugly is the next most influential person in Andre’s life. After one of their first practices, Brad said, “Sometimes the best shot is a holding shot, an OK shot, a shot that gives the other guy a chance to miss.” Andre wants to hit winners, Brad wants him to hit not-losers. Winning is all about shifting the odds in your favor.
Hanlon’s razor. While playing in a cold match in Argentina Agassi catches an opponent’s serve. Was he disrespecting him? “I always wanted to do that,” Agassi says at the press conference afterward. In the book he writes, “The truth is, I was just cold and not thinking. I was being stupid, not cocky.”
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