January 14, 2010
The most interesting parts of Andre Agassi's autobiography, "Open," weren't the salicious details that captivated the press and public last fall. Maybe it's because it was old news by the time most read through the book, but the stories of meth use and weaves and Brooke Shields were comparitively dull compared to other aspects of the tome, namely the brutally honest shots Agassi took at his peers.
Michael Chang got it bad, with Agassi (and ghostwriter J.R. Moehringer) making sure to mock Chang's piousness at every opportunity. Boris Becker also wasn't spared. But Agassi saved most of the bitterness for Pete Sampras, his longtime rival.
Thursday, Sampras told reporters he was "disappointed" by Agassi's remarks and said he'd like to meet "man to man" to discuss it. Sampras said:
"[Agassi was a big rival. I think it's a reflection that I didn't know Andre all that well in our competitive days. Got to know him a little bit better as we got older, but in (our) mid-20s at times he was there and at times he was a little removed. Little did I know he was getting involved in some bad decisions.
"He had a lot of peaks and valleys, a lot of ups. Everyone's sort of asking about it and talking about the crystal meth. He decided to bring it out now, which was a little surprising, but Andre always likes to separate himself from the rest, good or bad."
"Open" took the obvious shots at Pete, calling him "dull" and "robotic" and lacking inspiration (a barb which was ironic given the fact that Agassi's book detailed a life spent seeking inspiration). It's nothing Pete hasn't heard before. The commentary was fair, if unorginal.
More questionable were two biting anecdotes Agassi shared about hanging out with Pete. One involved going to an opera and made the same usual Sampras critiques (wooden, lifeless). The other involved Agassi and Sampras leaving a restaurant. After watching Sampras get his car from a valet and driving away, Agassi asked the valet how much Sampras had tipped. "One dollar," was the reply.
Agassi wrote, "we could not be more different, Pete and I."
It's always dangerous to make judgments about people based on one isolated, out of context incident. Just because you saw George Clooney brush off an autograph seeker once doesn't mean he's a bad guy. Maybe he was in a hurry. Maybe he didn't have a pen. I don't know. Same thing with Sampras and the tipping. Pete doesn't exactly seem like the kind of guy to keep rolls of hundreds in his front pocket. What if he didn't have any cash on him?
There's no attempted explanation for Pete's behavior in the book and no other examples of Sampras being stingy. Agassi told the story to show that he, Andre Agassi, would never tip like that. Therefore you, the reader, must conclude that even though Pete Sampras destroyed Agassi on the court, Agassi is the better man. It's as self-righteous as the stuff Agassi rips Michael Chang for.
But just because "Open" may not have been fair doesn't mean it wasn't a great book. It was probably helped by that fact, actually. If Agassi wasn't going to pull any punches with his own life, he shouldn't have been expected to with anybody else's.