A few months ago, during an IG live session that we were hosting, with Emmad as the guest, we got into the subject of sports, and our common love for tennis. We shared our favorite tennis moments, argued over our favorite players (his Agassi and my Becker), reminisced about the great tennis moments and heartbreaks. Before we said good bye, Emmad turned and in his deep (IK like) voice said, “Amna, you need to read Open by Andre Agassi. You will give me lots of duas”. And that sounded like sincere advice.
After checking almost all bookstores in Lahore, and failing to get my hands on a copy, I ordered one online. Eager to read about the golden era of tennis, and the shinning star of the time, I have to say I expected a good read, but the book surpassed all my expectations and then some. Written by Andre himself, the book is so easy to read and connect with, that even if you aren’t an ardent tennis fan, you will still marvel at how well written, and how laden with lessons and wisdom it is.
So here are the 5 lessons Emmad and I learnt from Open by Andre Agassi.
The Power of Mind: from a very early age, Andre was ‘forced’ to play tennis. His father was strict, determined and somewhat cruel, a discipline he felt was needed to make a champion. At the very start of the book Andre says, ‘Tennis is the sport in which you talk to yourself” “Why? Because tennis is so damn lonely.” he goes on to explain, how his afternoon showers are the time when he talks to himself, motivates himself, fights the match before it begins, “Ive won 869 matches in my career, fifth on the all-time list, and many were won during the afternoon shower.” Agassi gives us the lesson of how powerful our minds are. How important it is to discipline our thoughts, condition ourselves mentally to face our opponents, our fears, before we enter any situation.
No Matter what you can always start again: during his early year, Agassi happened to face Pete Sampras at a championship and thought Pete had no future in tennis. He felt his game had been ruined by his coach, and that he should think of an alternate career. Fast forward two years, at another championship, when Agassi faced Pete as an opponent he felt someone had breathed new life into Sampras’ game. He was doing everything right, he wasn’t letting anything go, he was to be one of the greatest of all times. A very important lesson here is, no matter how you start, you can always unlearn any behavior, any skill, and start again. No loss, no setback ever has to be the end of it.
The importance of staying calm: on a Safari in South Africa, with Brooke Sheild, Andre talks about his observation regarding the natural behavior of animals. He narrates the incident, linking it to our natural response to hostility in a way that it affects one to the core. He observes that in an environment which is hostile, with lurking danger and predators on the prowl, the giraffes and zebras continue to be calm. “All these animals, beginning their day in a dangerous world, exude tremendous calm and acceptance–why cant you?” Something humans can learn from the animal kingdom, where the only rule is survival of the fittest. Then why do we lose our composure when faced with the slightest of threats?
Team Work makes Dream Work: as Agassi struggled through his career initially, he built a support system of sorts on his way. His trainer, his manager, coach, best friend, his girlfriend. He was often criticized for moving around with a big entourage, but for him they were his core team. People who made him better, worked with him and on him, keeping his lifestyle, health (physical and mental), morale level, everything a champion needs, in check. Andre believed he was the sum of the people around him, stressing on the importance of having the right influences in life.
How criticism isn’t a bad thing: since Agassi struggled with his game in the initial part of his career, he faced quite a few critics. He always had the game and the makings of a true champ, however, he lacked finishing and often lost to less talented players than himself. Still, he was big on expression. Because of his clothes, his flamboyant style, his neon and denim shorts, his long hair (which was actually a wig to hide in bald patch), Andre heard a lot of criticism about the choices he made. People dismissed his hard work, owing to what he chose to wear at a match. He was deemed as a punk, a no good player. But all this negativity only drove him to do better, strike harder, play fiercer. The critics couldn’t stop him, they fueled his hunger to win, which eventually resulted in his first Wimbledon title in 1992 and retiring at 36 as one of the top seeded players in the world.
There is a lot more inspiration, wisdom and many more lessons in the 388 pages of Agassi’s superbly written book, that will keep you engaged. I finished mine in 4 days, lets see if you can beat me on that time. And don’t forget to give us and Emmad lots of duas.