I have a very soft spot in my heart for tennis. Yes, tennis. It was one of the few sports I was ever good at in school and in the early 1990s I watched tennis broadcasts almost religiously. My favourite time of year is still Wimbledon time.
My favourite player was a tall Croat, Goran Ivanisevic, who was maddeningly unpredictable: on good days, his tennis was stunning; on bad days, his games were like watching a car crash in slow motion. You never knew what kind of a day it would be. Ivanisevic wound up winning Wimbledon, but characteristically he didn't do so until he was well past his prime and only admitted to the tournament on a wild card.
Andre Agassi belongs to the same tennis generation as Ivanisevic, but although Agassi was a wildly popular player at the time, I never took to his game. Without going into too much technical detail, Agassi played a defensive game from the baseline relying upon serve returns and solid ground strokes (on today's circuit Scots Andy Murray plays a very similar game). He was technically brilliant, absolutely, and he had a colourful personality, but his game lacked the fireworks of players far more on the offensive (Ivanisevic, Pat Rafter, Pete Sampras, and, later, Andy Roddick).
Coloured me surprised, then, that Andre Agassi's autobiography turns out to be filled with offensive gameplay, if you will pardon the pun.
At the age of 12, Andre traveled to Australia with a team of elite young players. For each tournament he won, he got a beer as a reward. Then in the seventh grade he was shipped off to the Bollettieri Academy in Florida, where his tennis flourished, but his life turned feral. Drinking hard liquor and smoking dope, he wore an earring, eyeliner and a Mohawk. Nobody objected as long as he won matches. The academy, in Agassi's words, was "Lord of the Flies with forehands." Since the press and the tennis community still regard Nick Bollettieri as a seer and an innovator whose academy spawned dozens of similar training facilities, Agassi's critical opinion of him may shock the ill-informed. But in fact, Bollettieri is the paradigmatic tennis coach: that is, a man of no particular aptitude or experience and no training at all to deal with children.
Fascinating stuff which really appeals to my inner seventeen year-old girl who knew there was something sketchy about Agassi. Of course I'm unlikely to ever read Agassi's book (my inner seventeen year-old is torn, though) as I'm now thirty-something .. a fact that was brought home to me yesterday when I was watching the UK Top 40 and I knew exactly two songs..