In his autobiography Open, Andre Agassi begins with a chapter titled “The End,” and I’m hooked. It is the last day of his professional career. He will play that night at the U.S. Open, and his minute-by-minute account is all about pain management, anxiety management and ambivalence. What is surprising is that a champion feels them to this degree. Repeatedly he says, “Please let this be over. I’m not ready for this to be over.” These words are like a refrain. We are inside his head and it is riveting, engrossing, the suspense building until the tension in that first chapter begs for some relief, any relief and I sing along with him, “Please let this be over. I’m not ready for it to be over.” I don’t know Agassi, haven’t followed his career. I am not a tennis fan, yet I’m not putting this book down for anything. His honesty is what has pulled me into his story of his very human condition.
The human condition—is there anything else? It is all that we know…or think we know. Agassi describes it at its most frail. Haunted by self-doubt and uncertainty, he makes me, the reader, root for him from the first words. He holds nothing back, explains his predicament with the precision of a man used to following the route of a ball going 120 miles per hour, yet doesn’t attempt to manipulate me, the reader, to any response at all. I am merely witnessing a man in excruciating physical pain about to pick up a racket while asking himself to perform superhuman feats in front of millions of viewers one last time.
He doesn’t disappoint. He loses. He wins. Which is it? It is both. And later, he is in the locker room on a table where a medic works on him, a trainer gives him hydration, a coach is reassuring him, a wife (who is a world champion herself) is kissing him, and the TV overhead replays highlights from the game. Agassi looks up, watches and acknowledges it is some of the best tennis he’s ever seen. His opponent is cramped and in pain himself and lying on a table next to his. He stretches out his hand which Agassi takes. Silently, holding hands, the two men watch their own game, and Agassi thinks, “We did that.”
Only later do I learn that Agassi is one of, if not the best tennis player of all time. And it doesn’t matter. He has taken me to new heights in the human spirit.
Start with the end. Why not? Then take us back, play by play. And if you are absolutely open, you will not only earn your reader’s attention, you could win his heart.