Andre Agassi

{EN} Open – Andre Agassi

1. “I’m a young man, relatively speaking. Thirty-six. But I wake as if ninety-six. After three decades of sprinting, stopping on a dime, jumping high and landing hard, my body no longer feels like my body, especially in the morning. Consequently my mind doesn’t feel like my mind. Upon opening my eyes I’m a stranger to myself, and while, again, this isn’t new, in the mornings it’s more pronounced.”

2. “I’m playing in the 2006 U.S. Open. My last U.S. Open. In fact my last tournament ever. I play tennis for a living, even though I hate tennis, hate it with a dark and secret passion, and always have.”

3. “Hate brings me to my knees, love gets me on my feet.”

4. “Gil, my trainer, my friend, my surrogate father, explains it this way: Your body is saying it doesn’t want to do this anymore. My body has been saying that for a long time, I tell Gil. Almost as long as I’ve been saying it.”

5. “Pressure is how you know everything’s working, the doctor said. Words to live by, Doc.”

6. “One thing I’ve learned in twenty-nine years of playing tennis: Life will throw everything but the kitchen sink in your path, and then it will throw the kitchen sink. It’s your job to avoid the obstacles. If you let them stop you or distract you, you’re not doing your job, and failing to do your job will cause regrets that paralyze you more than a bad back.”

7. “It’s no accident, I think, that tennis uses the language of life. Advantage, service, fault, break, love, the basic elements of tennis are those of everyday existence, because every match is a life in miniature.”

8. “Only boxers can understand the loneliness of tennis players—and yet boxers have their corner men and managers. Even a boxer’s opponent provides a kind of companionship, someone he can grapple with and grunt at. In tennis you stand face-to-face with the enemy, trade blows with him, but never touch him or talk to him, or anyone else. The rules forbid a tennis player from even talking to his coach while on the court. People sometimes mention the track-and-field runner as a comparably lonely figure, but I have to laugh. At least the runner can feel and smell his opponents. They’re inches away. In tennis you’re on an island. Of all the games men and women play, tennis is the closest to solitary confinement, which inevitably leads to self-talk, and for me the self-talk starts here in the afternoon shower.”

9. “Butterflies are funny. Some days they make you run to the toilet. Other days they make you horny. Other days they make you laugh, and long for the fight. Deciding which type of butterflies you’ve got going (monarchs or moths) is the first order of business when you’re driving to the arena. Figuring out your butterflies, deciphering what they say about the status of your mind and body, is the first step to making them work for you. One of the thousand lessons I’ve learned from Gil.”

10. “I obsess about my bag. I keep it meticulously organized, and I make no apologies for this anal retentiveness. The bag is my briefcase, suitcase, toolbox, lunchbox, and palette. I need it just right, always. The bag is what I carry onto the court, and what I carry off, two moments when all my senses are extra acute, so I can feel every ounce of its weight. If someone were to slip a pair of argyle socks into my tennis bag, I’d feel it. The tennis bag is a lot like your heart—you have to know what’s in it at all times.”

11.”Disorder is distraction, and every distraction on the court is a potential turning point.”

12. “I don’t want to notice, but I do, all the time, and then I remember forever. My memory isn’t like my tennis bag; I have no say over its contents. Everything goes in, and nothing ever seems to come out.”

13. “I talk to her and the children for a few minutes, but I can’t hear a word they’re saying. My mind is far away. Stefanie sees. She feels. You don’t win twenty-two Grand Slams without a highly developed intuition.”

14. “Nothing is quite so unsettling as watching your opponent do pilates, yoga, and tai chi when you can’t so much as curtsy. He now maneuvers his hips in ways I haven’t dared since I was seven.”

15. “I see in her face everything she wants to say but will not let herself say. I hear every word she refuses to utter: Enjoy, savor, take it all in, notice each fleeting detail, because this could be it, and even though you hate tennis, you might just miss it after tonight.”

16. “He holds out his fist for a bump. Just one bump, because that’s what we did before my first-round win earlier this week. We’re both superstitious, so however we start a tournament, that’s how we finish.”

17. “I let him think the crowd is cheering for both of us. Then I walk out. Now the cheers triple. Baghdatis turns and realizes the first cheer was for him, but this cheer is mine, all mine, which forces him to revise his expectations and reconsider what’s in store. Without hitting a single ball I’ve caused a major swing in his sense of well-being. A trick of the trade. An old-timer’s trick.”

18. “He’s cramping. He falls to the ground, grabbing his legs. He’s in more pain than I. I’ll take a congenital back condition over sudden leg cramps any day. As he writhes on the ground I realize: All I have to do is stay upright, move this goddamned ball around a little while longer, and let his cramps do their work. […] By now Baghdatis isn’t merely cramping, he’s a cripple. Awaiting my serve, he’s fully bent over. I can’t believe he’s managing to stay on the court, let alone give me such a game. The guy has as much heart as he has hair. I feel for him, and at the same time tell myself to show him no mercy. I serve, he returns, and in my eagerness to hit to the open court, I hit far wide. […] During the changeover I watch Baghdatis sit. Big mistake. A young man’s mistake. Never sit when cramping. Never tell your body that it’s time to rest, then tell it, Just kidding!”

19. “Wouldn’t that feel like heaven, Andre? To just quit? To never play tennis again? But I can’t. Not only would my father chase me around the house with my racket, but something in my gut, some deep unseen muscle, won’t let me. I hate tennis, hate it with all my heart, and still I keep playing, keep hitting all morning, and all afternoon, because I have no choice. No matter how much I want to stop, I don’t. I keep begging myself to stop, and I keep playing, and this gap, this contradiction between what I want to do and what I actually do, feels like the core of my life.”

20. “I know this is no ordinary reflex. I know there are few children in the world who could have seen that ball, let alone hit it. But I take no pride in my reflexes, and I get no credit. It’s what I’m supposed to do. Every hit is expected, every miss a crisis.”

21. “If I can clear my father’s high net, he figures I’ll have no trouble clearing the net one day at Wimbledon. Never mind that I don’t want to play Wimbledon. What I want isn’t relevant.”

22. “Though I hate tennis, I like the feeling of hitting a ball dead perfect. It’s the only peace. When I do something perfect, I enjoy a split second of sanity and calm.”

23. “My father says he doesn’t like hawks because they swoop down on mice and other defenseless desert creatures. He can’t stand the thought of something strong preying on something weak. (This also holds true when he goes fishing: whatever he catches, he kisses its scaly head and throws it back.) Of course he has no qualms about preying on me, no trouble watching me gasp for air on his hook. He doesn’t see the contradiction. He doesn’t care about contradictions. He doesn’t realize that I’m the most defenseless creature in this godforsaken desert. If he did realize, I wonder, would he treat me differently?”

24. “No one ever asked me if I wanted to play tennis, let alone make it my life. In fact, my mother thought I was born to be a preacher. She tells me, however, that my father decided long before I was born that I would be a professional tennis player. When I was one year old, she adds, I proved my father right. Watching a ping-pong game, I moved only my eyes, never my head. My father called to my mother. Look, he said. See how he moves only his eyes? A natural.”

25. “Besides loving my father, and wanting to please him, I don’t want to upset him. I don’t dare. Bad stuff happens when my father is upset. If he says I’m going to play tennis, if he says I’m going to be number one in the world, that it’s my destiny, all I can do is nod and obey.”

26. “Because I did, I’ll now have a loss on my record—forever. Nothing can ever change it. I can’t endure the thought, but it’s inescapable: I’m fallible. Blemished. Imperfect. A million balls hit against the dragon—for what?”

27. “After years of hearing my father rant at my flaws, one loss has caused me to take up his rant. I’ve internalized my father—his impatience, his perfectionism, his rage—until his voice doesn’t just feel like my own, it is my own. I no longer need my father to torture me. From this day on, I can do it all by myself.”

28. “My father says that when he boxed, he always wanted to take a guy’s best punch. He tells me one day on the tennis court: When you know that you just took the other guy’s best punch, and you’re still standing, and the other guy knows it, you will rip the heart right out of him. In tennis, he says, same rule. Attack the other man’s strength. If the man is a server, take away his serve. If he’s a power player, overpower him. If he has a big forehand, takes pride in his forehand, go after his forehand until he hates his forehand.”

29. “My father named me Andre Kirk Agassi, after his bosses at the casino. I ask my mother why my father named me after his bosses. Were they friends? Did he admire them? Did he owe them money? She doesn’t know. And it’s not the kind of question you can ask my father directly. You can’t ask my father anything directly.”

30. “My father loves money, makes no apologies for loving it, and he says there’s good money to be made in tennis. Clearly this is one big part of his love for tennis. It’s the shortest route he can see to the American dream.”

31. “The Alan King tournament attracts big-time players, and my father cajoles most of them into hitting a few balls with me. Some are more willing than others. Borg acts as if there is nowhere else he’d rather be. Connors clearly wants to say no, but can’t, because my father is his stringer. Ilie Nastase tries to say no, but my father pretends to be deaf. A champion of Wimbledon and the French Open, ranked number one in the world, Nastase has other places he’d rather be, but he quickly discovers that refusing my father is next to impossible.”

32. “I stop. I glare at Nastase. I want to punch this big, stupid Romanian in the nose, even though he’s got two feet and 100 pounds on me. Bad enough that he calls me Snoopy, but then he dares to mention Wendi in such a disrespectful way.”

33. “This thing with Mr. Brown, however, is different, and not just because my family’s life savings are riding on the outcome. Mr. Brown disrespected my father, and my father can’t knock him out. He needs me to do it. So this match will be about more than money. It will be about respect and manhood and honor—against the greatest football player of all time. I’d rather play in the final of Wimbledon. Against Nastase. With Wendi as the ballgirl.”

34. “This is the sweetest win of my life, and it will be hard to top. I’ll take this win over a wheelbarrow full of silver dollars—and Uncle Isar’s jewels thrown on top—because this is the win that made my father finally sneak away from me.”

35. “I HATE ALL THE junior tournaments, but I hate nationals most of all, because the stakes are higher, and they’re held in other states, which means airfare, motels, rental cars, restaurant meals. My father is shelling out money, investing in me, and when I lose, there goes another piece of his investment. When I lose I set back the whole Agassi clan.”

36. “IF ONLY I COULD play soccer instead of tennis. I don’t like sports, but if I must play a sport to please my father, I’d much rather play soccer. I get to play three times a week at school, and I love running the soccer field with the wind in my hair, calling for the ball, knowing the world won’t end if I don’t score. The fate of my father, of my family, of planet earth, doesn’t rest on my shoulders. If my team doesn’t win, it will be the whole team’s fault, and no one will yell in my ear. Team sports, I decide, are the way to go. […] I dart in between defenders, fluid, graceful, calling for the ball, laughing with my teammates. We’re working toward a common objective. We’re in this together. This feels right. This feels like me.”

37. “I tell my father that I don’t like being by myself on that huge tennis court. Tennis is lonely, I tell him. There’s nowhere to hide when things go wrong.”

38. “My brother sounds the way I imagine a father is supposed to sound. Proud of me and scared for me at the same time. When I return from nationals I grab him and hug him and we spend my first night home locked in our room, whispering across the white line, cherishing our rare victory over Pops.”

39. “But I hear an added note of pain in Perry’s voice, because he says his father doesn’t love him. I’ve never questioned my father’s love. I just wish it were softer, with more listening and less rage. In fact, I sometimes wish my father loved me less. Maybe then he’d back off, let me make my own choices. I tell Perry that having no choice, having no say about what I do or who I am, makes me crazy. That’s why I put more thought, obsessive thought, into the few choices I do have—what I wear, what I eat, who I call my friends.”

40. “Perry’s right—I had a choice, for once, and I made it. Sure, I wish I hadn’t broken our pact, but I can’t feel bad about finally exercising free will.”

41. “My father doesn’t say the words, but it’s obvious: he’s determined to do things differently with me. He doesn’t want to repeat the mistakes he made with my siblings. He ruined their games by holding on too long, too tight, and in the process he ruined his relationship with them. Things got so bad with Rita that she’s recently run off with Pancho Gonzalez, the tennis legend, who’s at least thirty years her senior. My father doesn’t want to limit me, or break me, or ruin me. So he’s banishing me. He’s sending me away, partly to protect me from himself.”

42. “For all the pain my father has caused me, the one constant has been his presence. He’s always been there, at my back, and now he won’t be. I feel abandoned. I thought the one thing I wanted was to be free of him, and now that he’s sending me away, I’m heartbroken.”

43. “Andre can stay, free of charge. I’m tearing up your check. My heart sinks. I know my father can’t resist anything free. My fate is sealed. Nick hangs up and spins toward me in his chair. He doesn’t explain. He doesn’t console. He doesn’t ask if this is what I want. He doesn’t say a thing besides: Go back out to the courts.”

44. “Mrs. G and Doc G have instituted dozens of rules at Bradenton Academy, and one of the most strictly enforced is their ban on jewelry. Thus, I go out of my way to pierce my ears. It’s an easy show of rebellion, which, as I see it, is my last resort. Rebellion is the one thing I get to choose every day, and this rebellion comes with the added bonus that it represents a neat little fuck-you to my father, who’s always hated earrings on men. Many times I’ve heard my father say that earrings equal homosexuality. I can’t wait for him to see mine. (I buy both studs and dangly hoops.) He’ll finally regret sending me thousands of miles from home and leaving me here to be corrupted.”

45. “By the end of the first semester I’m close to failing all my classes. Except English. I show a strange aptitude for literature, especially poetry. Memorizing famous poems, writing original poems, it comes easily to me. We’re assigned to write a short verse about our daily lives and I set mine proudly on the teacher’s desk. She likes it. She reads it aloud in class. Some of the other kids later ask me to ghostwrite their homework. I dash off their assignments on the bus, no problem. The English teacher detains me after class and says I have real talent. I smile.”

46. “The next class, French, is worse. I’m très stupide. I transfer to Spanish, where I’m muy estúpido. Spanish, I think, might actually shorten my life.”

47. “To the casual observer I’ve done something that seems like a desperate effort to stand out. But in fact I’ve rendered myself, my inner self, my true self, invisible. At least, that was the idea.”

48. “Six-ten in the world, bro. Which means there are only 609 people better than me in the entire world. On planet earth, in the solar system, I’m number 610. I slap the wall of the phone booth and shout for joy. The line is silent. Then, in a kind of whisper, Philly asks, How does it feel?”

49. “What new sin can I commit to show the world I’m unhappy and want to go home?”

50. “For laughs, I decide to play the match in jeans. Not tennis shorts, not warm-up pants, but torn, faded, dirty dungarees. I know it won’t affect the outcome. The kid I’m playing is a chump. I can beat him with one hand tied behind my back, wearing a gorilla costume. For good measure I pencil on some eyeliner and put in my gaudiest earrings.”

51. “I want to quit school, I say. I want to start doing correspondence school, so I can work on my game full-time. I want your help, instead of the bullshit you’ve been giving me. I want wild cards, bids to tournaments. I want to take real steps toward turning pro.”

52. “Nick respects the way I stood up to him, and I respect him for being true to his word. We’re working hard to achieve a common goal, to conquer the tennis world. I don’t expect much from Nick in the way of Xs and Os; I look to him for cooperation, not information. Meanwhile, he looks to me for headline-generating wins which help his academy. I don’t pay him a salary, because I can’t, but it’s understood that when I turn pro I’ll give him bonuses based on what I earn. He considers this more than generous.”

53. “My father says, What the hell do you mean? Take the money. If I take the money, there’s no turning back. I’m pro. So? If I cash this check, Pops, that’s it. He acts as if we have a bad connection. You’ve dropped out of school! You have an eighth-grade education. What are your choices? What the hell else are you going to do? Be a doctor?”

54. “The day after I turn pro, Philly gets a call from Nike. They want to meet with me about an endorsement deal. […] You’re worth twenty grand, bro! And twenty-five next year.”

55. “He beats me soundly, 6–3, 6–3. During the loss, however, I manage to hit one atomic winner, a forehand return of Mac’s serve that explodes past him. At the post-match news conference, Mac announces to reporters: I’ve played Becker, Connors, and Lendl, and no one ever hit a return that hard at me. I never even saw the ball. This one quote, this ringing endorsement of my game from a player of Mac’s status, puts me on the national map. Newspapers write about me. Fans write to me. Philly suddenly finds himself deluged with requests for interviews.”

56. “From the airport I drive straight to Perry’s house. We hole up in his bedroom with a couple of sodas. As soon as his door is closed I feel safer, saner. I notice that the walls are plastered with a few dozen more covers of Sports Illustrated. I study the faces of all the great athletes, and I tell Perry that I always believed I’d be a great athlete, whether I wanted to be one or not. I took it for granted. It was my life, and though I hadn’t chosen it, my sole consolation was its certainty. At least fate has a structure. Now I don’t know what the future holds. I’m good at one thing, but it looks as though I’m not as good at that one thing as I thought. Maybe I’m finished before I’ve started. In which case, what the hell are Philly and I going to do?”

57. “Our father is meeting us at the airport, and I tell Philly as we walk through McCarran International Airport that I’ve made a momentous decision. I’m going to hug Pops. Hug him? What for? I feel good. I’m happy, damn it. Why not? I’m going to do it. You only live once. Our father is at the gate, wearing a baseball cap and sunglasses. I rush toward him, wrap my arms around him, and squeeze. He doesn’t move. He stiffens. It feels like hugging the pilot. I release him and tell myself I’ll never try that again.”

58. “The Italian Open is on red clay, a surface that feels unnatural to me. I’ve only played on green clay, which is sort of fast. Red clay, I tell Nick, is hot glue and wet tar laid across a bed of quicksand. You can’t put a guy away on this red-clay shit, I complain at our first practice.”

59. “IN JUNE 1987 we go to Wimbledon. I’m scheduled to play a Frenchman, Henri Leconte, on Court 2, known as the Graveyard Court because so many players have suffered fatal losses there. It’s my first time at the most hallowed venue in tennis, and from the moment we arrive I dislike it. I’m a sheltered teenager from Las Vegas with no education. I reject all that’s alien, and London feels as alien as a place can be. The food, the buses, the venerable tradi-tions. Even the grass of Wimbledon smells different from the grass back home, what little there is of it.”

60. “I resent rules, but especially arbitrary rules. Why must I wear white? I don’t want to wear white. Why should it matter to these people what I wear? Above all, I take offense at being barred and blocked and made to feel unwanted. I need to show a badge to get into the locker room—and not the main locker room at that. I’m playing in this tournament, but I’m treated as an intruder, not even allowed to practice on the courts where I’ll be competing. I’m restricted to indoor courts up the street. Consequently the first time I ever hit a ball on grass is the first time I play Wimbledon. And what a shock. The ball doesn’t bounce right, doesn’t bounce at all, because this grass isn’t grass, but ice slathered with Vaseline.”

61. “I notice something on the faces of fans too. The way they watch me and ask for my autograph, the way they scream as I enter an arena, makes me uncomfortable, but also satisfies something deep inside me, some hidden craving I didn’t know was there. I’m shy—but I like attention. I cringe when fans start dressing like me—but I also dig it.”

62. “I’m doing nothing more than I did at the Bollettieri Academy. Bucking authority, experimenting with identity, sending a message to my father, thrashing against the lack of choice in my life. But I’m doing it on a grander stage.”

63. “I’m flattered by the imitators, embarrassed, thoroughly confused. I can’t imagine all these people trying to be like Andre Agassi, since I don’t want to be Andre Agassi.”

64. “To make matters worse, journalists write down exactly what I say, while I’m saying it, word for word, as if this represented the literal truth. I want to tell them, Hold it, don’t write that down, I’m only thinking out loud here. You’re asking about the subject I understand least—me. Let me edit myself, contradict myself. But there isn’t time. They need black-and-white answers, good and evil, simple plot lines in seven hundred words, and then they’re on to the next thing.”

65. “If I had time, if I were more self-aware, I would tell journalists that I’m trying to figure out who I am, but in the meantime I have a pretty good idea of who I’m not. I’m not my clothes. I’m certainly not my game. I’m not anything the public thinks I am. I’m not a showman simply because I come from Vegas and wear loud clothes. I’m not an enfant terrible, a phrase that appears in every article about me. (I think you can’t be something you can’t pronounce.) And, for heaven’s sake, I’m not a punk rocker. I listen to soft, cheesy pop, like Barry Manilow and Richard Marx.”

66. “Of course the key to my identity, the thing I know about myself but can’t bring myself to tell journalists, is that I’m losing my hair. I wear it long and fluffy to conceal its rapid departure.”

67. “I’m winning more often. I should be happy. Instead I’m uptight, because it’s over. I’ve enjoyed a triumphant hard-court season, my body wants to keep playing on hard courts, but clay season is starting. The sudden switch from one surface to another changes everything. Clay is a different game, thus your game must become different, and so must your body. Instead of sprinting from side to side, stopping short and starting, you must slide and lean and dance.”

68. “A friend tells me that the four surfaces in tennis are like the four seasons. Each asks something different of you. Each bestows different gifts and exacts different costs. Each radic-ally alters your outlook, remakes you on a molecular level.”

69. “The crowd is pulling for Connors. It’s the opposite of Stratton. Here, I’m cast as the bad guy. I’m the impertinent upstart who dares to oppose the elder statesman. The crowd wants Connors to defy the odds, and Father Time, and I’m standing in the way of that dream scenario. Each time they cheer I think: Do they realize what this guy is like in the locker room? Do they know what his peers say about him? Do they have any concept of how he responds to a friendly hello?”

70. “Millions of fans like me, apparently. I get potato sacks full of fan mail, including naked pictures of women with their phone numbers scrawled along the margin. And yet each day I’m vilified because of my look, because of my behavior, because of no reason at all. I absorb the role of villain-rebel, accept it, grow into it. The role seems like part of my job, so I play it. Before long, however, I’m being typecast. I’m to be the villain-rebel forever, in every match and every tournament.”

71. “Over beers he does what Perry has always done. He reshapes my anguish, makes it more logical and articulate. If I’m a returner, he’s a reworder. First, he redefines the problem as a negotiation between me and the world. Then he clarifies the terms of the negotiation. He grants that it’s horrible to be a sensitive person who’s publicly excoriated every day, but he insists it’s only temporary. There’s a time limit to this torture. Things will get better, he says, the moment I start to win Grand Slams.”

72. “He says it must be bizarre to have strangers think they know me, and love me beyond reason, while others think they know me and resent me beyond reason—all while I’m a relative stranger to myself.”

73. “Now, with the Donnay, I feel as if I am playing with a broomstick. I feel as if I’m playing left-handed, as if I’ve suffered a brain injury. Everything is slightly off. The ball doesn’t listen to me. The ball doesn’t do what I say”

74. “Overnight the slogan 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. They say I’m nothing but image, I have no substance, because I haven’t won a slam. They say the slogan is proof that I’m just a pitchman, trading on my fame, caring only about money and nothing about tennis. Fans at my matches begin taunting me with the slogan. Come on, Andre—image is everything! They yell this if I show any emotion. They yell it if I show no emotion. They yell it when I win. They yell it when I lose.”

75. “I lash out at linesmen, opponents, reporters—even fans. I feel justified, because the world is against me, the world is trying to screw me. I’m becoming my father.”

76. “I stop putting together the toy in my hand and fix Gil with a look. I tell him my life has never for one day belonged to me. My life has always belonged to someone else. First, my father. Then Nick. And always, always, tennis. Even my body wasn’t my own until I met Gil, who is doing the one thing fathers are supposed to do. Making me stronger.”

77. “Perry will help with my disordered thoughts. J.P. will help with my troubled soul. Nick will help with the basics of my game. Philly will help with details, arrangements, and always have my back. Sportswriters rip me about my entourage. They say I travel with all these people because it feeds my ego. They say I need this many people around me because I can’t be alone. They’re half right. I don’t like to be alone. But these people around me aren’t an entourage, they’re a team. I need them for company, for counsel, and for a kind of rolling education.”

78. “I tell him how the game is organized, the circuit of minor tournaments and the four majors, or Grand Slams, that all players use as yardsticks. I tell him about the tennis calendar, how we start the year on the other side of the world, at the Australian Open, and then just chase the sun. Next comes clay season, in Europe, which culminates in Paris with the French Open. Then comes June, grass season, and Wimbledon. I stick out my tongue and make a face. Then come the dog days, the hard-court season, which concludes with the U.S. Open. Then the indoor season—Stuttgart, Paris, the World Championships. It’s all very Groundhog Day. Same venues, same opponents, only the years and scores are different, and over time the scores all run together like phone numbers.”

79. “It is on. You know what I’m saying? We’re in a fight, and you can count on me until the last man is standing. Somewhere up there is a star with your name on it. I might not be able to help you find it, but I’ve got pretty strong shoulders, and you can stand on my shoulders while you’re looking for that star. You hear? For as long as you want. Stand on my shoulders and reach, man. Reach.”

80. “The only way to beat him is to take away his belief and his desire, by being aggressive.”

81. “Dream while you’re awake, Andre. Anybody can dream while they’re asleep, but you need to dream all the time, and say your dreams out loud, and believe in them.”

82. “I can’t promise you that you won’t be tired, he says. But please know this. There’s a lot of good waiting for you on the other side of tired. Get yourself tired, Andre. That’s where you’re going to know yourself. On the other side of tired.”

83. “Gil guards my body, my head, my game, my heart, my girlfriend. He’s the one immovable object in my life. He’s my life guard.”

84. “Since losing is death, I’d rather it be fast than slow.”

85. “He pats my shoulder. He smiles, walks to his chair, and wraps his head in a towel. I understand his emotions better than my own. Much of my heart is with him as I sit in my chair, trying to collect myself.”

86. “A very British man approaches and tells me to stand. He hands me a large gold loving cup. I don’t know how to hold it, or where to go with it. He points and tells me to walk in a circle around the court. Hold the trophy over your head, he says. I walk around the court holding the trophy above my head. The fans cheer. Another man tries to take the trophy from me. I pull it back. He explains that he’s going to have it engraved. With my name.”

87. “I’m unnerved by how giddy I feel. It shouldn’t matter this much. It shouldn’t feel this good.”

88. “He says nothing. Not because he disagrees, or disapproves, but because he’s crying. Faintly I hear my father sniffling and wiping away tears, and I know he’s proud, just incapable of expressing it. I can’t fault the man for not knowing how to say what’s in his heart. It’s the family curse.”

89. “THE NIGHT OF THE FINAL is the famed Wimbledon Ball. I’ve heard about it for years, and I’m dying to go, because the men’s winner gets to dance with the women’s winner, and this year, as in most years, that means Steffi Graf. I’ve had a crush on Steffi since I first saw her doing an interview on French TV. I was thunderstruck, dazzled by her understated grace, her effortless beauty. She looked, somehow, as if she smelled good. Also, as if she was good, fundamentally, essentially, inherently good, brimming with moral rectitude and a kind of dignity that doesn’t exist anymore. I thought I saw, for half a second, a halo above her head. I tried to get a message to her after last year’s French Open, but she didn’t respond. Now, I can’t wait to twirl her across a dance floor, never mind that I don’t know how to dance.”

90. “But I don’t feel that Wimbledon has changed me. I feel, in fact, as if I’ve been let in on a dirty little secret: winning changes nothing. Now that I’ve won a slam, I know something that very few people on earth are permitted to know. 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.”

91. “And so it began. Faxes back and forth, a long-distance correspondence with a woman I’d never met. What began oddly became progressively more odd. The pace of the conversation was outrageously slow, and this suited us both—neither of us was in any hurry. But the enormous geographical distance also led us to quickly let down our guard. We segued within a few faxes from innocent flirting to innermost secrets. Within a few days our faxes took on a tone of fondness, then intimacy. I felt as if I were going steady with this woman I’d never met or spoken to.”

92. “But my eyelids are heavy. I fight to keep them open, fight as always the loss of control, which feels like the ultimate loss of choice.”

93. “I feel an enormous surge of protectiveness, and tenderness—which ebbs when she gets a phone call from her close friend, Michael Jackson. I can’t fathom her continuing friendship with Jackson, given all the stories and accusations. But Brooke says he’s just like us. Another prodigy who didn’t have a childhood.”

94. “It’s not rocket science, he says. If I were you, with your skills, your talent, your return and footwork, I’d dominate. But you’ve lost the fire you had when you were sixteen. That kid, taking the ball early, being aggressive, what the hell happened to that kid?”

95. “You don’t have to be the best in the world every time you go out there. You just have to be better than one guy. Instead of you succeeding, make him fail. Better yet, let him fail. It’s all about odds and percentages.”

96. “When you chase perfection, when you make perfection the ultimate goal, do you know what you’re doing? You’re chasing something that doesn’t exist.”

97. “Of course, speaking for myself, when I’m playing blackjack, I’d rather win with sixteen, because that’s winning ugly. No need to win with twenty-one. No need to be perfect.”

98. “I like the way this feels. I respond to Brad’s ideas, his enthusiasm, his energy. I find peace in his claim that perfectionism is voluntary. Perfectionism is something I chose, and it’s ruining me, and I can choose something else. I must choose something else. No one has ever said this to me. I’ve always assumed perfectionism was like my thinning hair or my thickened spinal cord. An inborn part of me.”

99. “After dispatching Becker, I’m in the final. My opponent? Pete. As always, Pete.”

100. “But Pete does it again. He sends his evil twin onto the court. This is not the Pete who was curled in a ball on the locker-room floor. This is not the Pete who was getting an IV and wobbling in circles. This Pete is in the prime of life, serving at warp speed, barely breaking a sweat. He’s playing his best tennis, unbeatable, and he jumps out to a 5–1 lead.”

101. “Trust me, I tell him, you shave that chest and you’ll feel things you’ve never felt before. Win the U.S. Open, he says, and so will you.”

102. “Lupica sounds so sure, as if he’s seen the future. What if he’s right? What if this is it, my moment of truth, and I’m revealed to be a fraud? If it doesn’t happen now, when will I have another chance to win the U.S. Open? So many things have to fall your way. Finals don’t grow on trees. What if I never win this tournament? What if I always look back on this moment with regret? What if hiring Brad was a mistake? What if Brooke is the wrong girl for me? What if my team, so carefully assembled, is the wrong team?”

103. “I understand the man I’m playing, therefore, understand him intimately. Simply knowing your enemy is a powerful advantage.”

104. “You know everything you need to know about people when you see their faces at the moments of your greatest triumph. I’ve believed in Brad’s talent from the beginning, but now, seeing his pure and unrestrained happiness for me, I believe unrestrainedly in him.”

105. “It’s as though she’s suggesting I have all my teeth pulled. I tell her to forget it. Then I go away and think about it for a few days. I think about the pain my hair has caused me, the in-convenience of the hairpieces, the hypocrisy and the pretending and the lying. Maybe it isn’t crazy after all. Maybe it’s the first step toward sanity.”

106. “With clumps of my hair falling to the floor, I feel clumps of me falling away.”

107. “I walk to the mirror. I see a person I don’t recognize. Before me stands a total stranger. My reflection isn’t different, it’s simply not me. But, really, what the hell have I lost? Maybe I’ll have an easier time being this guy. All this time with Brad, trying to fix what’s in my head, it never occurred to me to fix what’s on my head. I smile at my reflection, run a hand over my scalp. Hello. Nice to meet you.”

108. I feel well rid of it. I feel true. I feel free. And I play like it. At the 1995 Australian Open I come out like the Incredible Hulk. I don’t drop one set in a take-no-prisoners blitz to the final. This is the first time I’ve played in Australia, and I can’t imagine why I’ve waited so long. I like the surface, the venue—the heat.”

109.”He’s wearing down physically, and emotionally, because he’s been through hell these last few days. His longtime coach, Tim Gullickson, suffered two strokes, and then they discovered a tumor in his brain. Pete is traumatized. As the match turns my way, I feel guilty. I’d be willing to stop, let Pete go into the locker room, get an IV, and come back as that other Pete who likes to kick my ass at slams.”

110. “It’s my second slam in a row, my third overall. Everyone says it’s my best slam yet, because it’s my first victory over Pete in a slam final. But I think twenty years from now I’ll remember it as my first bald slam.”

111. “My father is what he is, and always will be, and though he can’t help himself, though he can’t tell the difference between loving me and loving tennis, it’s love all the same. Few of us are granted the grace to know ourselves, and until we do, maybe the best we can do is be consistent. My father is nothing if not consistent.”

112. “The next person who phones is a reporter. I tell him that I’m happy about the ranking, that it feels good to be the best that I can be. It’s a lie. This isn’t at all what I feel. It’s what I want to feel. It’s what I expected to feel, what I tell myself to feel. But in fact I feel nothing.”

113. “I SPEND MANY HOURS ROAMING the streets of Palermo, drinking strong black coffee, wondering what the hell is wrong with me. I did it—I’m the number one tennis player on earth, and yet I feel empty. If being number one feels empty, unsatisfying, what’s the point? Why not just retire?”

114. “I never really wanted to be number one, that was just something others wanted for me. So I’m number one. So a computer loves me. So what? What I think I’ve always wanted, since I was a boy, and what I want now, is far more difficult, far more substantial. I want to win the French Open. Then I’ll have all four slams to my credit. The complete set. I’ll be only the fifth man to accomplish such a feat in the open era—and the first American.”

115. “The more I think about winning all four slams, the more excited I become. It’s a sudden and shocking insight into myself. I realize this is what I’ve long wanted. I’ve simply repressed the desire because it didn’t seem possible, especially after reaching the final of the French Open two years in a row and losing.”

116. “It rains every day, but still the fans mob Wimbledon. They brave the rain, the cold, they line up all the way down Church Road, for the love of tennis. I want to go out there and stand with them, question them, find out what makes them love it so much. I wonder what it would be like to feel such passion for the game. I wonder if the fake Fu Manchus stay on in the rain, or if they disintegrate like my old hairpieces.”

117. “In the semis I face Becker. I’ve beaten him the last eight times we’ve played. Pete has already moved on to the final and he’s awaiting the winner of Agassi-Becker, which is to say he’s awaiting me, because every slam final is beginning to feel like a standing date between me and Pete.”

118. “When we’re done, fans gather and shout questions. Few of the other players hang around talking to fans, but I do. I like it. For me, fans are always preferable to reporters.”

119. “There’s an unwritten rule, or maybe it’s actually written, that if you leave the court with your racket, you forfeit. So I drop the racket, to let people know I’m coming back. In my delirious state, I still care about the rules of tennis, but I also care about the rules of physics. What goes down, in this heat, must come up, and soon.”

120. “From D.C. I go to Montreal, where it’s blessedly cooler. I beat Pete in the final. Three hard-fought sets. Beating Pete always feels good, but this time it barely registers. I want Becker.”

121. “It’s my twentieth straight match victory, my fourth straight tournament victory. I’ve won sixty-three of seventy matches this year, forty-four of forty-six on hard court. Reporters ask if I feel invincible, and I say no. They think I’m being modest, but I’m telling the truth. It’s how I feel. It’s the only way I can allow myself to feel in the Summer of Revenge. Pride is bad, stress is good. I don’t want to feel confident. I want to feel rage. Endless, all-consuming rage.

122. “Becker feels the same way. He knows what he said, and he knows I’ve read it fifty times and memorized it. He knows I’ve been stewing in his remarks all summer, and he knows I want blood. He does too. He’s never liked me, and for him this also has been the Summer of Revenge. We walk onto the court, avoiding eye contact, refusing to acknowledge the crowd, focused on our gear, our tennis bags, and the nasty job at hand.

123. “He’s seen me lose my cool before, so he does what he thinks will make me lose my cool again, the most emasculating thing one tennis player can do to another: He blows kisses at my box. At Brooke.”

124. “No matter how much you win, if you’re not the last one to win, you’re a loser. And in the end I always lose, because there is always Pete. As always, Pete.

125. “The doctors shut me down for weeks. Brad is suicidal. A layoff will cost you the number one rank, he says. I couldn’t care less. Pete is number one, no matter what some computer says. Pete won two slams this year, and he won our showdown in New York. Besides, I still don’t give a rat’s ass about being number one. Would have been nice; wasn’t my goal. Then again, beating Pete wasn’t my goal either, but losing to him has caused me to plummet into a bottomless gloom.

126. “I’ve always had trouble shaking off hard losses, but this loss to Pete is different. This is the ultimate loss, the über-loss, the alpha-omega loss that eclipses all others. Previous losses to Pete, the loss to Courier, the loss to Gómez—they were flesh wounds compared to this, which feels like a spear through the heart. Every day this loss feels new. Every day I tell myself to stop thinking about it, and every day I can’t. The only respite is fantasizing about retirement.”

127. “They persist. They ask about the U.S. Open. The rivalry with Pete. What’s that like? You guys are great for tennis. Yes, well. Are you guys friends? Friends? Did they really just ask me that? Are they asking because they’re the Friends? I’d never thought of it before, but yes, I guess Pete and I are friends.”

128. “I felt jealous, yes, but also dis-located, out of touch with myself. Like Brooke, I was playing a part, the role of the Dopey Boyfriend, and I thought I was pulling it off. But when the hand licking started I couldn’t stay in character any longer. Of course, I’ve watched Brooke kiss men onstage before. I’ve also had the experience of meeting a perv who couldn’t wait to tell me about making out with my girlfriend on a movie set when she was fifteen. This is different. This is over the line. I don’t pretend to know where the line is, but hand licking is definitely over it.

129. “You were a major distraction, she says, raising her voice. I had to block you out of my mind so that I could concentrate on my lines, which made everything harder. If I ever did anything like that to you, at a match, you’d be incensed.

130. “I walk to the shelf that holds my tennis trophies and pick one up. I hurl it through the living room, through the kitchen. It breaks in several pieces. I pick up another and hurl it against the wall. One by one I do this with all my trophies. Davis Cup? Smash. U.S. Open? Smash.”

131. “ONE MONTH LATER I’m in Stuttgart for the start of the indoor season. If I were to list all the places in the world where I don’t want to be, all the continents and countries, the cities and towns, the villages and hamlets and burgs, Stuttgart would be at the top of my list. If I live to be a thousand years old, I think, nothing good is ever going to happen to me in Stuttgart. Nothing against Stuttgart. I just don’t want to be here, now, playing tennis.

132. “A man in the upper bleachers rises and waves his shoe. He would be happy, he says, to loan me his Schuh. Brad goes up to the stands and retrieves it. Though the man is a size nine, I force his shoe on my foot, like some halfwit Cinderella, and resume play. […] I’m playing a match for the number one ranking in the world, wearing a shoe borrowed from a stranger in Stuttgart. I think of my father using tennis balls to mend our shoes when we were kids. This feels more awkward, more ridiculous. I’m emotionally exhausted, and I wonder why I don’t just stop. Walk off. Leave. What keeps me going? How am I managing to select shots and hold serve and break serve? Mentally I leave the arena. I go to the mountains, rent a ski cabin, make myself an omelet, put my feet up, breathe in the snowy smell of the forest.”

133.”The win helps me regain the number one rank. Once again I’ve dethroned Pete, but it’s just another reminder of when I didn’t, couldn’t, beat him.

134. “In the semis I face Chang. I know I can win, but I also know that I will lose. In fact I want to lose, I must lose, because Becker is waiting in the final. The last thing I need right now is another holy war with Becker. I couldn’t handle that. I wouldn’t have the stomach for it, which means I’d lose. Given a choice between Becker and Chang, I’d rather lose to Chang. Besides, it’s always easier psychologically to lose in the semis than in the final.”

135. “But losing on purpose isn’t easy. It’s almost harder than winning. You have to lose in such a way that the crowd can’t tell, and in a way that you can’t tell—because of course you’re not wholly conscious of losing on purpose. You’re not even half conscious. Your mind is tanking, but your body is fighting on. Muscle memory. It’s not even all of your mind that purposely loses, but a breakaway faction, a splinter group. The deliberately bad decisions are made in a dark place, far below the surface. You don’t do those tiny things you need to do. You don’t run the extra few feet, you don’t lunge. You’re slow to come out of stops. You hesitate to bend or dig. You get handsy, not using your legs and hips. You make a careless error, compensate for the error with a spectacular shot, then make two more errors, and slowly but surely you slide backward. You never actually think, I’m going to net this ball. It’s more complicated, more insidious.

136. “I don’t want to admit to Perry or myself that a loss to Pete can have this kind of lingering effect. For once I don’t want to sit with Perry and try to unravel the skeins of my subconscious. I’ve given up on understanding myself. I have no interest in self-analysis. In the long, losing struggle with myself, I’m tanking.”

137. “Helping Frankie provides more satisfaction and makes me feel more connected and alive and myself than anything else that happens in 1996. I tell myself: Remember this. Hold on to this. This is the only perfection there is, the perfection of helping others. This is the only thing we can do that has any lasting value or meaning. This is why we’re here. To make each other feel safe.

138. “I try to talk myself out of it. I tell myself that you can’t be unhappy when you have money in the bank and own your own plane. But I can’t help it, I feel listless, hopeless, trapped in a life I didn’t choose, hounded by people I can’t see. And I can’t discuss any of it with Brooke, because I can’t admit to such weakness. Feeling depressed after a loss is one thing, but feeling depressed about nothing, about life in general, is another thing altogether. I can’t feel this way. I refuse to admit that I feel this way.

139. “Why my love life runs in two-year cycles, I don’t know. I wasn’t even aware of the pattern until Perry pointed it out.”



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