Leadership lessons from a tennis star

Open: An Autobiography, by Andre Agassi (2009)

**Pages: 386**, Final verdict: Great-read

What kind of leadership lesson can you take from a book about a tennis player who spent most of his career playing by himself on the court?

Open takes a very personal trip through Agassi's life from early childhood to his final professional game in the US Open of 2006.

Growing up to be No. 1 (and hating it)

Agassi grew up in Las Vegas and was from early on coached by his father to become a professional tennis player. He recalls how he spent all his afternoons on the Agassi's family backyard court, hitting balls against a machine built by his father, Mike Agassi. 'The dragon', as they named the machine, would shoot up the tennis balls against Andre, on a court with a net raised 6 inches above regulation, for a tougher practice. 'Hit harder' - Mike Agassi would yell, as the seven year old Andre hit his daily quota of 2,500 balls.

As he was forced to practice tennis during all his childhood, Andre Agassi saw it taking away all his time for friends, school and all the typical youth endeavors. Open comes with with an astonishingly honest revelation: Andre Agassi hated tennis and he never wanted to play it in the first place.

"I'm a young man, relatively speaking. Thirty-six. But I wake as if ninety-six(...) I slid to my knees and in a whisper I say: Please let this be over." - Andre Agassi, Open

Along the book, Agassi takes us through his whole career: from becoming a professional at the age of 16 as the most promising player of his generation, constantly getting in the line of fire of the press and looking for ways to get attention, to winning his first Grand Slam after several losses.

All of this among many ups and downs, wins and losses, many games of which Agassi describes with detail how he felt every time he hit the ball. These accurate descriptions of the one-on-one games Agassi played against many tennis legends, give us the best insights into the mind of a champion and the degree of focus needed to reach the top.

We learn about his journey to find the right team: coach, trainer, family and friends. Open is an honestly plain autobiography of a player who took his time to find the right reason for playing.

Never quit, keep on fighting

What impressed me the most was finding out how Andre did not end his career at his lowest point in 1997 when his ranking dropped to No. 141 and everyone thought he was done. Instead, he went back to playing the entry level 'challenger series' and made his way back to the top. He was No. 1 again at the end of 1999. I knew there were important leadership lessons to learn from his story, my key takeways were:

  • Never give up
  • Find the reason why you want to win
  • Be humble to start back from square one after failing
  • Finding the right team is of critical importance
  • Give more to others and you will see you own performance improve
  • Be patient with others who are still growing up and making their own mistakes (like Andre was during his early career)



"I play and keep playing because I choose to play. Even if it's not your ideal life, you can always choose it. No matter what your life is, choosing it changes everything." - Andre Agassi, Open


###Bottom line

If you grew up in the nineties, there is no way you missed the ongoing rivalry between Agassi and Pete Sampras for the title of world's best tennis player. In the case that you don't have a special interest in tennis, and like me, you never saw a complete tennis match in your whole life, you will still find Open to be an amazing book, full of lessons about endurance and perseverance.

Open is a very nice read, and it will grab your attention at the turn of every page. It is just of of those stories that takes you along with them. Being a biography-genre fan, I really enjoyed the book. Andre describes exactly what was on his mind all the time, open about his feelings and how he found his game with his wife, kids and philanthropic projects.

This is not a business book, but you will for sure enjoy reading it.

Further learning:

Happy reading.