Notes on Andre Agassi's book.
Given all that lies beyond my control, I obsess about the few things I can control, and racket tension is one such thing.
Disorder is distraction, and every distraction on the court is a potential turning point.
Pressure is how you know everything’s working, the doctor said. Words to live by, Doc.
Brad says my overall problem, the problem that threatens to end my career prematurely—the problem that feels like my father’s legacy—is perfectionism. You always try to be perfect, he says, and you always fall short, and it fucks with your head. Your confidence is shot, and perfectionism is the reason. You try to hit a winner on every ball, when just being steady, consistent, meat and potatoes, would be enough to win ninety percent of the time. 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. 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.
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. Even the structure of tennis, the way the pieces fit inside one another like Russian nesting dolls, mimics the structure of our days.
I’m calmed, grounded, inspired by watching a craftsman. It reminds me of the singular importance in this world of a job done well.
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.
Moments before we take the court I wonder why a player as polished and accomplished as Mac needs a hiatus. Then he shows me. He demonstrates the virtue of rest. He beats me soundly, 6–3, 6–3.
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. Familiar muscles now play supporting roles, dormant muscles dominate. It’s painful enough, under the best of circumstances, that I don’t know who I am. To suddenly become a different person, a clay person, adds another degree of frustration and anxiety.
I don’t want to step on anybody’s toes, he says. I don’t want to speak out of turn. But I can’t lie to you: if somebody can write down your routine on a piece of paper, it isn’t worth the piece of paper it’s written on. You’re asking me to put you through a workout here that leaves no room for where you are, how you’re feeling, what you need to focus on. It doesn’t allow for change.
Losing is one thing; being outgunned is another.
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.
All that work and anger and winning and training and hoping and sweating, and it leads to the same empty disappointed feeling. 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.
Even though I feel Tarango cheated me, I shouldn’t have put him in a position to cheat me. I shouldn’t have let the match get that close.
That’s the finish line I’ve been seeking, the finish line with the inexorable pull. Can’t play, as opposed to won’t play. Unwittingly, I’ve been seeking that moment when I’d have no choice.
The look on his face is a complete shock. I didn’t understand the meaning and value of education, the hardship and stress it causes most parents and children. I’ve never thought of education like that. School was always a place I managed to escape, not a thing to be treasured. Setting aside the stock was merely something I did because Frankie specifically mentioned college and I wanted to help. When I saw what it meant to him, however, I was the one who got educated.
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
This is why we’re here. To fight through the pain and, when possible, to relieve the pain of others. So simple. So hard to see.
Brad and I were eating at an Italian restaurant, Mama Gina’s, and we saw Pete eating with friends on the other side of the dining room. He stopped by and said hello on his way out. Good luck tomorrow. You too. Then we watched him through the restaurant window, waiting for his car. We said nothing, each of us thinking of the difference he’d made in our lives. As Pete drove away I asked Brad how much he thought Pete tipped the valet. Brad hooted. Five bucks, tops. No way, I said. The guy’s got millions. He’s earned forty mil in prize money alone. He’s got to be good for at least a ten spot. Bet? Bet. We ate fast and rushed outside. Listen, I told the valet, give us the absolute truth: How much did Mr. Sampras tip you? The kid looked at his feet. He didn’t want to tell. He was weighing, wondering if he was on a hidden-camera show. We told the kid we had a bet riding on this, so we absolutely were insisting he tell us. Finally he whispered: You really want to know? Shoot. He gave me a dollar. Brad put a hand on his heart. But that’s not all, the kid said. He gave me a dollar—and he told me to be sure to give it to whichever kid actually brought his car around. We could not be more different, Pete and I, and as I fall asleep the night before perhaps our final final, I vow that the world will see our differences tomorrow.
Now he’s serving for the match, and when Pete serves for a match, he’s a coldblooded killer. Everything happens very fast. Ace. Blur. Backhand volley, no way to reach it. Applause. Handshake at the net. Pete gives me a friendly smile, a pat on the back, but the expression on his face is unmistakable. I’ve seen it before. Here’s a buck, kid. Bring my car around.