Match Point

Open by Andre Agassi (and perhaps more relevantly for the purposes of this post, J.R. Moehringer) is a master class in how to engage readers by creating a story arc. Especially in biographies/autobiographies, there is a deadly tendency to inOpen by Agassiclude huge laundry lists of events and facts about a life just because, well, it’s a biography. Open includes plenty of facts that might have been groaningly boring, down to the minutiae of long ago and long forgotten sequences of strokes on an obscure  tennis court somewhere. But every single one of them is included only if it makes a point in the larger argument of the story.

It’s an axiom among tennis players that the surest sign of amateur play is hitting strokes with no purpose in mind beyond getting the ball over the net, or hitting it hard. Any expert player is trying to accomplish something very specific, something that itself fits into the frame of a larger game plan, with every swing of the racquet. The same is true of writing. The real pros are loath to waste a single word that doesn’t add to the larger meaning of the piece as a whole.

But how is it possible to tell a fairly complete tale of a life history in a random world without throwing in random facts? That’s where having vision comes in. Agassi wasn’t just writing a book because his famous career could command a seven-figure advance, he was writing it because he’d come to see his life as a desperate search for meaning, meaning that he ultimately found. His arc begins in a hell on earth, under the tonnage of his father’s thumb and the heat of his rage, then ascends through the central paradox of his life – that in order to save himself, he must learn to love the very instrument of his torture — to a hard won wisdom.

Agassi had a story to tell, and Moehringer was expert enough to help him tell it in the most riveting way.

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