2006 US Open. Round 2. It is past 10:00 PM and I am speeding in my ’97 Avalon to Kiru’s beautiful apartment in San Antonio. Home away from home. I have just realized that the match is still on. That means he’s gotta chance. I knew that if this thing was going down to the fifth set, Andre’s got it. I park, run up the stairs and settle into the most comfortable sofa in the world.
We watch the 5th set. What a set! Andre wins. He lives to fight another day. Typically Andre. That also means he is not retiring tonight. Phew!
He loses his third round match 2 days later and retires. Ironically, he loses to a kid called B. Becker.
Cut to: 1991
I am a 10th grader, living in Virugambakkam and watching the 1991 French Open final on Doordarshan. He loses to a freak called Jim Courier, who I end up hating. Being an Andre fan since childhood means that you hate his opponents – especially the ones who beat him in a Slam final. In Andre’s case though, this is a long and growing list of people – Connors, Ivanisevic, Sampras, Courier, Martin and even that midget called Michael Chang. So I hated them all, growing up.
I am not sure what prompted my admiration for this guy to begin with. The Sportstar centre spreads? The rebellion? The return of serve? The double-handed backhand? or was it just the audacity of wearing denim shorts, ear rings and a pink shirt, for a French Open final??
But denim shorts go only a little far in a making an idol. What makes Andre my most favourite athlete is his ability to bounce back – not from the floor, but from deeper in the dungeons! My tennis coach at Loyola told me something on a fine summer morning in 1995, that I will never forget for the rest of my life – “Fitness is not running 1500 meters fastest. It is about how soon you recover from that 1500, to run another 400”. And Andre was that guy who could run those 400s in real life (literally & figuratively) again and again and again.
That means being #1 and managing to go down to #132 and bouncing back to #1 and doing this shit all over again for over two decades. He was the most flawed perfection ever in Athletics!
When the girl friend gifted this book last year, the first thing that stuck me was – ‘wow, that is a big close up on the cover!’. Why this rugged, disturbing picture? Why not the one with the 92 Wimbledon trophy? or one of those Aus Open moments? Or one from when he had hair? Or one with Stephanie?
The answer is quite clear after the very first page. This is as honest an autobiography as any you will ever read. This one is not for the gallery. This is all about the flaws, the quirks, the embarrassments and also the triumphs and the fun of it all.
If you are one of those tennis fans like me, who rooted for this guy for most of your teens and twenties, this book is a fascinating read. He takes you through all of it – right from when he won a hustling match against Jim Brown at age 7, till that marathon against Baghdatis in 2006 – His introduction to Pete as a kid with a flawed game, his Canon commercial, Nick Bollieteri, Wendi, Gil, Brad Gilbert, Brooke Shields (in very intriguing 2 chapters), Stephanie and of course the slams! The 8 he won and the million he lost.
I remember most of those slam finals. Strangely, I even remember what I was doing at the time, while watching it on TV. But now I also know what was going on the previous night, on match day, at the court, on the ground and inside his head! And that is much bigger and closer than any ball he might sign and lob at you!