AA: That's why I hated it. Tennis interfered with my relationship with my father, and it interfered with the relationship with myself. I think when somebody doesn't have a choice, they never feel connected to their life. It doesn't matter if they're good at it or not. As a little boy, I internalized and did what I needed to do because that's what Pops wanted. I got sent away to a tennis academy when I was 13 years old. I called it a glorified prison camp and refer to it as Lord of the Flies with forehands. It was a bunch of these teenagers raising themselves, deciding the pecking order. It was primal and primitive. I found myself having to play and succeed to get out of there. I was conducting a normal teenage rebellion, and suddenly I'm doing it on the world stage, being labeled and told who I was. I finally was doing what I was supposed to be doing my whole life [playing professional tennis], even though what I was doing, I didn't want to do.
JH: You worked with Pulitzer Prize winner J.R. Moehringer, author of The Tender Bar, on Open. The tennis match writing in the book is so engaging, and it also sets the stage for one of the biggest themes of your journey—contradiction. Explain the pull of how you can hate something so much but yet still crave winning so desperately?
AA: A lot of times I felt like I was craving not losing. The pain of losing was always worse than the joy of winning for me. Winning felt meaningless; it felt like I had dodged a bullet for the day. Losing made me feel less about myself. That's why many times you could always see so much fear in my eyes. My eyes so often betrayed me on the court. Internally, I'm playing scared and in fear of losing. You're so exposed out there, so you discover parts of yourself that are pretty shocking. You realize where you're fallible, where you're capable, and also can understand the strength you have just to put yourself through it.
Agassi's slip into depression and crossing a line