20101102

Agassi's Open secret makes biography a prize contender


There is a lot to be said for a good collaborator, which may explain why Open, the soul-baring autobiography of American tennis star Andre Agassi, is in line for a second award in Britain.

Open, which was voted Best Biography’ at the British Sports Book awards in March, has made the shortlist of six for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year 2010.

It is a strong story, one in which Agassi confesses not only to using the recreational drug, crystal meth, and lying about it to avoid being banned from his sport, but to hating tennis after being forced into it by a controlling father, so much so that he likened much of his early life and career to being imprisoned in an existence over which he had no control.

Agassi chose his own ‘ghost’ but none of the tennis writers of his acquaintance fitted the bill, apparently.  Instead, he contacted John Moehringer Jnr, better known by his byline, JR Moehringer, a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist whose own memoir about growing up fatherless in suburban New York, The Tender Bar, captivated the winner of eight Grand Slam tournaments to the extent that he allowed himself to read only a few pages in one session, rather than finish in too quickly.

Moehringer, then working for the Los Angeles Times, was reluctant at first, having spoken to colleagues whose own experience of working with sports stars had been unfulfilling, but Agassi was insistent and,  in time, the journalist became so absorbed in the project he moved to Las Vegas, Agassi's home town.  Naturally, he taped every interview with his subject. At the end, he had some 250 hours of material.

The product of their relationship is a book that carries the stamp of an accomplished writer but which also drills deeply into Agassi’s mind in a way that has clearly enthralled tennis fans but has also through its psychological insights found a wider audience.

The William Hill list also includes Duncan Hamilton’s musings on English cricket, A Last English Summer, with which he is in contention to complete a hat-trick of William Hill awards following the success of Provided You Don’t Kiss Me, which detailed his reporter-manager relationship with the late Brian Clough, and his superb biography of Bodyline fast bowler Harold Larwood.

The other titles in the final six are Trautmann’s Journey, Catrine Clay’s story of the Hitler Youth member and Nazi soldier turned legendary English footballer, Bert Trautmann, Beware of the Dog, the autobiography of England and British Lions rugby star, Brian Moore, Blood Knots by Luke Jennings, the first book with an angling theme to reach the shortlist, and Matthew Syed's Bounce, which challenges the belief that champions are born, not made.

The winner will be announced in a lunchtime ceremony at Waterstones in Piccadilly, London, on November 30th, broadcast live on the Gabby Logan Show on BBC Radio 5 Live.

Charged with deciding who scoops the £22,000 first prize are broadcasters John Inverdale and Danny Kelly, journalists Hugh McIlvanney and Alyson Rudd, and Graham Sharpe, who is media director for William Hill. They make up the judging panel under the chairmanship of John Gaustad, co-creator of the award and one-time owner of the deeply-missed Sportspages bookshop on Charing Cross Road in London.

Click on the links for details of how to buy any of the six shortlisted titles.

Open: An Autobiography
A Last English Summer
Blood Knots
Beware of the Dog: Rugby's Hard Man Reveals All
Trautmann's Journey: From Hitler Youth to FA Cup Legend
Bounce: How Champions are Made

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