Suddenly it opens
wide. All that losing has shredded all those expectations for the long-haired
hotshot out of Nick's academy. Suddenly he's got something to prove to himself
instead of something to live up to: He's got purpose. He wins six tournaments
in 1988 and rockets, at age 18, to No. 3 in the world. He still guns for white
lines and glory on every shot, but he's just two steps from becoming what his
father told everyone he'd be before he could tie his shoes, when....
The question drops
like a snake from a tree.
Are you playing
tennis for you ... or for someone else's image of you? Number 1 in the
world--did you sign up for that?
during matches, start darting here and there, a flock of startled birds. He
falls behind, overwhelmed by the mind flutter, and does the one thing that
would cut Dad's heart deepest: goes numb, caves in, folds, accepts losing. Big
strokes, small heart, the lads in the locker room start saying.
Then the oddest
thing of all occurs. He comes upon the pot of gold. Millions in endorsement
dollars and appearance fees. No need to show up for Wimbledon or the Australian
Open. No need to lay off that Coke, burger and fries 45 minutes before taking
the court. Just keep the hair long, the threads flashy, the bandanna flapping,
the earring glinting, the jaw unshaven, the emotions bared. Just be the rock
'n' roll racket-rippin' rebel, the sassy foil for staid Pete Sampras. Just let
Madison Avenue use that rebellion against a father that's never actually
occurred, by a champion who's never actually won a major championship, by a
rock 'n' roller who actually listens to Barry Manilow--to tap into a desire
that every consumer has felt to tell his father or boss to go to hell.
So now he's living
someone else's image of someone else's image of him. He gets the Lamborghini,
the Ferrari, the Vector, the Corvette, the three Porsches, the JetStar
airplane, the 727. He gets the Lamborghini girlfriend, Brooke. Nothing holds
his interest. He sells the cars, sheds the airplanes, shears off all the hair.
Blows off tennis, then feels lost without it. Sends himself on
missions--brewing the world's best cup of coffee, procuring the planet's finest
hair clippers, pouring the ultimate margarita--narrowing the world to one
thing, tunneling to its bottom, then moving to the next. A second dream crowds
his sleep: the dream of his tongue rubbing relentlessly against his teeth,
pushing until one tumbles out. Even teeth don't last.
Canon asks him to
say three words. He thinks they pertain to a camera--literally--not to a
philosophy or to anything to do with him. He still has tunnel eyes, can't see
the big picture: that Madison Avenue's calculation will come off as his
calculation. Three words tied in a nice neat noose, just what everyone
suspected of the Slamless Wonder: Image is everything.
Maybe some of the
calculation is his. But the cynics don't see the multimillionaire sitting for
hours on a weight bench in the ramshackle garage of Gil Reyes--the trainer who
has turned his life into a study of body and spirit--wringing truth from the
wise old soul as if his life depends on it. They don't see the rebel flying
home from tournaments, driving straight from the airport to the home of a
songwriting minister named John Parenti and driving circles around the glitter
of Vegas all night, questioning, trying to find a gentler God, a comprehensible
father, a reliable Andre.
One day Perry, his
oldest friend and new manager, suggests that Andre enter the thorniest place:
psychotherapy. Because nothing has ever been resolved between Andre and his
father. Andre's first phone call after he finally wins that first Slam at
Wimbledon? Dad. Dad's first words? Should've won in four sets.
But everything he
has comes from his father. Who knows where therapy might take Andre or what it
might demand that he do? Besides, he explains to Perry, it feels like a
shortcut. I'm bound and determined to eat experience, he says. If you give me
an option to cut a corner, I take more than I should. But if I make it hard, if
I face it at its worst, then I stay focused and driven and it only gets better
from there. I need to be in the thick of process. So I can't let myself have