“It’s not enough to hit everything the dragon fires at me; my father wants me to hit it harder and faster than the dragon. He wants me to beat the dragon.” (28)
“I’ve been let in on a dirty little secret: winning changes nothing. Now that I’ve won a slam, I know something that very few people on earth are permitted to know. A win doesn’t feel as good as a loss feels bad, and the good feeling doesn’t last as long as the bad. Not even close.” (167)
“When you chase perfection, when you make perfection the ultimate goal, do you know what you’re doing? You’re chasing something that doesn’t exist. You’re making everyone around you miserable. You’re making yourself miserable. Perfection? There’s about five times a year you wake up perfect, when you can’t lose to anybody, but it’s not those five times a year that make a tennis player. Or a human being, for that matter. It’s the other times. It’s all about your head, man. With your talent, if you’re fifty percent game-wise, but ninety -five percent head-wise, you’re going to win. But if you’re ninety-five percent game-wise and fifty percent head-wise, you’re going to lose, lose, lose.” (187)
“Perfectionism is something I chose, and it’s ruining me, and I can choose something else. I must choose something else. No one has ever said this to me. I’ve always assumed perfectionism was like my thinning hair or my thickened spinal cord. An inborn part of me.” (189)
“You know everything you need to know about people when you see their faces at the moments of your greatest triumph.” (196)
“I stand and feel an overpowering urge to forgive, because I realize that my father can’t help himself, that he never could help himself, any more than he could understand himself. My father is what he is, and always will be, and though he can’t help himself, though he can’t tell the difference between loving me and loving tennis, it’s love all the same. Few of us are granted the grace to know ourselves, and until we do, maybe the best we can do is be consistent. My father is nothing if not consistent.” (202)
“This is the only perfection there is, the perfection of helping others. This is the only thing we can do that has any lasting value or meaning. This is why we’re here. To make each other feel safe.” (231)
“It took me twenty-two years to discover my talent, to win my first slam – and only two years to lose it.” (259)
“Unless I can accept that I’m where I’m supposed to be, I’ll never belong there again.” (259)
“It’s not like me to want a win this badly. What I normally feel is a desire not to lose. But warming up before my first-rounder, I tell myself I want this, and I realize precisely why. It’s not about my comeback. It’s about my team. My new team, my real team. I’m playing to raise money and visibility for my school. After all these years I’ve got what I’ve always wanted, something to play for that’s larger than myself and yet still closely connected to me. Something that bears my name but isn’t about me. The Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy.” (267)
“Scaling down the task makes it seem manageable and makes me looser.” (292)
“Having averted disaster, I’m suddenly loose, happy. It’s so typical in sports. You hang by a thread above a bottomless pit. You stare death in the face. Then your opponent, or life, spares you, and you feel so blessed that you play with abandon.” (297)
“Later I tell her that I don’t understand why I sometimes come apart – still. She gives me insights from her experience. Stop thinking, she says. Feeling is the thing. Feeling.
It’s nothing I haven’t heard before. It sounds like a sweeter, softer version of my father. But when Stefanie says it, the words go in deeper.
We talk for days about thinking versus feeling. She says it’s one thing not to think, but you can’t then decide to feel. You can’t try to feel. You have to let yourself feel.” (328)
“The same court on which you suffer your bloodiest defeat can become the scene of your sweetest triumph.” (333)
“If I’ve learned nothing else, it’s that time and practice equal achievement.” (336)
“It’s easier to be free and loose, to be yourself, after laughing with the ones you love.” (342)
“He thinks it’s his day, and when you think it’s your day, it usually is.” (344)
“Losing to Pete has caused me enormous pain, but in the long run it’s also made me more resilient. If I’d beaten Pete more often, or if he’d come along in a different generation, I’d have a better record, and I might go down as a better player, But I’d be less.” (354)
“I play and keep playing because I choose to play. Even if it’s not your ideal life, you can always choose it. No matter what your life is, choosing it changes everything.” (359)
“I think older people make this mistake all the time with younger people, treating them as finished products when in fact they’re in process. It’s like judging a match before it’s over, and I’ve come from behind too often, and had too many opponents come roaring back against me, to think that’s a good idea.” (372)
“Life is a tennis match between polar opposites. Winning and losing, love and hate, open and closed. It helps to recognize that painful fact early. Then recognize the polar opposites within yourself, and if you can’t embrace them, or reconcile them, at least accept them and move on. The only thing you cannot do is ignore them.” (384)
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