(Image via Prospect Magazine)

The Joy of Tennis

With the Australian Open coming to a record-breaking, excessively long climax this weekend, what better to fill the tennis void than some great writing on the subject?

  • The correct way to begin a tour of tennis writing is with David Foster Wallace. In his 1996 essay for Esquire, he uses a profile of Michael Joyce as a cover for an obsessive and effortlessly insightful consideration of tennis. Quite likely the best tennis nonfiction written to date. He revisits tennis ten years later for the New York Times and lets his inner fanboy loose with an equally epic and insightful profile of Roger Federer.
  • Three years later, Cynthia Gorney gives us a fantastic, sprawling profile of Rafael Nadal.
  • Rounding out the profiles of today’s top tennis players is S.L. Price with a profile of Novak Djokovic and Sarah Corbett on Venus Williams.
  • For profiles of yesterday’s best, Julian Rubenstein’s award-winning profile of John McEnroe and Frank Deford’s 1978 profile of Jimmy Connors are required reading.
  • One of the great pleasures of tennis is the personalities and the rivalries, and as Gerald Marzorati pointed out last year, “rivalries in tennis are like no others in sports.” In recent years, we’ve seen the same three — four or five if you’re generous — players constantly jockeying for the top spots in the rankings, always climaxing in thrilling, suspenseful, and often record-breaking semi-final and final matches in the year’s tournaments. “To be a great tennis player is to need a rival.”
  • Although you wouldn’t call them rivals, John Isner and Nicolas Mahut found themselves locked in a seemingly neverending first round match-up at last year’s Wimbledon. Most tennis matches end long before the 11 hours this one took to end, usually because a player loses concentration, but neither Mahut or Isner blinked for 3 days of play, and Ed Caesar explains why in his GQ piece following the match.
  • In “The most beautful game,” Geoff Dyer considers the beauty of tennis. It’s not enough that the players are simply good at tennis — everything you see on Centre Court at Wimbledon can be “replicated by an average player in a park.” The draw for the viewing public, he thinks, is wrapped up in the mechanics of the game: the most effective way to play is gracefully, as best exempified by Federer’s memorable single-handed backhand.

Read these and then read John McPhee’s Levels of the Game (part II) [$], and you’ll have just about covered all of the best writing on tennis.