With Nadal a no-show for the French Open, the tournament held the risk of being a rather dual affair. Instead, it offered a compelling story around Novak Djokovic and his amazing ascent (12 majors). It also foisted Andy Murray onto the scene as a possible foil, as they both knock the clay off their tennis shoes and head to the pristine grass of the All-England Club at the end of June.
It is, of course, a great summer window for tennis. It also is, however, a time when parents are clamoring for kids not just to practice their serves and watch the majors on the tele, but also do some summer reading. Fortunately, I have had a chance to read some great books on tennis in recent weeks and offer them for your consideration here:
1. Djokovic, Novak. Serve to Win.
Djokovic’s book takes on an interesting format. The books starts with a snapshot of the Djokovic childhood, shaped by the war that forced him and other Serbs to practice under inhospitable conditions. Djokovic manages to somehow pivot to his pro game, and his quest to overcome his asthma. In the transition, he realizes that he is both gluten and lactose intolerant. He then gives readers tips on how to improve their own lifestyles including a day-by-day look at his dietary routine.
All in all, what could have been a very choppy, transition-filled book was shockingly well-written. It is a good read for tennis fans. However, the casual or indifferent fan may want to consider something else.
2. Agassi, Andre. Open: An Autobiography.
It is, in a phrase, an all-time classic. Agassi paints a startlingly cold picture of his upbringing by his Iranian father. Mike Agassi, a classic tennis parent, subjected his kid to brutal practice sessions in the Las Vegas heat, ripped him to post-match shreds when he lost and shipped him away from his loving mother and supporting cast of friends to the Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Florida. We have covered this theme on the site extensively in articles such as The Tennis Parent, and Are Youth Athletics Too Competitive? The end result was predictable: Agassi hated tennis. From that rough beginning, the book then details how his trainer, Gil Reyes, and his coach, Brad Gilbert, helped him find a renewed love of the game.
Tennis fans and non-tennis fans alike will relate to Agassi. It is a page-turner and comes with my highest recommendation.
3. Wertheim, Jon. Strokes of Genius: Federer, Nadal and the Greatest Match Ever Played.
This was my favorite of the three books. Wertheim dives into the background, buildup, and underlying intensity that surrounded what he believes is “the greatest match ever played”. The author is not afraid to have an opinion or advance a provocative theory or two such as the notion that you must grow up poor to have the hunger to win tournaments. He talks about the personal lives of the players, and how they were lucky to not suffer under tennis parents.
At its best, tennis is more than a game. This book, likewise, is about more than a tennis match. It’s about heart. You will find it hard to put down.
Wimbledon kicks off June 27th and runs through July 10th. It should be a fantastic couple of weeks, as we eat our strawberries and cream and politely applaud the play across the pond (as we wish that we were sitting on an outside court or watching the big screen from Henman Hill). Federer will be back trying to return to form after withdrawing from the French, breaking his streak of 65 consecutive appearances in the Grand Slams. The 17-time major winner has been hampered by injures through 2016. It would be wonderful to see a repeat final of Djokovic and Federer (7-6, 6-7, 6-4, 6-3). And of course, Scotsman Andy Murray will have strong UK support as he looks to enter the conversation around the current elites of the game. Will he rebound from the crushing loss to Djokovic at Roland Garros?
I hope to cover a range of tennis topics in the weeks ahead. What are the pros and cons of a one-handed versus two-handed backhand? What are the practical and psychological benefits of being a left-handed tennis player.? And of course, what happened to the serve and volley at Wimbledon? It should be a glorious two weeks, with a few intervening days for you to turn the pages of a couple of wonderful books.