Tennis Identity

New book: “String Theory: David Foster Wallace On Tennis”


String Theory by David Foster Wallace tennis book“String Theory: David Foster Wallace On Tennis” is a brightly packaged collection of the late writer’s most praised essays on tennis. Five separate chapters include “How Tracy Austin Broke My Heart” and “Federer Both Flesh And Not.”

Wallace had some tennis cred, too:

“The best tennis-writer of all time” (New York Times)

Let’s look at a couple of the chapters in detail.

First, Tracy Austin. Wallace wrote this piece from the perspective of a tennis fan and an intellectual- he was both. Here, he zeroes in on the 1992 Austin bio “Beyond Center Court: My Story,” and let’s just say he didn’t pull any punches.

Wallace doesn’t disparage Austin and ghost writer Christine Brennan so much as he criticizes the “puff piece/no substance” genre in and of itself.

Then there is the chapter on Roger Federer.

Wallace puts away the snark and isn’t shy about hiding his reverence for Federer. (“Federer’s forehand is a great liquid whip.”) His comments on the 2006 Wimbledon Final (Federer/Nadal) are terrific.

“The Swiss is in the buttermilk colored sport coat (above) that Nike’s gotten him to wear for Wimbledon this year. On Federer, and perhaps on him alone, it doesn’t look absurd with shorts and sneakers. The Spaniard eschews all warm-up clothing, so you have to look at his muscles right away.”

Or this one:

“His (Nadal’s) way of cutting his eyes side to side as he walks the baseline like a convict expecting to get shanked.”

His observations on the game are very precise- he comments on how “Federer always places the ball in the V-shape gap of the racquet’s throat, just below the head, just for an instant. If the fit isn’t perfect, he adjusts the ball until it is.” How many of us knew that?

The chapter concludes with a very insightful look at tennis racquets in the mid 1980s and how Lendl was the first real pro to adapt his game to the construction of the frame itself.

I also very much enjoyed the chapter “Democracy And Commerce At The U.S. Open,” and a terrific chapter on tennis pro Michael Joyce and his journey thru the tourney qualifiers. (Joyce would go on to coach Maria Sharapova.)

Recommended reading. String Theory is out May 10th.

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