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Tennis Lessons


Discussed in this essay:

Late to the Ball: Age. Learn. Fight. Love. Play Tennis. Win., by Gerald Marzorati. Scribner. 288 pages. $26.

Federer and Me: A Story of Obsession, by William Skidelsky. Atria. 272 pages. $24.

String Theory: David Foster Wallace on Tennis, introduction by John Jeremiah Sullivan. Library of America. 158 pages. $19.95.

There are a lot of connections to be made here, but we must start with the irrelevant and unimportant fact that in 2008 I sold — or was about to sell — my just-finished novel to a new publisher. I was fifty, and they understandably wanted to know what I had left in the tank. Plenty, I assured them, even though I suspected I might be, as John McEnroe likes to say, running on fumes. So what was I thinking of writing next? A book about tennis, I said. While I’d been struggling to write the just-finished novel my wife kept reminding me that if I spent half the time writing that I did obsessing about tennis, I’d have finished it ages ago. I’d always written about what interested me most, and nothing at that point interested me more than tennis. And it wasn’t only me. With Andy Murray gnawing his way closer to the Wimbledon title, tennis had become more popular in Britain than it had been since the headband era of Borg–McEnroe. The top seed at my new publisher was one of my regular tennis partners; he liked the idea of a book about tennis at fifty and I liked the idea of seeing how good I could get at this past-midpoint in my life.

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