Tennis Reviews (14)

One hundred years ago on April 15, the most famous shipwreck in history claimed the lives of over 1,500 passengers in the North Atlantic. Two of those who were rescued were tennis players Karl Behr and Dick Williams, whose story is told in the novel Titanic: The Tennis Story. They were not traveling together, but instead happened to meet on the rescue ship, Carpathia, where they became friends. While aboard Carpathia, Williams resisted a doctor's urging to amputate his heavily frostbitten legs, insisting he would instead revive them with continuous exercise. His legs saved, Williams quickly returned to tennis, amazingly winning a tournament just six weeks after the sinking. Behr and Williams would meet that July in a tournament near Boston, and then again in 1914 in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Nationals (which later became the US Open).

Each man lived a remarkable life, boding well for a compelling biography to tell. Behr's granddaughter recently wrote his biography, titled Starboard at Midnight. Their paths did cross in a short series of interesting coincidences, and while this makes for some useful trivia to be shared amongst tennis fans, it would be difficult to stretch it to feature-length.

The idea of an athlete writing a memoir at the height of his or her career naturally seems premature and almost futile. By definition, the book won't include all of the interesting moments in an athlete's career, so how can it really stand the test of time? There is also the danger that work lacking the perspective of a veteran looking back after a career's worth of lessons learned, combined with the fact that the author likely wouldn't want to be so imprudent as to ruffle the feathers of his contemporaries, the memoir will lack any meaningful or compelling insight (Serena Williams' recent On the Line was a work I found severely disappointing in this way).
Sidney and David Wood's The Wimbledon Final That Never Was...And Other Tennis Tales from a Bygone Era is a fascinating collection of anecdotes of the history of the sport, and of an extraordinary tennis life. The second part of the title best describes the book's content: it is a time capsule packed with some of the brightest and most interesting moments and people that have touched the world of tennis.

Sidney Wood was the youngest man to win Wimbledon – and the only one who did not have to play a final – in 1931, at age 19 (Boris Becker became a 17-year-old Champion in 1985). Sidney was also the tournament's youngest male competitor at age 15. He was a top US player throughout his decades-long career and was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1964. After his death in 2009 at the age of 97, his son David gathered Wood's notes for a memoir, then organized and annotated them into The Wimbledon Final That Never Was...

Saturday, 04 December 2010 10:35

Book Review. Doubles by Nic Brown

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If you're a tennis nerd, you know you have picked up the right book when the back cover, in addition to glowing quotes from acclaimed authors, features laudatory notes from Stephen Huss, Travis Parrott, and Tripp Phillips. If those names don't ring a bell, then you're probably going to learn from Nic Brown's Doubles that professional tennis stretches beyond Melbourne, Paris, Wimbledon, and Flushing Meadows, runs through the likes of Roger Federer and Pete Sampras, and into a dark, yet well-chartered, territory inhabited by doubles specialists.

Brown's protagonist and narrator, Slow Smith, is one such player. Or, at least, he was. Shaken by a car accident that left him unscathed but put his wife in a coma, Smith abandons the Tour and his long-time doubles partner, Kaz, until his old coach Manny comes to encourage him to return to play. As the book develops, we learn more about Slow's history, which revolves around the coach, the coach's wife, Katie, Slow's wife Anne, and Kaz. These four people seem to have been the only constants in Slow's mobile world, besides tennis. As events develop, we see how the bond among these characters drives them to love and betray each other in different instances.

The novel is not about tennis. It's about human relationships and how they shape our psyche and our life choices.

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