Books about tennis illuminate the sport in many ways. Some go deeply inside the lines. Others go beyond. And then there are those that somehow mix both. Here’s a look at three vivid examples.
Inside the Lines: Tim Mayotte
Former top tenner, Tim Mayotte (#7 in the world in 1988), has just authored “The Framework: A New Paradigm in Analysis of Technique and Movement.” a book that deeply explores the nuances of stroke production. A recent interview Mayotte conducted with longstanding journalist Paul Fein touches on such overlooked but meaningful topics as footwork, preparation, recovery and why the poor state of American backhands has deeply hindered many of our players.
Outside the Lines: James Blake
Tennis Channel analyst James Blake, once ranked as high as number four in the world, will next month come out with his second book. A decade ago, Blake partnered with Andrew Friedman to author “Breaking Back: How I Lost Everything and Back My Life,” an excellent tale of Blake grappling with major health issues and the death of his father. His upcoming book “Ways of Grace: Stories of Activism, Adversity, and How Sports Can Bring Us Together,” written with Carol Taylor, explores a wide range of subjects, including Muhammad Ali, Nelson Mandela and Arthur Ashe.
Transcendent: Arthur Ashe
Blake’s title was inspired by Arthur Ashe’s posthumously published memoir, “Days of Grace.” Ashe has arguably inspired more superb tennis writing than any player in the sport’s history, from the deeply moving wisdom of “Days of Grace” to New Yorker writer John McPhee’s twin profile of Ashe and a lifelong rival, Clark Graebner, “Levels of the Game.” But for my money, the best book about Ashe is his year-in-the-life work, “Portrait in Motion.” Written with Sports Illustrated writer Frank Deford, this book spans a 12-month period that starts in June 1973. It’s a whirlwind of activity, covering the landmark ATP boycott of Wimbledon, to Ashe’s remarkable trip to South Africa, to various aspects of his family and life as a cultural icon.
Yet the most poignant aspect of “Portrait in Motion” is Ashe’s consternation at being one of the world’s best – but not quite the best. In the period covered by the book, Ashe turned 30, well aware that he was closer to the end than the start. Overtaken in the ranks by such peers as John Newcombe, Stan Smith and Ilie Nastase, Ashe was also starting to be eclipsed by such ascending stars as Bjorn Borg and Jimmy Connors, each of whom beat Ashe in major matches that year. But then, consider this: “Portrait in Motion” was published in the spring of 1975. Several weeks later, he played the Wimbledon of his life, taking down Borg in the quarters and upsetting Connors in the finals. Perhaps more tennis players should write books.