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The Dao of Ken Rosewall’s Backhand

The older ones who knew would stop and watch. The younger ones have almost forgotten. Rosewall’s slice backhand as repeatable, as simple, as breath itself. If you could hit it at 22, you could hit it at 70, at 80. Easy on the body, the mind. Not slice, as most say, but struck almost flat […]

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Michael Chang, Tiananmen Square, and God

“The tanks came in on the middle Sunday” while Michael and his mother watched television: 300 dead, or is it thousands? Tomorrow Ivan Lendl, the world #1; tomorrow a lone Chinese man stops a line of tanks. At seventeen years old, Chang is 5’ 9,” 135 pounds, a speedy defensive baseliner without enough firepower to […]

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Kim Clijsters’ Slice Forehand

Instructions for hitting Kim’s Signature Shot: Do all of this in one fluid motion Sprint all-out wide to the forehand side for a ball you cannot quite reach. Plant your right leg on the inner side of your shoe, then subtly allow the leg to give way so it can slide up to a foot […]

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Venus Williams as Duke Ellington

 “Venus Williams Is Straight Outta Compton!” Venus Williams is Duke Ellington at the piano. Keep your solos understated, perfect. Let others in the orchestra stand out: the saxophone, the trumpet, Serena. Yet for the first half of her career, it was Venus’s tennis that screamed lead trumpet. All the other women over 6 feet tall […]

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Cliff Richey and the Belly of the Whale: Acing Depression

You’re a frigging protozoan sitting there. You’re fixing to drown.* In the catacombs of early Christian art, the Jonah story lingers, pointing to an extensive oral history of dramatic tellings and retellings. You start reaching pain levels you didn’t think were there. Heaviness descending over you. It sits on you. The whale crudely drawn on […]

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Richard “Pancho” Gonzalez(s)

Pancho Gonzalez(s) after Carlos Fuentes’ La Muerte de Artemio Cruz My father’s bare feet, the borderlands. I could beat anyone at marbles. Practice, practice, practice, yet those other kids’ voices never stopped: “spic,” “spic,” “spic,” “wetback.” Grandma said just picture those white folks in their underwear. In LA we lived in a kind of suburbs […]

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Jimmy Connors

Note: Like a monk copying manuscripts in the dark ages, I have faithfully copied the following sentences from a source with the strangest of titles: Jimmy Connors Saved My Life, by Joel Drucker.* As I rearranged each sentence into separate chapters of my own making, I contemplated each sentence for a moment, a minute, a […]

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Shingo Kunieda, “Kami”

Questions: How Japanese is this striking poster from the Scottish designer, Nial Smith? How Japanese is this writing? Let’s talk Zen. Let’s talk tennis. Shingo as Samurai warrior elite Zen mind/no-mind so quiet it becomes one with the object of its attention. The body-sword-mind-racquet moves quickly, clearly, with a subtle power not unlike that of […]

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Boris Becker, Germany

A thought experiment: let’s push nationalism too far. The television stations in Germany would shift other sporting events to different times so the entire nation could watch Becker’s matches.   A Becker match meant drama: Sturm und Drang.  The rocking motion before the serve, then boom. (Only Sampras had a better big serve under pressure.) The […]

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Novak Djokovic

One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight. Nine. Ten. Eleven. Twelve. Thirteen. Fourteen.  Fifteen. Sixteen. Seventeen. Early in his career, the most irritating ball bounce in the history of tennis. Changed that. Early in his career, major trouble with heat, breathing problems. Went to a Gluten-free diet. Early in his career seemed dark brooding […]