Tennis Players as Works of Art

  • Rene Lacoste: The Crocodile
    Why “le croc?” “The machine” is a better nickname. That’s what Tilden called me because I sent every ball back like the ball machine I would invent in 1947. Invented the steel racquet, too, much later. From wood to steel. Another machine like those human beings in modernist paintings of Fernand Leger. I was called […]
  • Vitas Gerulaitis: In Memoriam
    Vitas practiced his weaknesses for hours on end: the second serve, cocaine. This week’s writing challenge: describe his hair. The result, a failure: lion locks Lithuanian in its riding of the rolling level underneath it within it surfers girls waves omg dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon* I want to touch it see it live again please live please […]
  • Callen Cup 2022: The Arkansas Men’s 65s Team
    On the court before us, Doug Stursma (above) is playing Keith Richardson (once #63 in the ATP World Rankings) at #2 singles. We call it getting Stursmad when you lose to Doug, who at 68 years old hits every shot with heavy slice all over the court without missing while running down every shot you […]
  • David Lewerenz: In Memoriam
    A few days before he was shockingly diagnosed with brain cancer, David Lewerenz called me on the phone to talk tennis. His granddaughter had just been a ball girl at a tournament for one of Iga Swiatek’s (now the world’s #1 player) matches. They shared a Polish heritage, and his granddaughter and Iga spoke briefly […]
  • Players Party at Baton Rouge
    All the lines below are from 60-85 year old senior tennis players and their significant others. “Bone on bone.” “Both hips replaced.” “Bet this is the healthiest group of seniors in the country.” “We drive our RV together to tournaments, listen to books on Audible.” “I play for Chile at the Worlds this year.” “I […]
  • Jennifer Capriati: A Celebratory Cautionary Tale
    “When the apple is ripe, you eat it.”               (Jennifer’s father, Stefano).  1989:  Five million in endorsements before turning pro.  “And she’s only 13!” (Sports Illustrated Cover).  1991: Capriati’s US Open semifinal vs. Monica Seles–the birth of power tennis in the women’s game–“a slugfest conducted by a pair of teenagers whose strokes defied age, gender and […]
  • Welcome to the Dance
    The picture above is of Steve Stagg, who just built a clay court not far from my house in Fayetteville, Arkansas. It’s our favorite place to be. He is holding a copy of Paul McNamee’s book: Welcome to the Dance: Master Clay to Master Tennis. (I describe below a few of this book’s key ideas about […]
  • Thirty Years in Marseille, Art by Arnaud Brosset
    Click here to see all 30 years of anecdotes from the Open 13 Provence in Comics: Note: I wrote the piece below after reading through all 30 of Arnaud Brosset’s great comic strips in French (with a dictionary, of course). The links below for each player will take you to the corresponding comic strip. Thirty Years […]
  • Li Na, China
    On Painting Li Na: Some comments below taken from Debra Di Blasi’s emails to me: “It’s a bit socialist-art style, which I kind of like. (We have quite a bit of Vietnam and China socialist-style posters, prints and statues, so it was not a big leap.)” “The paper, by the way, is unbleached mulberry, which […]
  • Pancho Segura, Ecuador
    Rickets. Poor. Ecuador. Dirt. His two small hands sweeping, picking up balls at the Guayaquil tennis club while cruise liners sailed the ocean nearby. This bow-legged kid loved to watch them. Maricon, they called him. “Fairy.” Too small, too weak, so two hands on the forehand. He played and played until everyone wanted to hit with him. […]
  • Steffi Graf and Mark Rothko
    I picture her alone before a late Rothko painting, his darkening palette. Steffi’s favorite color was black. Rothko’s floating color field, “a universe for viewers they do not have in the real world.”  Black a type of protection, a barrier against stalkers, reporters, celebrity, noise. Black a tunnel, a cave, a hole, a portal.  The […]
  • Margaret Court, LGBTQ+
    Margaret Court, the Aussie Amazon, did sprints in the sand and lifted weights when workouts for “ladies” were a dirty word. On first encountering her, Martina Navratilova said what so many women felt: “Margaret amazed me with her size and strength.” Nicknamed “The Arm” for her power overhead (the serve, the smash) and incredible reach […]
  • Insane Federer vs Nadal 26 Shot Rally, Animation by JCeptable
    Shots 11-15 Rafa hits a topspin forehand crosscourt to Fed’s backhand. Scar tissue scar tissue in Federer’s brain, Federer’s backhand. Fed loops a solid backhand back crosscourt. A losing pattern. A losing pattern. Rafa hits a sharper, stronger topspin forehand to Fed’s backhand. Fed covers it in a flash and from way off court surprises […]
  • The Czech, Jan Kodes, Hears Whispers: “Beat the Russian. Please, Beat the Russian.”
    With Soviet Union Forever! the propoganda posters shout. Propaganda Posters = Truth, the truth of propaganda posters. Jan Kodes the “son of an independent businessman—reject application to Secondary education!” Eventually the Czechs soften their communist principles. Kodes witnessed the result outside his window in August, 1968: a parking lot full of Russian tanks. Kodes one of […]
  • Helen of California
    Challenge: Combine the two portraits below of Helen Wills as classic beauty and Helen Wills as tennis player into a single portrait. Recommendation: Skip this challenge. Helen Wills as Classic Beauty: Four Male Perspectives Charlie Chaplin on the most beautiful thing in the world: “the movement of Helen Wills playing tennis: it had grace and […]
  • Elina Svitolina’s Tear
    Shadow Puppets Our doors kicked in to see what’s there. Sometimes bread,sometimes vodka,their rifles bobbingin makeshift chairs. Sometimes a sheeton the basement wall,our fingers dancing,shadow puppetsto a soldier’s flashlight. I did not have words,but I understoodwhen women leftfor another room. Mother refused.She held us closein her iron arms.I begged her to goand save us. She […]
  • Muguruza, Guadalajara, and Covid-19
    “Everything gets on you fast,” said Aggie Radwanska of Muguruza’s aggressive all-court game: big whopping ground strokes, aggressive returns taken early, big serves and swinging volleys, her lengthy six feet of grace and power always looking to move in closer, smother her opponents with big shot after big shot. Covid came fast, too. Put a […]
  • Russian Stars: Medvedev, Rublev, and Shostakovitch’s Fifth
    On the day Russia–or Putin–invaded Ukraine, the Russian tennis star, Daniil Medvedev, became the #1 player in the world. At his match that night in Acapulco, his wife, Daria Medvedeva, was seen subtly wearing the colors of Ukraine. In Dubai at another tournament, Medvedev’s compatriot, Andrey Rublev, the 7th ranked tennis players in the world, […]
  • Angie Kerber’s Smile: The 2016 Aussie Open Final, Art by Andreas Otto
    I watched Kerber brood for years on tour. Did not remember her smile till she won the Aussie Open. This portrait painted soon after: big blue eyes, sparkling white teeth. Exaggerate a feature to express a truth. Caricature 101.   Angie’s smile like the lotus flower of Buddhist thought, a moment of beauty arising before […]
  • Ons Jabeur and the Arab World, Art by Colacat
    Headline: Ons Jabeur Becomes the First Arab Woman to Break into the World’s Top Ten Young Arab women in 22 countries practice Ons Jabeur drop shots of outrageous height and spin. It’s about having the right feel. It’s about having soft hands. Girls in Tunisia and Algeria practice tweeners and trick shots like the one […]
  • Andre Agassi’s Wig
    At dawn I sighed to see my hairs fall;At dusk I sighed to see my hairs fall . . . Did Agassi lose his first French Open final because he worried his wig might fall off? “Image is everything.” Vegas, entertainment, the flashy shot. When the going got tough, his beautiful zen-like-deer-in-the-headlight eyes. How to […]
  • Fanfare for the Common Man: Tim Huhn’s Art and Aaron Copland’s Music
    Note: Took a week off from tennis posts to feature this artwork by Tim Huhn. Will return to tennis posts next week with upcoming posts on Agassi, Ons Jabeur, and Helen Wills Moody. Fanfare for the Common Man One man moving industry’s gears. The rising of cities. The coming of war. One man multiplied by […]
  • Delpo’s Diary (Six Years after Winning the US Open)
    After Beethoven’s Heiligenstadt Testament* I have been hopelessly afflicted, from year to year deceived with hopes of improvement, finally compelled to face the prospect of a lasting malady. . . . Four wrist surgeries. One on the right, three on the left. The pain most often returns when I hit a two-handed backhand. I have changed […]
  • Gottfried von Cramm: Gay in Weimar and Nazi Germany
    Weimar Berlin’s transvestite balls. Crossdressing women dance with crossdressing men. “What sex are you?” a famous line goes. “What sex do you want me to be?” The painter, George Grosz, saw one of Weimar Germany’s truths before anyone: “this gaily colored froth on top that many people mistook for the true.” Grosz’s art gives us […]
  • “Yes, Tennis Everyone!” Art by Brian Cowlishaw
    Brian writes me that the inspiration for this piece comes from Donald Barthelme’s story, “The Palace.” In this story, the author is in line at a bank in New York City when he notices the yellow check for $84.06 that a Puerto Rican woman holds. Then he notices that there are many other black and […]
  • Ash Barty’s Fist
    A young girl asks her mother: “How do you know if you are going to die?” The mother answers: “When you can no longer make a fist.”* Ash Barty’s advice to self: have fun be nice if no fun no tennis if not nice no purpose no spiritual . . . ask Evonne G. if […]
  • Chris Evert, A Study in Blue, Art by Lucy McTier
    “Light blue is like a flute, dark blue like a cello, and when still darker, it becomes a wonderful double bass.” Wassily Kandinsky Wassily Kandinksy saw color in musical/spiritual terms: “Color is a means of exercising direct influence upon the soul. Color is the keyboard. The eye is the hammer, while the soul is a […]
  • Funerals, Weddings, Births
    My wife passed away sudddenly in November of last year. Two months earlier, in September, we attended our daughter’s wedding. The above wedding picture includes from left to right: my wife, Jacque; my daughter, Emily; her new husband, Jack Nelson; our younger daughter, Anne; and me. I am so grateful for the 40 rich years […]
  • Emma Raducanu
    September 12, 2021 Dear Emma: Sorry I missed the US Open final today. Incredible that you won it, becoming the first qualifier in the history of tennis to win a major championship.  I am in Seattle celebrating my oldest daughter’s wedding. Emily is 27 years old and much like you, an incredibly hard worker who […]
  • Pete Sampras and Nirvana
    Happy to share this publication, which just appeared in MasticadoresIndia. My thanks to the editor, Terveen Gill, who is doing terrific work editing this new journal. The link to this publication (the full post) and to MasticadoresIndia is below.   Pete Sampras and Nirvana Remember your first funeral? Pete put his first Wimbledon trophy in […]
  • Hugo Dellien, Tu Fu, and the Miracle of Life (Art by ItchiRAE)
    March, 2020. Bolivia closes its borders. Paraguay closes its borders. New words are heard: Pandemic, Covid. The cruelest month is April when an everyday miracle occurs. A birth, a baby named “Mila.” “Mila,” a Milagro. In Paraguay the mother is all alone. In Bolivia the father is bereft. The mother’s name is Camila Giangreco Campiz. She […]
  • Percy Shakespeare, “The Tennis Player”
    Tennis invented so that women and men could play together. Conversation, competition . . . The development of women’s fashion, the body freed from Victorian hoop skirts so it might chase down more balls. Legs for running or for showing off? Feminist or feminine? Traditional or Daring? Married or single? Beautiful or plain? The woman […]
  • Tennis or Art: A Self-Portrait, by Michael Newberry
    I was 20 and holed up in a hotel room in Frankfurt, Germany contemplating my future. I was torn between two really good career options: to continue being a pro-tennis player (I was beating guys top 100 in the world) or give everything I had to my art. The week involved a tremendous amount of self-assessment, a […]
  • Four Americans at the Little Rock Challenger, Art by Shawn Adair
    They come to Little Rock from all over the world: Australia, Ecuador, The Bahamas, Canada, Portugal, Argentina, Colombia, Japan, India, Barbados, Chile, the Dominican Republic. They come to fight for points. Ryan Harrison, recovering from elbow surgery, must arrive five days early and win a Wild Card tournament of 32 players just to get into […]
  • Bianca Andreescu, Art by Scott Kish
    Dynamism of a cross-court backhand. Power, pace, direction. Bianca’s arms muscles legs Scott Kish’s brushstrokes flying right and left black purple and white in lines and arcs and physics of movement. No photo no video might live so fully inside where the body was and where it’s going. Each wildly controlled black line an echo […]
  • Djokovic’s GOAT Win Over Nadal, Art by Phetru
    “Me trying to cover the court,” Djokovic says after seeing Phetru’s Shrinking Hype of him playing—and beating–Rafa in the 2021 French Open, arguably the greatest win of his career. “I’m dying at these,” says another. “Warm and fuzzy,” says one. Small, smaller, and smaller still. Phetru’s Shrinking Hypes a laughing gas way back machine to […]
  • What We Do in Wimbledon Fortnight, by Scott Barclay with Art by Nial Smith
    Clouds broke, breaching their way across the London sky, smokey and wispy in their sunburned paleness and altogether calming in their paced slowness. Below though, chaos reigned, raining down at speeds fearsome as racket hands shook and dreams shivered, wavered and quivered with goosebumps on tight ropes of potential happenings. Breaths were being held, choking […]
  • Haitian Women: Tracy Guiteau Paints Naomi Osaka Reads Tracy Guiteau
    “I know our ancestors’ blood is strong we’ll keep rising,” Osaka said after committing her prize money to the relief effort after the earthquake in Haiti. An admirer of the Haitian American artist Tracy Guiteau’s work—Osaka commissioned the above portrait of herself–would Naomi admire as I do the stunning beauty of Tracy Guiteau’s recent work Hindsight, its three […]
  • Leslie Turner Bowrey: Hand Sculptures
    Mark on his paintings: What I found captivating about Leslie Turner was the way she unconsciously produced these shapes with her hands when she hit the ball. They are so beautiful to me. In a way they are like reifications of her concentration. Hand sculptures! And as sculptures they are forms that reflect her capacity to […]
  • Justine Henin’s Backhand: Music of the Spheres, by David Linebarger— MasticadoresIndia // Editora: Terveen Gill
    Happy to share this publication of Brooke Hunter’s art and my short writing on Justine Henin’s Backhand, which just appeared in MasticadoresIndia. My thanks to the editor, Terveen Gill, who is doing terrific work editing this new journal. The link to this publication (the full post) and to MasticadoresIndia is below. Check out all the […]
  • John Isner’s Serve, Art by Jace McTier
    The explosion of Isner’s serve has happened. Yellow pink green orange burst from the sky. We want to move a little closer or stand back in awe. McTier’s vibrant colors mix with our memories of Isner’s serve, his thrust up from his legs through his core back and shoulders toward the ridiculous height of 10 […]
  • Feminist Fantasy #3: Rosie Casals and the Original 9
    Artwork of Rosie Casals is by Miki de Goodaboom The year is 2101. Someone walks by a grave in Palm Desert. “They Called Her Rosebud. / They Called Her General.”  Few know what the epitaph means. In California, women and men share economic power. In half the world, men and women share economic power. The […]
  • Team Luke: In Memory of Luke Siegel
    This painting of Tim Siegel and Luke is called “My Boy” and is painted by Jeffrey Sparr. It is Tim’s favorite image of he and Luke together. Tuesday nights at the University of Arkansas I play tennis with the greatest group of players imaginable: talented juniors, male and female, former Razorback players, a bunch of […]
  • The West Side Tennis Club, Art by Normandie Syken
    Pen and ink drawing, watercolor. The real world, the artist’s imagination. Life’s drift or dialogue between the two. Normandie Syken’s Junior Tennis mixes a childhood world of innocence with moments of hard-to-pin-down adult introspection. Soft washes of watercolor are everywhere. Tennis balls dot the courts like an impressionist’s flowers. Overly large figures of adult authority—the tennis pros—are […]
  • What a University Tennis Coach Learns from his Players: Two Examples
    By Robert Cox, Head Coach at the University of Arkansas (1987-2013) What I learned from Blake Strode: Recruits like Blake do not come around very often. He was the complete package: smarts, natural talent, high Jr. rankings, speed, and a high tennis IQ. For four years, Blake played high in the line-up earning All American honors, […]
  • The Many Gifts of Manolo Santana
    What Pablo Casals did for the cello Andres Segovia for the classical guitar Picasso for modern art Manolo Santana did for tennis in Spain. He inspired a generation who inspired a generation who inspired a generation so that every tennis aficionado knows what Spanish tennis now is—both a style that evolved and a long list of […]
  • Two Tennis Pregnancies: Daphne Akhurst, Serena Williams
    Note: The writing below was inspired by Richard Naughton’s book: Daphne Akhurst: The Woman Behind the Trophy. All the information below on Daphne Akhurst is taken from this book, which I highly recommend for a more thorough account of her fascinating life. Two Tennis Pregnancies Serena takes pictures with the Daphne Akhurst trophy after winning […]
  • Alice Marble or Alice Marvel
    Which opening scene works best for a Hollywood film on Alice? Scene 1: Babe Ruth hands a ball to a 17-year old girl (Babe Didrikson Zaharias) out in centerfield before a San Francisco Seals Game. He whispers: “Kid, throw it high. You get more distance.” Show in slow motion how the girl, determined, throws a perfect […]
  • Seven Ways of Looking at Dominic Thiem’s Backhand
    After Wallace Stevens’ “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” When Zeus throws a lightning bolt, his easy power is bestowed upon him by god-like men or man-like gods from the ancient world. Thiem’s one-hander is modern. As with lightening, all the electrons/muscles fire at different times, lighting up the kinetic chain of his body: […]
  • Maria Sakkari: Greek Goddess or Greek Olympian
    In Athens, the city of her birth, Sakkari sails back 25 centuries to the 5th century BCE. Male nude olympians everywhere sculpted in all their glory. History’s greatest ideas buzz around them like bees: Democracy, Drama, Dialectic. Due to Maria’s athletic prowess—her sprinter’s speed, her gynmast’s arms–she is allowed to compete in the Olympic Games. She […]
  • Bobby Riggs on his Death Bed
    1945: The Enola Gay took off for Hiroshima.  Don Budge and I, the world’s two best players, played a few miles away. A little action. Entertaining the troops. Army (Budge) vs. Navy (Riggs), that’s the way it is boys. Bets? Bets? I was just a pesky hustler, but I finally figured him out. He got […]
  • Simona Halep: Three Easy-but-Difficult, Safe-but-Risky, Calculated-but-Mindless Backhands
    Situation: Having lost the first set, Simona is serving at 4-4 (15-15) in the second set against Sloane Stephens in the 2018 French Open Final. Sloane floats a weak return just past the service line, so Simona steps in and smacks an 88 mph sharply angled backhand cross-court within a foot of the sideline I submit that […]
  • Tennis in the Year 3040
    La Tenista 3040 is prepared to play in two realms at once: 1) the year 3040 2) the mythological past. The Year 3040: A warming planet, biological weapons, alternate realities, cyborg cities . . .  La Tenista 3040 is prepared. Like those insects crawling over the melting of time in Salvadore Dali’s Persistence of Memory, La […]
  • Pat Cash
    Mark on his Painting: “Pat Cash occupies a special place in my young tennis heart. He was someone we all aspired to in Australia. At the junior tournaments we all wore the chequered head band and everyone leapt at the ball just that little bit harder mimicking Cash’s athleticism. This was the thing that most captivated […]
  • Roger Federer and Myron’s Discus Thrower
    When the ancient Greeks sculpted the victors of an Olympic event, the goal was to produce not the athlete itself but the perfect, idealized image of the athlete, the body in rhythmos, the discus throw imagined as god-like, eternal. In Myron’s Discus Thrower, the arms fully extended to their perfect still point form a perfect arc […]
  • Andy Murray: The Pressure of Wimbledon
    Pressure: “the exertion of a force on one body by another body, fluid, etc.” Item: Mouth ulcers every year when Wimbledon comes around. Cliché: Andy carries the weight of an entire nation, 76 years since the last male champion.  Item: Murray got tight, choked for long stretches in his first grand slam final (2008 US […]
  • Lady Pink Paints Serena Williams
    “It’s not just a boy’s club. We’ve got a sisterhood going.” –Lady Pink Bad Ass. That’s what I say to my daughters. That’s what they say to me. We repeat it for emphasis in hushed tones, reverence: Serena’s a Bad Ass. Diva of high notes, fashion. Built like a brick house in black tight leather. Her powerful […]
  • Three-Time French Open Champions: The Women
    Excerpts and links below from previous and forthcoming publications. Justine Henin: I watch Justine in slow motion, the transfer of weight from back to front foot, the coiling uncoiling of the legs the hips the shoulders the core. (Is it true she did a thousand sit ups a day?) Justine ‘s one-handed backhand, “the most […]
  • David Hall’s Golden Socks
    This party was a once off.  To win a gold medal in a Paralympics not only in my home country, but actually in the city of my birth where I lived would never happen again.—David Hall The gold medal’s been in my sock drawer for 20 years, so whenever I get socks I relive the day, […]
  • Three-Time French Open Champions: The Men
    The Women will be published on June 4. Rafael Nadal: 4,500 rpm on the forehand.  Borg’s topspin revolution doubled, squared.  All that topspin means net clearance, safety, angles.  The perfect weapon for clay, its wars of attrition.  Bjorn Borg: I wanted to be Ringo Starr one year for Halloween. Long hair, girls screaming, rock star. […]
  • Why the Tennis Gods Made Rod Laver
    Mark on his painting: For this painting I focused on his ear because it is such an intimate space. It is where whispers are spoken. It is the site of the annunciation. It is a space of vulnerability. Rod Laver’s iconic stature in the world of tennis is well established. And for those of us […]
  • Billie Jean King, Feminist
    Parable of the Three Doors The first door’s locked. Deadbolts everywhere, a not yet discernible voice inside. I couldn’t get a closet deep enough. I’ve got a homophobic family, a tour that will die if I come out, the world is homophobic and, yeah, I was homophobic.  The second door’s a ceiling. The Houston Astrodome, […]
  • Toupie’s Ghost
    Note: I first heard of Toupie Lowther from the Wimbledon Museum Twitter Feed, which included the photograph postcard above of Toupie Lowther, on Feb. 5, 2021: “We have been researching previously overlooked players in tennis and wanted to share this postcard of May ‘Toupie’ Lowther with you. Wimbledon semi-finalist in 1903 and 1906, Lowther was believed to […]
  • String Therapy, Jimmy Miller
    Before my father died when I was twelve, he taught me to play tennis and string racquets. Forty-seven years and some 80,000 racquets later, I can still remember the smell of heated wood after quickly pulling a small piece of spare string through the rough holes of a wooden racket. “Burning them out,” we called […]
  • Hiding Inside the Baseline, The Story of Bobby Blair
    Bobby Blair’s Hiding Inside the Baseline is the compelling, must-read story about a young boy from a poor family—incredibly supportive mother, alcoholic father—who begins working towards becoming one of the top tennis prospects in the country. Hard enough, right? Add to this challenge Bobby’s growing awareness, from the age of 13 years old, that he […]
  • Martina Navratilova: Heroine with a Thousand Faces
    Thesis:  In what many observers consider the greatest rivalry in the history of sport, Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova helped change societally constructed ideas about female identity. Chris Evert proved that you could be an intensely driven professional woman and “feminine” at the same time. Martina, well, Martina’s the missing heroine in Joseph Campbell’s The […]
  • Bjorn Borg
    I wanted to be Ringo Starr one year for Halloween. Long hair, girls screaming, rock star. A few years later I wanted to be Borg. Long hair, headband, topspin, rock star. No one burned as brightly for five or six years. The Angelic Assassin, beatific like the beats, then simply beat, burned out, retired at […]
  • Suzanne Lenglen and Watteau’s Pilgrimage to Cythera
    Imagine Lenglen playing tennis in a hidden corner of Antoine Watteau’s Pilgrimage to Cythera. Dressed more lightly than the crowds of spectators in their rococo frills, her body is both concealed and revealed in all its ballet. A breast can be glimpsed or imagined. Lenglen’s every tennis stroke a musician’s glissando or dancer’s glissade perfectly […]
  • Jelena Dokic’s Eyes
    In junior tournaments, Jelena’s ruthless, unemotional. She even cheats on line calls to avoid her father’s beatings. He smacks her with shoes in the head, punches her in the stomach. He wraps her many wounds in words of love/ambition: “prostitute,” “whore,” “hopeless,” “worthless” . . . Jelena’s only 12, keeps rising in the rankings. Fear of punishment […]
  • 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 […]
  • 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 […]
  • 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 […]
  • 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 […]
  • 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 […]
  • 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 […]
  • 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 […]
  • 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 […]
  • 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 […]
  • 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 […]
  • Maria Sharapova
    Sharapova painted as a relentless puppet machine in a femme fatale nightmare. “Surreal but Real” is how Tom Lohner describes his art. Sharapova painted the moment before she cracks a serve, the background paint dripping upward in anticipatory dread: each one of Sharapova’s cool assassin’s bullets accompanied by 100 decibel shrieks and screams. Some fans […]
  • Guga’s Hair, 1997
    Novak Djokovic’s unruly wig bouncing Djoker caricaturing Gustavo Kuerten so that he looks like a bobblehead sports doll, Guga’s hair in reality so loose and free his body so loose-limbed and free dancing and bobbing to some unheard Brazilian music while he coils uncoils one-handed backhands big flat first serves sudden drop shots Guga’s body […]
  • Monica Seles
    Randomly choose a number from 1-4. I  Better if the violence happens offstage as in Greek drama. Just give me the plot, the facts. The nine-inch boning knife, the deranged fan of Steffi Graf coming out of the stands, the attempted killer walking free. Catharsis means the purging of pity and fear, what spectators should […]
  • Rafael Nadal and the Lascaux Cave Paintings
    4,500 rpm on the forehand.  Borg’s topspin revolution doubled, squared.  All that topspin means net clearance, safety, angles.  The perfect weapon for clay, its wars of attrition.  Not far from the arena of Roland Garros lay the caves of Lascaux.  In the womb of their history lay hundreds of familiar, mysterious beasts.  Rafa’s afraid of […]
  • Jana Novotna and Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis”
    Leading 4-1, 40-30 in the final set for the Wimbledon title, Novotna’s second serve sails halfway to the baseline. Double fault. Deuce. Tension. Novotna pokes a sitter forehand volley way over the baseline. Ad-out. Jana’s legs imperceptibly heavier move back on a lob, her shoulder metamorphosing tightening up slowing down as it strikes the ball […]
  • Arthur Ashe and Nelson Mandela’s Smile
    Solve this problem: Your daughter’s playing with a doll, a gift she just received from a friend.  The doll is white.  1968: John Carlos’ black power salute Arthur Ashe wins the first US Open. 1970: Toni Morrison The Bluest Eye the problem of “whiteness” as a standard of beauty Arthur Ashe wins The Australian Open. […]