Tennis Players as Works of Art

  • 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. […]
  • Justine Henin’s Backhand: Music of the Spheres
    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 beautiful shot in tennis” (John McEnroe). If all life could be as […]