The sport of love: tennis in literature.
The best sport films, according to conventional wisdom, are not about sport. The same can be said about sport literature. To put it another way, Don DeLillo's End Zone is no more about football than Bernard Malamud's The Natural is about baseball; and David Storey's The Changing Room is no more about rugby than Jason Miller's That Championship Season is about basketball. The same may be said about a host of other sport novels, including of course, tennis novels. The problem with tennis novels is that there are so few good ones. The sports writer Jay Jennings, in fact, argues that there only two: Lars Gustafsson's The Tennis Players and Michael Mewshaw's Blackballed. If, as the novelist Thomas Mann once said, the best stories are all long stories, then indeed there is a paucity of good tennis literature.
While there may be a dearth of good tennis novels, there is certainly no lack of commendable short stories and poems. Among the modern Grand Slam literati whose work has featured tennis may be included Roger Angeli, Margaret Atwood, lohn Betjeman, Vladimir Nabokov, Robert Pinsky, Irwin Shaw, Paul Theroux, John Updike, and E. B. White. Historically, references to tennis also appear in the works of diarists like Samuel Pepys, playwrights such as William Shakespeare and Philippe de Commynes, dramatists including John Webster and Henry Porter, poets and poet dramatists like Ben Johnson, Geoffrey Chaucer and Michael Dayton, and a philologist, such as F. J. Furnivall. As Jennings rightly concludes, "Tennis may not have the extensive contemporary bibliography of baseball as a subject of fiction and poetry, but its literary history is much longer and ... more prestigious" (xv). Tennis also appears in modern works, in contemporary mysteries by Harlan Cohen, Jeremy Potter and Stuart Woods--even the great American tennis player Helen Wills wrote a murder mystery (1); in numerous movies from The Philadelphia Story and Sabrina to Blow-Up and Shoot the Moon, and more recently Wimbledon and Tennis Anyone?; in plays such as Neil Simon's California Suite and The Royal Tenenbaums by Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson; and in TV shows from The Sopranos to Law and Order. Even the Simpsons play tennis.
Not surprisingly, and not unlike other sport literature, tennis deals with a wide variety of compelling ontological issues. As the long time New York Times writer George Vecsey notes, "tennis has it all--love, power, sex, money, violence, aggression, manipulation--the whole spectrum of human behavior" (xii). But like all sports, tennis has its distinctive character, its own cultural meanings hewn from its very nature--the court, rules, setting, language, and equipment, its personalities and arenas, dress and code of behavior, traditions and heritage. It is as elemental as boxing, although it rewards delicacy and touch as well as brutality and cruelty; it is geometrically elegant like baseball, but baseball's raptures, as Jennings notes, "are almost solely those of the spectator" (xvi). Football lacks subtlety, hockey lacks celebration and golf has too much of both. Basketball is a game of relentless fakery, horse racing a sport of relentless trickery and poker a game of relentless deceit. Tennis, as Jennings reminds us, is the only sport in which men and women can compete together on the same court (xvi).
The purpose of this paper is to interrogate tennis literature and to uncover the literary and cultural meanings associated with the sport, to answer the question posed by the poet E. B. White: "What is the power of this bland American scene / To claim, as it does, the heart / What is this sudden / Access of love for the rich overcast of fall?" (106). In order to answer this question, I will probe tennis novels, short stories, plays and poems rather than consider biographies, autobiographies, depictions of tennis in the modern media or the mystery novel with its "well-wrought cause-and-effect coherence" that led Jennings to exclude excerpts from mystery novels in his anthology (xiii). While tennis literature conjures a wide variety of metaphors, including the theological, political and even military, ultimately I wish to argue that tennis is predominantly the sport of love--after all, as writer Adam Sexton notes, "at least once every game both players think 'love'" (xvi)--and that because its heritage is more patrician than plebian, more country than city, more classic than modern, it is primarily depicted as a romantic, genteel and stylish sport more associated with the private, amateur and leisurely than the public, professional and commercial--and, perhaps, because we would like it to be that way. In image, at least, it still connotes garden parties Gatsbyesque in style. But while tennis, in record, even if not in reality, remains historically a sport associated with the aristocracy and upper classes, (2) of late it has migrated away from the lawns and country estates of the royal and privileged and travelled to the asphalt environment of the inner city; "the barbarians," as the writer Caryl Phillips writes, have "begun to gather inside the gates" (xi). These then are the two primary historical dimensions of tennis that will color this paper--tennis as a sport of kings (3) and tennis as what the writer James Archibald calls the "the royal sport of the people" (376), an evolution that has caused recent tennis literature to address the issues that characterize contemporary big time, professionalized and corporatized tennis, a sport now played out on what tennis reporter Peter Bodo aptly describes as "the Courts of Babylon" (15).
Given the capricious nature of human existence and the correlated hegemony of the established church in the medieval ages--the very era in which tennis had its origins--it is hardly surprising that some of the earliest references to tennis employed the sport as theological metaphor. In John Webster's The Tragedy of the Duchess of Malfi, Bosola uses tennis to deliver the fatalistic message that "We are meerely the Starres tennis-balls (strooke, and banded which way please them)" (v. 4. 54-55). The French philosopher Michel de Montaigne said something very similar; "This world of ours is only formed for ostentation: men are only puffed up with wind and are bandied to and fro like tennis balls" (Quoted in Engelmann 3). In Francis Quarles's poem "On a Tenis-court," from Divine Fancies, the microcosm of the tennis court serves as a metaphor for the macrocosm of the universe and the site of the cosmic struggle between God and Satan for the domination of the human soul:
Man is a Tenniscourt: His Flesh, the Wall: The Gamester's God, and Sathan: Th' heart's the Ball The higher and the lower Hazards are Too bold Presumption, and too base Despaire: The Rackets, which our restless Balls make flye. Adversity, and sweet Prosperity: The Angels keepe the Court, and make the place Where the Ball fais, and chaulks out ev'ry chace: and more. (117-118)
In the hands of William Shakespeare, who recognized the natural synergy between sport and war, a synergy grounded in the similarity between the means and ends of both--conquest, glory, and victory through courage, aggression, and strength--tennis serves as political metaphor. Looking for an excuse to attack France, King Henry finds one upon receipt of a gift from the Dauphin, a present of "tennis balls," in fact an insult to the heroic king, an estimation of Henry's maturity, or lack of it:
We are glad the Dauphin is so pleasant with us. His present and your pains we thank you for. When we have matched our rackets to these balls We will in France, by God's grace, play a set Shall strike his father's crown into the hazard Tell him he hath made a match with such a wrangler That all the courts of France will be disturbed With chaces (1, ii, 258-268) ... And tell the pleasant Prince this mock of his Hath turned his balls into gunstones. (1, ii, 281-282)
Beyond the political and theological though lies a more rudimentary ontological fact: simply put, tennis connotes sex. In style and deportment, and, more recently, as a result of their celebrity status, and in the case of women increasingly as a result of the evolution of their on-court attire, tennis players have become potent sex symbols, provocative models who physically and emotionally arouse our attention. "Tennis is sexy," Bodo rightly notes, "Bjorn Borg sexy, Anna Kournikova sexy" (xiv). Of all our sports, tennis is perhaps our most adolescent. (4) Baseball is for boys--T-ball, trading cards, and autograph hunting; football is redolent either of college or of professional players who stand like Titans beyond our comprehension and access; basketball remains the urban inner city game for the underprivileged and the oversized. Of golf, as Sexton wryly notes, "pot-smoking slackers and Tiger Woods notwithstanding, golf's for old people" (xvi). In few other sports, except perhaps ice skating, gymnastics, swimming and beach volleyball, are both male and female bodies so blatantly exposed and aesthetically presented at such a young age as on the tennis court.
Even early tennis literati recognized the sex appeal of the tennis player. In Ben Johnson's Cynthia Revels (see Herford and Simpson Vol. 4), Mercury, the messenger of the Gods, recounts how the philandering Hedon wins the favor of the ladies by boasting about how many horses he had ridden during the morning, how the week before he had vaulted wholly or only half over the pommel of his horse, and how many shirts he had drenched with sweat during the week on the tennis court--oddly, the number of shirts soaked by sweat, and not the number of matches won, being the proof of tennis prowess (II, i, 63-69). (5) And as part of his wooing of Jolante, the handsome Philip, the son of the King of France in F. J. Furnivall's 15th century romance, The Three King's Sons, before setting out on his crusade against the infidels, demonstrates his athletic heroism not only in jousts and tournaments but on the tennis court where he excels beyond all others (37).
The sexually attractive and alluring tennis player remains a constant literary type throughout tennis literature, including Caroline Rabinovitch's tennis-playing Chip from Duke University, who finds himself accosted by Bunny who drinks, smokes, swears, wears cut-offs jeans and cowboy boots and seduces him "right here inside the country club" (23), Barry Hannah's French Stewart, the "prettiest" man on the court over whom "women anguished to conceive of his departure from a tournament" (67), Anne Lamott's J. Peter Billings who is "impossibly handsome, with his movie-star hair and long, tautly muscled body" (6), George Sklar's Steve Kropa whose good looks, youth and vitality attract the attention of both women and men, and Michael Mewshaw's superstar tennis player, Latif Fluss, who finds himself constantly surrounded by "Ingas and Ullas, Ebbasand Bibbis ... bland bimbos provided by Scandanavian tournament directors" (13). Even more than their male counterparts, women tennis players are portrayed as eyecatching, captivating and tempting, sometimes mysterious and invariably the object of sexual desire. Typically, lithe of body, long of leg, bronze in skin color, beautifully curved and coquettish in style, the female tennis player oozes sex appeal and physical enthrall: "... her arms were erotic maps / lithe rivers into white rapids," writes poet Ed Higgins (23). Or, in J. P. Donleavy's words: "Wimbledon fortnight of golden female legs" (84). One only has to think of the likes of France's Suzanne Lenglen, the U. S.'s Helen Wills and Chris Evert, and the recent plethora of East-European athlete-supermodels including Russia's Maria Sharapova, Belarus' Victoria Azarenka, and Serbia's Ana Ivanovi, to understand the sexual magnetism of the adolescent female tennis player. On more than one occasion, the erotic female tennis player has served as a literary femme fatale, most obviously of course in Nabokov's Lolita. The "nymphet" Lolita sexually arouses Humbert Humbert not only with her athleticism in swimming and dancing but especially with her tennis game which provokes in Humbert "an indescribable itch of rapture" as he waxes besotted over "her apricot-colored limbs, in her sub-teen tennis togs ... the white wide little-boy shorts, the slender waist, the apricot midriff, the white breast-kerchief whose ribbons went up and encircled her neck to end behind in a dangling knot leaving bare her gaspingly young and adorable apricot shoulder blades with that pubescence and those lovely gentle bones, and the smooth, downward-tapering back" (230-231). "Winged gentleman!" indeed, as Humbert exclaims (230).
The sexual trope becomes even more exploitive in Lee Harrington's The Fourth, a short story about the pretty and attractive, tall and elegant American tri athlete Gayle Brewster who escapes to the Riviera to recover from a failed romantic relationship. Somewhat naive and gullible, she accepts a live-onsite position as a sort of tennis opere with the very wealthy British aristocrat Lord Rosscommon; he needs "someone to come and live on his property and be available to play tennis, should any of his guests require a fourth" (157). Resurrecting her lost tennis game, she charms the Lord on the court, who equally charms her, and she enjoys the fruits of a luxurious and privileged life-style, even though the Lord's personal assistant, Whitmore, ominously warns: "You know it's not really about tennis. We don't want Lindsay Davenport. We want Anna Kournikova" (165). While her relationship with his Lordship exhibits all the niceties of an old world courtship, the Lord's son Rodney and his privileged friends exhibit all the arrogance and sense of entitlement that their birth right bestows on them. Polite chit-chat about the royals, garden parties and hunting weekends soon gives way to a drink-induced sexually abrasive and abusive lingo that ultimately results in Rodney and his sybaritic friends demanding that Gayle "Take it all off! (182) ... Show us your tits!" (183). When Lord Rosscommon refuses to defend Gayle--rather instead smiling in haughty and expectant support of his son; "this is your job" (182), he coldly reminds her--she enjoys a moment of epiphany and at least some measure of rhetorical reprisal by resigning and calling out to Rodney, "Fuckyou! ... You little prick" (184).
The language of tennis also lends itself to the word play of sex. Not unlike our current linguistic penchant for using baseball terminology as sexual metaphor, where the sexual interlude is likened to an epic sprint around the bases in which more venturesome levels of physical intimacy are accomplished with every base, from "make it to first base" to "hit a home run," the French poet Theophile de Viau cleverly employed the language of the tennis scoring system, although his audacity at the time resulted in banishment from Paris, to likewise denote escalating levels of sexual dalliance:
If you kiss her, count fifteen, If you touch the bud, count thirty, If you capture the hill, Forty-five comes up. But if you enter the breach With what the lady needs, Remember well what I sing to you, You will win the game outright. (84v)
In Double Fault, Lionel Shriver addresses the issue more broadly; "tennis is like sex, isn't it? ... Listen to the language! Long-body, sweet spot, throat of the racket. Dish and shank, stab and slice, punch and penetrate--it's pornographic! ... Approach and hold, break, break back, stroke, regain position, and connect--it's romantic" (34). In even more blatantly provocative language, Mewshaw specifically employs the strategies and tactics of tennis to describe the sexual encounter:
I used to be a classic heavy hitter--fierce inside moves, flat strokes, an instinct for killing the point quick. But tonight, with no premeditation, certainly no practice, I ... gave Heather a dazzling display of touch and timing and deceptive placement. With a looped backswing and lazy follow-through, I hit all the corners, I never served the same speed or spin twice; I changed the pace, alternated top and slice, tossed in the occasional American twist, suckered her close with drop shots, then drove her back with lobs. She had great legs and stamina and stayed with me stroke for stroke till the end (205) ... It amazed me how my touch returned. Once again I smacked aces left and right, and every shot entered Heather more deeply and didn't stop where it used to. (271).
The overt sexualization of tennis aside, Sexton did not call his literary anthology of tennis Love Stories for nothing, and real tennis professional Roman Krznasic clearly recognized the romance of tennis when he admitted: "When speaking with a friend about love, I would instinctively draw an analogy with a game" (8). In other words, the tennis court has commonly been associated with the dalliances and flirtations of love. Because men and women can both compete together on the tennis court, either with each other or against each other, tennis has always served as salient romantic allegory, a sport at once titillating in dress and style, but also reminiscent of youth and sexual awakening. As the anonymous poet writes: "At either end / Holding opposing corners of the field / A youth and a damsel did disport themselves / In costume airy, mystic, and wonderful ... / 'What is the game?' I asked. They answered, 'love' / 'A pretty game,' quoth I, 'for a man and a maid'" (342). Nowhere is the romantic promise of tennis more beautifully expressed or more reflective of a traditional Anglo-Saxon culture with its prevailing social norms of service and marriage than in John Betjeman's A Subalterns Love-Song:
The scent of her wrap, and the words never said, The ominous, ominous dancing ahead. We sat in the car to twenty to one And now I am engaged to Miss Joan Hunter Dunn. (99)
Love in tennis literature is not restricted to the traditional heterosexual relationship. In Douglas Dunn's The Tennis Court and Rita Mae Brown's Sudden Death, tennis becomes the backdrop for lesbianism, and in Abraham Verghese's The Tennis Partner the site for the development of male agape love. Although Verghese's work is biographical rather than fictional, it is a tenderly told story of the burgeoning friendship between two men, the author, a university medical doctor, and a late blooming tennis addict, and the author's student, David Smith, an already accomplished Aussie tennis player seeking to fulfill his ambition to become a doctor. The relationship between the two men deepens on the tennis court as each seek solace and mutual support in the face of personal adversity, Verghese because of a divorce, and David because of a lifelong addition to drugs and a series of failed romantic relationships. Tennis matches become therapeutic, "healing" (168), central rituals in otherwise fractured lives: "This is how love between men is born: at work and at play" (342).
The tennis court then is more than a suitable site for the ancient sport of match-making; and it has been so ever since the 16th century. In Henry Porter's comedy The Pleasant Historie of the Two Angrie Women of Abington (see Greg), published in 1599, Phillip tries to explain to his father the romantically magnetic power of the tennis court:
How a match? lie warrant ye a match. My sister's faire, Frank Coursie, he is rich, His dowrie too will be sufficient. Frank's young, and youth is apt to love, And by my troth my sisters maiden head Stands like a game of tennis, if the ball Hit into the hole or hazard, fare well all. (lines 834-841)
The match-making power of tennis took on particular salience during the Victorian era, at a time when participation in tennis for young women was only deemed harmless when played within the confines of private estates and exclusive country clubs. The tennis court served as an appropriately safe gendered space for unmarried and eligible men and women to socialize. As social historian Kathleen McCrone notes, "mixed doubles had a particularly strong appeal as a possible matrimonial agency at a time when there was a surplus of women and social intercourse between ladies and gentlemen remained difficult" (24). Nowhere are the machinations and nuances of prenuptial match-making better displayed than in Suzanne Lenglen's romantic novel, The Love Game: Being the Life of Marcelle Penrose. Set in the world of early 20th century English garden parties, river boats, manor houses, stately meals, gambling on the French Riviera and swooning ladies, match-making in the hands of the matriarchal Lady Molton and her daughters is drenched with all the strategies and tactics of a well contested tennis match; it was indeed, as Lenglen writes, "a great game" (112). Against the action on and around the ever present tennis court, love and romance among Lenglen's titled aristocrats and heiresses reverberate in a whirlwind of spurned proposals, engineered meetings, arranged marriages and unrequited love. In the end, all--or nearly all--live happily ever after, but not before Lenglen has iterated some angst-ridden words of advice appropriate to the traditional Bourgeois woman of the pre-World War II era: "You have failed to get the man you love. Give yourself to a man who loves you" (228).
The salience of the doubles court as literary metaphor for marriage is grounded in the notion that both tennis and marriage demand cooperation, mutual understanding and an appropriate sublimation of the individual ego for the sake of harmony and shared success: "with the perfect partner," Shriver notes, "tennis offered up that implausible American ideal of equality" (315). Or, as our tennis champion turned novelist Suzanne Lenglen puts it: "Combination--perfect communion of thought--two people thinking as one" (190), the perfect example being Lamott's championship girls doubles pair who "together at the net, were an old married couple who knew how to finish each other's physical sentences" (8-9).
If, as Shriver claims, "the tennis game is the window of the soul" (12), then mixed doubles is surely a window into marital relationships, as Irwin Shaw beautifully illustrates in his short story Mixed Doubles, the story of Jane and Stewart Collins, a well-to-do couple who regularly play tennis in the country in order to escape from the city, the bonds of business and urban living. Stewart is "brown and dashing and handsome in his white clothes" (227), and, at least while he is winning, full of confidence, generosity of spirit and good natured bonhomie. Elegant and debonair on the courts, he dominates play, the net and his wife. But his jovial self-assurance soon gives way to a stream of self-rationalizing alibis as his game deteriorates under pressure. On the court, as in life, he fails at the critical moment: "his tennis was so much like his life. Gifted, graceful, powerful, showy, flawed, erratic" (235). Jane, on the other hand, is everything Stewart is not--both on and off the tennis court. Her role on the court, like her role in life, is to be steady, un-heroic, undeviating and deferential. She plays the game "predictably and sensibly" (229); she even dresses "sensibly" (225). While Stewart's game implodes--after all, "Form above everything" (232)--Jane fights her urge to predict the unavoidable outcome. Stewart's and Jane's discomfort is heightened even more by their adversaries--Croker, "a vague, round, serious little man" whose "shorts were too tight for him" (226) and who sliced everything, and Eleanor, "lithe and graceful in her short dress, which whipped around her brown legs in the summer wind" (229). Croker's deft drop shots and lack of pace frustrate Stewart as much as Eleanor's youthful good looks aggravate Jane who jealously complains: "these weekend things, always loaded with unattached or semi-attached, man-hungry, half-naked, boney-mouthed girls" (228). Even though Jane acknowledges that "marriage" like tennis, is "an up-and-down affair" (234), she still struggles to maintain her stoic, steadfast support of her histrionic spouse who inevitably double-faults on match point muttering, "The shadows ... Late in the afternoon. It's impossible to see the service line" (236). "Yes, dear," Jane obediently replies (236).
Not only does Shaw's story reveal a lot about a marriage; it reveals a lot about the gendered conventions of appropriate tennis behavior. As a sport, tennis has always embraced the co-mingling of the sexes, most obviously in the form of mixed doubles but not uncommonly, at least recreationally, in singles, and it has therefore easily lent itself as a metaphor for evolving gender relations. The contours of shifting sexual mores and relational norms and conventions are clearly visible in the fictional and poetic narratives of tennis as the literature takes full advantage of the nature of the sport to serve as allegory and metaphor for romance, match-making and marriage, and it has done so most conspicuously as reflective and refractive of particular historical context. As contemporary as Shaw's story is, it reflects the gendered mores of an earlier era, mores that have clearly not altogether disappeared. In fact, Shaw's story is poignant precisely because it reaffirms the classic heteronormative image of sport, continuing to ascribe to tennis a traditional role in the social construction of gender, one that affirms women's innate physical and psychological inadequacies at the same time as it justifies men's superiority and dominance. On the tennis court, women are expected to be submissive, to stay in the backcourt and "get almost everything back ... keeping the ball in play," as Jane dutifully does (228), while men are expected to assume responsibility for most of the shots, especially the difficult ones, the ones at the net and the winning ones, as well as for devising the necessary strategy; all of which Stewart does. Of course, Jane is equally complicit in this outdated behavior; she cannot "help smiling and adoring him as he lightheartedly dominated the game and the spectators and the afternoon ... with the sun flooding around him like a spotlight on an actor in the middle of the stage " (227). In other words, within Shaw's narrative universe, the tennis court continues to anoint the physical and intellectual hegemony of men and what McCrone writes of an earlier era remains as salient today as it did in the early 20th century:
Mixed doubles symbolized the traditional marriage relationship in which women, as helpmate, played a supportive role ... mixed play continued to stress the strength of the male and the secondary role of the female, who was expected to use her skill and intelligence to supplement his efforts within a smaller area ... of the court. (53)
The best allegorical use of tennis to plumb the depths and dynamics of love and marriage is portrayed in Lionel Shriver's novel Double Fault, a novel "not so much about marriage as tennis, a slightly different sport" (Author's Note). If Richard Yates exposes the dangers of the traditional marriage in Revolutionary Road, Shriver uses tennis to expose the pitfalls of the modern marriage, the marriage of an "industrious two career couple" (221), two Americans for whom "life was definitionally a series of betterments" (128). The couple are Wilhemena Novinsky, Willy, wunderkind, "Wee-Willy-Wimbledon" (8), and Eric Oberdorf, Princeton educated, multi-talented athlete--he excels even in horseshoes, pool, bowling and Scrabble--two internationally ranked and promising young tennis players, who meet on the tennis court, play against each other on the tennis court, fall in love, have passionate sex, and say their vows, all on the tennis court; indeed "there ensued a courtship in every sense" (38). Marriage begins well enough; in fact, "the halcyon period of the next few months evoked a ball at the top of its toss: steady, serene, balanced" (107) and Willy "discovered what a match was like without the go-between of a meddling tennis ball" (38). But marital bliss soon gives way to an unhealthy competitiveness as both commit their lives to success on the pro circuit. For both Eric, reared in a family that promoted "a Darwinism that only a life of untrammeled success could afford" (82), and for Willy, whose different arm sizes "was another reminder that, in focusing on one goal only, she had refined a single proficiency at the price of ineptitude at a great deal else" (85), marriage becomes "a race" (112). Driven and talented, Willy surges ahead until she tears her knee ligaments in a devastating fall on the court. While Willy's ranking plummets, Eric's soars. As it was for celebrated players like Bjorn Borg and Roscoe Tanner, and reminiscent of Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom in Updike's Rabbit, Run, so too is it now for Willy; life after sport pales in comparison. "Giving up tennis," Willy rails, "it's like cutting out my liver! I don't know who I am without that sport" (312). Purpose and self-confidence give way to self-pity and self-loathing, and Eric's growing success becomes the catalyst for her debasement. On the road and consumed by the demands of a successful professional career, and with success "as his genetic gravy train" (110), Eric is as incapable of sacrificing his career as he is of supporting his wife. In a desperate acknowledgement of the failure of their marriage, Willy resorts to the ultimate form of domestic mutilation; she aborts their unborn child, bearing witness to the price that both men and women pay in a marriage that celebrates performance over love and achievement over commitment.
The theme of love in the literature of tennis goes beyond the confines of marriage and match-making and also characterizes father-son relationships. Here, sessions on the tennis court become ritual organizers of life, sacred enactments of family heritage and parental affection. In short stories by Roger Angeli, Tennis, Somerset Maugham, The Facts of Life, and Emmeline Chang, Forty, Love, father-son tennis interaction becomes a powerful bonding agent, one of the basic substratum of domestic and emotional life. In each of these stories, the tennis court also becomes the site for the enactment of the inherent tensions in father-son relationships; often the game becomes too serious, the discipline too intense, the father too overbearing and demanding: My father "was a force who could not be stopped" (43), Chang's Michael recounts; he "had a plan for everything, which was forward, upward. Forward and upward, faster and harder. Discipline and direction" (41). In Maugham's tongue-in-cheek short story, the son specifically and even willfully ignores his father's advice to refrain from gambling, borrowing money and consorting with women while playing tennis in Monte Carlo. In all three stories the tension on and off the court serves as the expression of a deep-seated love-hate relationship, and often a psychological bulwark against the fulfillment of athletic potential. Now too infirm to play the game, Angell's Hugh Minot is consigned to watch from the sidelines, restricted to "one of those canvas chairs instead of standing up" (26). His son, now free from his father's presence on the tennis court, plays the best tennis of his life: "I don't think I ever played better on that court," the son reminisces, "I hardly made an error and I was relaxed and I felt good about my game ... Maybe for the first time in my life ... I found out that it was only a game we were playing--only that and no more" (26).
Perhaps, not surprisingly, mother-daughter relationships are less common in tennis literature, partly because sport is more often the site of male rather than female bonding and partly because sport is more commonly used as a rite of passage for father and son than for mother and daughter. One exception is Anne Lamott's novel, Crooked Little Heart, a novel that uses the machinations of junior tennis as a lens through which to explore the relationship between suburban California housewife Elizabeth Ferguson and her thirteen-year-old daughter, rising tennis star, Rosie. While Elizabeth struggles with alcoholism and the death of her first husband, Rosie struggles with the pressures and demands of tournament tennis as well as the angst of impending puberty. Constant companions on the tournament circuit, Elizabeth shepherds Rosie through the vicissitudes of cut-throat competitive tennis, the aberrant behavior of Rosie and her competitors, the pregnancy of Simone, Rosie's doubles partner and best friend, and the pains of Rosie's first blushes of womanhood. Unlike the fathers, who aggressively focus on winning, Elizabeth obsesses on "the relationship, its harmonies, its ease" (231). Ignorant of tennis tactics, strategies, and training methods, Elizabeth personifies the traditional stage mother who is more concerned with Rosie's welfare and behavior than her ranking and competitive success. While Rosie and Simone are playing in the final, critical tournament of the year, upon which rests their number one ranking in the state, Elizabeth sits in the stands praying that Rosie will stop stealing her step-father's clothes to give to her aging friend and fan, Luther.
Lamott's novel is also one of the few pieces of literature that portrays father-daughter relationships, in this case presenting fathers as reflective of a new breed of dad, "the scary, aggressive tennis dad" (Bodo 83) who is invariably bent on control, exploitation and manipulation--both economic and emotional--and committed above all else to winning. (6) Consequently, Lamott's fathers use a variety of often unseemly tactics to further the career of their daughters including the use of illegal signs and signals, brawling at tournaments, using their political position to enhance their daughters' ranking, and distracting opponents; Mandy Lee "had an awful father who coached her from the bushes" (155). As in Lamott's modern imagination, women's tennis today is too often "the story of ambitious and often avaricious parents, tough parents who accept a cut but not responsibility, marketing forces and the public's apparently unshakable thirst for novelty and celebrity" (Bodo 83), the story of helicopter parents from hell. (7)
Finally, as an expression of perhaps the most exploitive type of tennis love is the now not uncommon incidence of coach-player sex (see Mewshaw 1993, 187-196). Corrosive of both professional and emotional life, the coach-player sexual relationship is reflected in the contemporary literature of tennis. In Dalia Rabinovich's Love, the beautiful Sari recalls her early tennis playing days in Bogota and her first teacher, Mauricio, the philandering "playboy," as Sari's mother rightly calls him (186): "Mauricio taught Sarita how to play tennis. He also taught her that hate and love are not opposite emotions" (186). Spurned by Mauricio, who is hardly the marrying kind, Sari leaves Colombia for Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she marries Charlie instead. Forever unable to cast off the spell of her former coach, she realizes she is married to "a man she doesn't love ... a forced error. A mistake in her game" (188). The emotional toll for the player/coach relationship is equally evident in Shriver's Double Fault, where Willy and Max Upchurch, ex-world ranked, ex-Davis Cup player, and Willy's coach at Sweetspot, "a School of Tennis" (14), practice "schtuping" (29) more than hitting: after some "fried calamari and Chianti," the two would also "practice a few drunken overheads at midnight" (22). In the novel, Willy is 17. As Willy's new boyfriend, Eric, judges Max: "Beyond statutory. A stand-up guy" (29). In the face of her deteriorating marriage, Willy destructively returns to Max's arms further contributing to her self-hatred and hastening the end of her already broken relationship with Eric.
The changing sexual mores in tennis literature reflect a much broader evolution in the game itself. Once an elite pastime of a leisured class born of 19th century industrial wealth, tennis today is a world class competitive sport enjoyed by millions. Or, as Bodo more humorously puts it, tennis "was once perceived as a 'sissy' sport played by aquiline-nosed opera buffs with names like Ellsworth dressed in classic tennis sweaters. In the Open era, the game molted into a glitzy variation of pro-wrestling, practiced by a bunch of rule-bending, fit-pitching, earring-wearing babies who earned millions of dollars" (184). In short, the game has been both democratized and commercialized, transformed by the same forces that during the 20th century molded other amateur sports into the mass mediated, super-consumerized, fully professionalized market spectacles we know today, the result of a process that sociologists call the massification of sport. (8)
Nowhere is the commercialization of tennis better characterized than in Michael Mewshaw's novel Blackballed, a hilarious, satirical expose of the world of pro tennis told through the eyes of the lovable, although somewhat sleazy agent, Eddie Brown, and his superstar client, Latif Fluss. When they first meet, Eddie is wearing a "white Stetson hat, lizard-skin boots, and tan leisure suit," resembling "those runts at Texas country fairs who get chased by Brahma bulls or lassoed bronco busters" (61). He has an "accent like Ratzo Rizzo in Midnight Cowboy" (61) and, like most Americans, prefers contact sports, "football and fucking" (69). Latif, Eddie's ticket to fame and fortune, is a member of the Taureg tribe from African Sahara, "blue more than black" (61), the most promising pro player to appear on the circuit in years. Marketed by Eddie as the "first bad nigger in tennis" (89), Latif studies tapes of Sonny Liston, Thomas Hollywood Henderson, Marvin Bad News Banner, Idi Amin, Mr. T. and Mohammed Ali, and his picture is used "in ads for enema powders, hair straighteners, and breast-enlarging lotions" (78). But feeling guilt and remorse for betraying his values as a Taureg warrior, and caught up in a system that features "doped-up players, millions of bucks kicked back under the table, cooked figures in every accounting book, stacked tanked matches, matches orchestrated for TV time, phony winnertake-all events in Las Vegas" (4)--not to mention "tax fraud, forgery, bribery, embezzlement, extortion--that's the wonderful world of pro tennis" (175). Latif refuses to throw a match, is framed for dealing heroin and banned from tennis for life.
Years later, and armed with a conscience, integrity and humanity, Latif returns as Al Ben Baraka. Dressed in full tribal regalia, complete with tagilmoust and turban, speaking Tomahag, and wielding a brand new handmade racket, Ali plays his first matches against "a local teaching pro, a gimpy Pole, and a promising fifteen-year old Polynesian down with dysentery" (158). His new clothing sponsor is Honky. On the strengths of a bizarrely unbeatable game and with a host of reporters aching to uncover his true identity, Ali plays his way to the Wimbledon final. Leading 5-3 in the fifth set against John McEnroe, Ali defaults the final match of his career: "I wanted to win another Wimbledon so bad I decided I'd better not" (304). Returning to his beloved Africa, he sends Eddie a postcard with a quote from the Koran scribbled on the back: "We will inflict upon them the lighter punishment of this world before the supreme punishment of the world to come so that they may return to the right way" (308). Eddie, sweet-talking, ever-quipping, smart-alec conniver, ends up married and in federal prison-- "okay a minimum-security unit, but still in jail" (307). Then again, of course, he has "a book to write. And what better place to do that than in here where every second inmate is at his desk half the day drafting an appeal or penning his memoires" (308).
In a similarly satirical novel, Infinite lest, (9) David Foster Wallace lampoons junior tennis, specifically the ferociously competitive tennis academies that train elite level tennis players (10) and the universities that recruit them. The main character of the novel is Hal Incandenza, an aspiringyoung tennis player seeking admission to the University of Arizona, a hotbed of intercollegiate sport. A product of Enfield Tennis Academy, Hal is interviewed by a three-Dean salad comprising Admissions, Academic Affairs and Athletic Affairs, the Director of Composition and the varsity tennis coach. Accompanied to the interview by Wildcat tennis alum, Mr. deLint, and his Uncle Charles, Hal epitomizes the dumb jock who has been used and abused for his tennis talent, in return arrogantly assuming that his tennis resume will facilitate his college aspirations. Throughout the interview, Uncle Charles answers the questions directed at Hal, and when Hal finally ventures to speak, he experiences a psychotic breakdown during which he babbles incomprehensible "animalistic" and "mammalian" mumbo-jumbo before ending up in a near catatonic state (13-15). The problem is that while Hal boasts a high sectional ranking and an invitation to appear in the prestigious Whata-Burger Southwest Junior Invitational, he also has a transcript that he admits "last year might have been dickied a bit" (10). His problems are compounded by an educational profile that includes subnormal testing--"verbal scores that are just quite a bit closer to zero than we're comfortable with" (6); a series of bewildering essays, supposedly written by him, on an array of subjects including "The Implications of Post Fourier Transformations for a Holographically Mimetic Cinema," "Montague Grammar and the Semantics of Physical Modality," and "Tertiary Symbolism in Justinian Erotica" (7); and vortexing grades that suggest rampant nepotism--"a secondary school transcript from an institution where both your mother and her brother are academic administrators" (6). Despite the obvious weaknesses in his educational profile, not to mention a severely damaged psyche, young I Ial is accepted into the college of his choice.
Not only marketed and consumerized, tennis today is democratized too, played on both private and public courts, in both the suburban facilities of the middle class as well as on the urban playgrounds of the inner city. It is now, as tennis great Pancho Gonzales says, "the people's game" (171). Ironically, although with some exception--that quintessential gentleman, the German aristocrat, Gottfried von Cramm, being one--most great players have emerged from lower and middle class backgrounds anyway, often raised on makeshift courts, skills honed against homemade backboards or on rundown public courts. (11) The egalitarian state of contemporary tennis is well reflected in recent literature. Bainbridge's Ben Lewis and Frobisher, for example, play on public pay-and-play courts that are "full of pot-holes and the net invariably wound too high" (33) and in Lars Gustafsson's compelling romp through modern-day academe, the tennis court is located in a "run down suburban park" (3), squeezed in between a public school and "a horrendous fruit and vegetable stand called Fred's Vegetables." The court is "very simple," made of asphalt--"although the concrete was uneven"--and the net is rusty chicken wire (2). Unlike the sartorial elegance of an earlier era, Gustafsson's players don cut-off jeans and T-shirts "with funny slogans printed on them" (3).
While tennis may now be a game of the masses, the preponderance of tennis literature still evokes a bygone era when the sport epitomized patrician values and tastes and was played on the lush, verdant grounds of aristocratic manor houses, country estates and fashionable clubs, and in the colleges and universities that served as rite of passage to the social elite. (12) Even in the murder mysteries of Agatha Christie, the tennis court serves as trope for an upper class way of life, a vicarage-garden-party environment where proper etiquette is abided on the court as well as off. As Gonzales recalls in his memoirs: "Once the game belonged to the white flannel, polo-coated set. Not only did a player have to learn the book of social etiquette backwards, and grip a racket properly, he had to be able to lift a cup of tea without spilling a drop. Tennis and the Long Island horsey set were loving cousins" (171). Robert Stone's iconoclastic Ron Strickland in Outerbridge Reach probably sums up our contemporary image of tennis best when he mockingly says: "Mom went riding. Dad's at the yacht club. Tennis anyone?" (134). In other words, tennis--along with the other preppy sports of riding, squash, yachting and crew--still smacks of upper class privilege and style, an image that obtains throughout the literature of tennis.
Tennis fiction plays out on royal estates, in high profile cities and exclusive clubs, on the courts of ivy covered, brick built colleges and universities, and at the homes and in the gardens of a social and political elite. As but a few examples: Somerset Maugham's Nicky Garnet plays in Monte Carlo and Lenglen's Marcelle Penrose on the French Riviera (not unlike Lenglen herself of course); Ellen Gilchrist's LeGrande MacGruder plays in the lavishly appointed New Orleans Lawn Tennis Club, Paul Theroux's cast of characters at the exclusive Ayer Hitam Club in Malaysia, William Trevor's pre-World War I elite on the grass courts at Challacombe Manor, and Robert Sorrells's rural well-to-do of Ickey Honey, in Punkin County, South Carolina, on the court in Hoke Warble's Ickey Honey Country Club; Nicky Garnet plays for Cambridge, Lenglen's Roy Molton for Oxford, Brad Leithauser's "high school graduate" for "the Big "H," Harvard" (32), and both Shriver's Eric Oberdorf and Ernest Hemingway's Robert Cohn for Princeton; Harrington's Gayle Brewster lives and plays in St. Tropez on the opulent estate of Lord Rosscommon--"the Marquess of Hardcastle for those of us in the know" (157)--and Lenglen's Penrose opens up her tennis school on the grounds of "a lovely old manor house" (95). Tournaments thrive as social rituals that mark the calendars of the well-to-do and celebrate the upper class way of life.
Beneath the veneer of well-mannered civility however lies a more seamy reality, a world of snobbery, racism, immorality and manipulation. Even in Lenglen's romantic and quixotic novel, the women work to stage-manage relationships in mischievous and often insidious ways to ensure their future economic and emotional security. As Elinor Glyn cynically advises: "Marry the life you want to lead, because after a few years the man doesn't matter" (146). In other works, the privileged lifestyle takes on more sinister dimensions. In Harrington's The Fourth, the polite and congenial affability of the British social and political elite who congregate on and around the tennis court on Lord Rosscommon's French Riviera estate belies a hedonistic lifestyle that promotes drunkenness, wanton destruction, sexual desire and vulgarity. The Lord's sybaritic and uncouth son Rodney exposes the sham of upper crust graciousness when he verbally abuses the live-in tennis pro Gayle Brewster; "Hit the ball harder, you fucking slag," he demands; "Fucking stupid bitch" (182).
Although far removed from the rarified air of the titled British, the tennis setting, the fiercely egalitarian Warlock Sports Center, in Martin Amiss novel The Information serves too as metaphor for class antipathy. Class and success conscious Richard Tull, whose erstwhile promising writing career is now stuck in neutral, can only beat his long-time university-classmate-turned-literary-superstar, Gwen Barry, on the tennis court. Resentful of Gwen's short-list status for the prestigious Profundity Requital award--"the mini-Nobel" (74)--as well as his impending betrothal to Lady Demeter de Rougemount, "a celebrated knockout of limitless fortune and imperial blood" (79), Richard is reduced to insulting Gwen's tennis game: "You haven't got a backhand," he inveighs. "It's just a wound in your side. It's just an absence. Like an amputee's memory of a vanished limb. You haven't got a forehand either. Or a volley. Or an overhead. That's the trouble with your game. You haven't got any shots" (78).
In short stories by Paul Theroux, The Tennis Court, and Ellen Gilchrist, In the Land of Dreamy Dreams, the country club serves as metaphor for a class consciousness that begets discriminatory prejudices based on cultural hierarchy; in Theroux's case the bigotry is racial and in Gilchrist's case, religious. In Theroux's The Tennis Court, British and American members of an exclusive Malaysian country club plot to oust the Japanese businessman, Shimura: "I didn't fight the war so that those people could tell us how to run our club," complains the hoity-toity British chair of the tennis committee (101). Stereotyping the Japanese as "unreadable, impossible to know; more courtly than the Chinese" (103), Evans and his tennis mates conspire to engage Shimura in a tennis match with the local Malaysian hot-shot, Raziah, hoping that Shimura will lose: "These Japs can't stand humiliation," opines Evans (104). The upshot of the match, to everyone's chagrin is that Shimura wins, whereupon Shimura invites Raziah to play tennis in Kuala Lumpur. Wearing the name of Shimura's electronics company on his jersey, Raziah places a respectable third in the Federation Championship and gains membership to the even more prestigious Selangor Club; "even those who hated Shimura and criticized his lob were forced to admire the cleverness of his Oriental revenge" (109). Gilchrist's short story hides a similar red-in-tooth-and-claw savannah of play, in this case in the form of snooty LaGrande McGruder. Imprisoned by her aristocratic southern heritage and family connections--her grandfather had been President of the USLTA13--she is reduced to cheating to defeat the "little Jewish housewife" (69), Roxanne Miller, "that goddam little new-rich Yankee bitch" (60), whose husband, Willie, bankrolls the "Members Only" New Orleans Lawn Tennis Club to the tune of $15 million. Humiliated by her performance in front of the influential and stately Claiborne Redding, LaGrande soothes her bruised ego by going on a shopping spree and "when she had bought one each of every single thing she could possibly imagine needing she felt better and went on out to the Country Club to see if anyone she liked to fuck was hanging around the pool" (71).
Finally, tennis in literature serves as a litany of aging, a sporting ritual that marks the passage of time and some of the most important moments in life. As Emmeline Chang's Michael muses as he sits with his aged father watching tennis on TV, "the ball bounces back and forth from one side to the other. Back and forth, like the ticking of a clock" (54). Tennis is particularly poignant in this regard because it is a life-time sport, a sport played best by teenagers no doubt, but a sport that can be played in middle age and even well into old age. Brett Favre notwithstanding, you cannot play football when you are 40 and Tim Wakefield notwithstanding most baseball in the twilight years is played in pot-belly softball leagues. But tennis spans our existence. It accompanies our journey from birth to death.
The heyday of tennis occurs, of course, inouryouth, duringthose carefree days when the body never aches and the promise is not dimmed: "Never forget," the poet Brad Leithauser counsels a young tennis pro, "the world is yours" (35). Tennis is also at its most aesthetic when played by the young, the Buenos and Goolagongs, Lavers and Federers, who glide effortlessly across the court, silent of step and graceful in movement, and who endow the sport with its distinctive kinesthetic beauty. The poet John Heath-Stubbs likens the sport to dance:
Light, in light breezes and a favoring sun, You moved, like a dancer, to the glancing ball, And the dance and the game seemed one To me, the unmarked spectator by the wall. (342)
But time, gravity and poor technique exact their toll, as Jim Hall reminds us in a poem about the one malaise that haunts all tennis players, tennis elbow: "The one trick / I know has worn thin / the cartilage / has ground it down / until it absorbs no more / until I am in touch / with myself. Parts / never meant to touch / are touching. They touch / again, crush and grind / until I am right with ache" (77). Injury gives way to infirmity, infirmity to old age, and with it the loss of skill, endurance and quickness. In a verse that all aging players can relate to, Paul Petrie writes: "Each year the court expands / the net moves back, the ball / hums by--with more spin" (58). Nor do the prospects improve, as the Renaissance poet Charles d'Orleans acknowledges:
Old age, made angry by pain, And by the fact that the game still goes on, Says, in her thieves' cant That the chases from here on in Will be a great deal worse. (Champion, Vol. 1, 144)
But even when the body fails, the will endures, the passion remains, the competitive urge lives on:
But nightly in dreams I see an old man playing in an empty court under the dim floodlights of the moon with a racket gone in the strings-- no net, no ball, no game-- and still playing to win. (Petrie 59)
Tennis also bears witness to the canonical events that comprise life, some that we ritualize, some that we ceremonialize, some that we celebrate in public, and others that we endure in silence and solitude. In two short stories, one by James Jones, The Tennis Game, and the other by Jonathon Ames, Pubertas Agonistes, tennis marks the transition to puberty. In Jones's story, the transition engenders conflicting emotions, desire and fear, excitement and anxiety, daring and guilt, as eleven-year-old John Slade abandons his play world of guns and soldiers in favor of Alice Pringle. Driven by urges neither fully understand, the two disappear into a secluded spot to take a pee and "when she asked him if he was done and he should have said no he said yes instead and she turned around and saw him still peeing, while his heart was beating in his throat like a triphammer" (206). When Johnny's mother finds out, she sends Alice home and gives Johnny "a whale of a whipping on his bare bottom" for "what a filthy dirty thing it was he had done" (207). Trying to get over the memory of Alice, Johnny reverts back to his play world and on the garage doors acts out a make believe tennis match between Don Budge and Baron von Cramm. Sick with the excitement and sensation of a strenuous five-set match, "the nerves in his arms and legs tingling" (210), Johnny repairs to his tree house, "his peepee throbbing in his pants" (211). Just then his mother informs one of the Wisdom Club bridge ladies; "Playing! Oh, well, you know how children are. They're always playing some little game or other when they're by themselves" (211). In Ames's short story, Oedipus's encounter with puberty is equally traumatic--although his relationship with his mother, as his father's nickname for him suggests, is much more convivial. Arrested in his sexual development, Oedipus is terrified of being on his school tennis team, fearful of exposing himself in the locker room. While his teammates sport pubic hair and "large penises," Oedipus's penis is "indistinguishable from that of a five-year-old's"; in fact, he mourns, "I could still do the trick of pushing it in so that it disappeared momentarily, went to Connecticut or someplace and then came back to me in New Jersey" (10). So embarrassed is he that he skips showers, which ultimately invites the unwanted attention of his coach; "Think you'll shower today?" the coach inquires (14). Seeing no way out of his dilemma, Oedipus quits, and rather than play tennis, he plays with himself. Finally, at the age of 16, he ejaculates, and rejoices: "Watch, Mom," he says, "It gets big" (16).
Not only does tennis stand on the threshold of childhood and adulthood, it attends the transition from single to married, and from married to divorced. The tennis court takes pride of place in two short stories about divorce, Separating by John Updike, and Courtship by Rand Richards Cooper. In Updike's story, a dilapidated clay court lurks in the background as Richard and Joan inform their children of their crumbling marriage. Built a year earlier to signify their commitment, it now serves as a metaphor for their separation. In Cooper's short story, the tennis court evokes memories of a "wickedly hot day in summer ... She'd had no tennis dress, and played in her bathing suit ... a red two-piece with white polka dots" (200). After the divorce, he builds a tennis court in the back yard of his new home; it becomes his escape, its demolition a recognition of a time long passed, "a relic of his failed first marriage a quarter century earlier" (198).
Nowhere does the tennis court better serve as an allegory for the passage of time than in William Trevor's nostalgic and touching short story, The Tennis Court, a story full of pain and pathos set in the interwar years in rural England. Once the site of bustling tennis parties, "champagne and strawberries and cream" (102), the court at Challacombe Manor is now in total disrepair, overgrown and untended, the grass "a yard high" (101); "it's not much of a tennis court, but it was once of course" (94). The victim of World War I, the estate and its owner Mrs. Ashbuton have seen better days, the estate in foreclosure and Mr. Ashburton compromised by the ravages of combat; "His mind had been affected," Mrs. Ashburton explains (99). Despite adversity, Mrs. Ashburton realizes her dream to see Challacombe Manor return to its glory days one more time through her friendship with three children, Matilda, Dick, and Betty, who agree to refurbish the tennis court and stage one more glorious tennis party, "just like the old days" (109). Despite the success of the party--"it was a quarter to ten that evening before they stopped playing tennis" (110)--melancholy pervades the community as yet another war looms; "It's all over," Mrs. Ashburton sadly realizes, "Yet again" (112). "Poor Mrs. Ashburton!" the tearful Belle Frye says. "Imagine being eighty-one ... Imagine sitting in a kitchen and remembering all the other tennis parties, knowing you'd have to die soon" (112). Once again, the grass grows back on the tennis court. As Sexton poignantly notes, "Things change, and tennis courts make that dramatically evident" (xxiv).
In the end, tennis serves as the ultimate index of our decay, as the poet Galway Kinnell somewhat humorously recognizes:
... among the pure right angles and unhesitating lines of this arena where every man grows old pursuing that repertoire of perfect shots, darkness already in his strokes, even in death cramps waving an arm back and forth to the disgust of the nurse (to whom the wife whispers, "Well, at least I always knew where he was!"); and smiling; and a few hours later found dead. (28)
In many ways, tennis is the perfect metaphor for life. It is, as Sexton writes, "a game of love and sex, race and class, conflict and resolution, victory and defeat" (xvi). Therefore, tennis has been used in the language of warfare, business, politics, and sex, and as trope for social class and etiquette; as allegory, it has accompanied the various stages of life and the ritual moments by which we measure the passing of time. Wherever it is played--at Roland Garros, on the playground, at the country estate, or on the municipal court--it reflects and refracts the complexities and nuances of life, whether in the strategy room, the boardroom, or the bedroom. While tennis has of late migrated into the ballyhooed world of show-biz, professional sport, most of the stories and poems smack of another time, of a bygone era where deportment and sportsmanship mattered, when behavior and dress were determined by an unwritten code rather than legislated by a bureaucratic, official tome, and when the predominant ethic was "it matters if you win or lose, but far more important is how you play the game." (14) Tennis literature certainly pays attention to the game of the Open era but it does so more as parody than celebration; it is cynical, not commemorative. I suspect most people would agree with Jennings who writes that "most tennis fans and players bring a romantic, personal, classical notion to the game" (xiv).
In fact, I would argue that tennis in literature is the most romantic sport, the sport of love, the sport that as metaphor, trope and allegory connects us to an idyll that harkens back to an earlier time, to a time that we still wish obtained today. Perhaps, this accounts for our long-standing fascination with Wimbledon, at least our fascination with the image that Wimbledon presents. Even though Wimbledon has embraced the modern game, it has done so with a stubborn adherence to a traditional set of values and practices that even if grudgingly we still admire; it is played on grass, (15) demands attire that is predominantly white, uses wooden scoreboards, refers to players and the two draws by their traditional titles, serves strawberries and cream and retains a royal box to which players still respectfully bow. (16) In other words, the abiding impression derived from literature, reinforced by many of the current settings of tennis, most obviously Wimbledon, is of a sport that, while reflective of the machinations of the politician or the business executive and while sensitive to the excesses of the modern game with its mass spectatorial and participant appeal, alludes to and conjures still a romantic image of amorous adventures played out on grass courts far from the madding crowds on a late sunny summer evening. As the poet Margaret Avison notes, "Courts are," indeed "for love and volley" (22).
If, as sports sociologist Michael Novak suggests, the inner life of baseball is chamber music, "slow" and "pastoral" (98), and the metaphysics of basketball is jazz with its "style, flair" (98) and "hot" pace (109); if football is "Berlioz's The Damnation of Faust, Ravel's Bolero, Beethoven's Fifth" (98-99), then the inner life of tennis is Grieg's Solvejg's Song, Rimsky-Korsakov's The Young Prince and Princess, Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet Overture. How more romantic can you be than in John Betjeman's poem?
Miss J. Hunter Dunn, Miss J. Hunter Dunn, Furnish'd and burnish'd by Aldershot sun What strenuous singles we played after tea, We in the tournament--you against me! Love-thirty, love-forty, oh! weakness of joy, The speed of a swallow, the grace of a boy, With carefullest carelessness, gaily you won, I am weak for your loveliness, Joan Hunter Dunn. (97)
(1.) Of Wills's murder mystery, titled Death Serves an Ace, the New York Times scathingly wrote: "In Mrs. Moody's hand the racket is mightier than the pen" (Quoted in Engelmann 436). Even Helen Wills Moody herself recommended that people should not read it! Helen Wills was one of the greatest women's tennis players in history winning 31 Grand Slam titles, including 4 French Open singles titles, 8 Wimbledon singles titles and 7 U.S. Open singles titles. She also won two gold medals at the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris.
(2.) Gillmeister argues that while references to royalty playing tennis are numerous, it is wrong to assume that the medieval game was the sole preserve of the aristocracy, an assumption based largely on the great man theory of history. Rather, Gillmeister claims, "common people throughout the middle ages played and loved the game as much as their masters did" (27).
(3.) Among the kings who have played tennis may be included Louis X, Louis XI, Charles VIII and Francis I of France, Henry VIII, lames II and Edward VII of England, and Henry I of Castile (See Schwartz 12-15).
(4.) While both men's and women's tours have seen a dramatic incremental drop in the average age at which pros begin and end their careers--evolving from what Bodo calls a "dog-eat-dog" world to "puppy-eat-puppy" world (323)--the women's tour in particular has witnessed the increasing "adultification of kids" (81). The women's tour, Bodo writes, "has evolved into an unhealthy organism featuring too many lonely and half-formed adults, venal men, and exploited children (107) ... an entity featuring mostly female adolescents --youth, children, kids ... girls (81). It is worth noting that Stefano Capriati and Italian Open Director Cino Marchese once made a handshake deal for Stefano's daughter, lennifer, to appear in the Italian Open when she was nine, and Anna Kournikova met with her American agents at the age of ten.
(5.) Except for Margo, "Maggie," of Hainaut, tennis was exclusively a male enterprise during Renaissance and medieval Europe (See Gillmeister 75; Clerici 22).
(6.) In a very real sense, Papa Lenglen, Suzanne's domineering father, was the early prototype of the modern psycho-father (see Engelmann 6-14). Engelmann writes that he "advised, directed, teased, cajoled, criticized, cajoled, denounced, decried, praised and condemned his little girl without ever seeming to be really aware of the pulverizing emotional effects of his methods. His critical, unforgiving eye followed her every move, missing no mistake. And while Suzanne's tennis skills flowered, her emotional growth was stunted. She became athletically formidable and emotionally tattered" (13).
(7.) Among the new breed of tennis fathers--often rude, boorish, domineering, demanding, exploitive and in some cases menacing--may be included Karolj Seles, Stefano Capriati, Jim Pierce, Richard Williams, and Peter Graf. Jim Pierce, in fact, was a convicted felon who was legally barred from attending tournaments because of his intimidating and threatening behavior.
(8.) See, for example, Wenner.
(9.) Specifically see the chapter, "The Year of Glad," 3-17.
(10.) The most famous of these is perhaps Nick Bollettieri's Tennis Academy in Bradenton, FL, which opened in 1978. Among the students who have attended Bollettieri's are Andre Agassi, Monica Seles, Jim Courier, Sabine Lisicki, Jimmy Arias, Carling Bassett, David Wheaton, and Mary Pierce--none of whom, of course, ever attended college. Other tennis superstars including Marcelos Rios, Maria Sharapova, Serena Wiliams, Venus Williams, Martina Hingis, Tommy Haas, Xavier Malisse, Kei Nishikori, and Jelena Jankovi have trained there over the years too. None of them went to college either.
(11.) For example, Frank Parker came from the slums of Milwaukee; Rod Laver was a farm boy from Queensland, Australia; Evonne Goolagong was an aborigine who spend much of her childhood sleeping on a dirt floor; Stefan Edberg's father was a policeman, Billie Jean King's a fireman; and Venus and Serena Williams played their early tennis with tatty rackets, dead balls, either against a wall or on the pot-holed public courts in Compton, CA, where their father Richard says, "AK-47s, drugs, PCP, ice and welfare checks are more prevalent than anywhere else in the world" (Quoted in Higdon 49).
(12.) As early as 1628, in his Micro-Cosmographie, John Earle noted that tennis was something of a rite of passage among university men: "The two marks of his seniority, is the bare velvet of his gown, and his proficiency at tennis, where when he can once play a set, he is a freshman no more" (64).
(13.) The 'L' in USLTA stood for 'Lawn' and was dropped from the name in 1975. It was dropped for a few reasons: first, very little tennis was being played on grass in the US by then, and second, it was less formal and less elitist. By simplifying the name to the U.S. Tennis Association as opposed to the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association, the governing body of tennis in the U. S. was make the sport appeal to the masses and not just the traditional country club set.
(14.) Engelmann reports this ethic as the dominant principle in the 1920s and 1930s and shared by all the players he interviewed including the likes of Alice Marble, Hazel Wightman, Sarah Palfrey, Helen Wills and Suzanne Lenglen. Interestingly, in The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway describes Robert Cohn as a man "who loved to win at tennis. He probably loved to win as much as Lenglen, for instance" (45). However, as Hemingway points out, Cohn "was not angry at being beaten" (45).
(15.) In fact, the national governing body of tennis in England still retains its traditional title of the LTA, the 'L', of course, referring to 'Lawn.'
(16.) Wimbledon is the antithesis of the U.S. Open; "If the U.S. Open were a coat," Bodo writes, "it would be a leather coat. If it were a tool, it would be a chain saw. If it were a vanity plate, it would read FUK U 2" (356).
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