It’s that ridiculous bit of the year where everything all seems to happen at once. Euro 2016! The NBA finals! Glastonbury! The Tour de France! The Sodding EU Referendum! The Sodden Summer Solstice! And as if all that wasn’t enough, it’s only bloody Wimbers starting next week! Dig out your poncho / suncream [delete as appropriate] get some strawberries up in your face and dig out that hilarious ‘Pimm’s O’Clock’ wristwatch that you bought for £24.99 last year, because that joke really does just keep on giving, doesn’t it?
Wimbledon is a strange collision of everything that – depending on your point of view – is either risibly embarrassing or patriotic-grin-inducing about British culture, paired with what is arguably one of the apexes of human sporting achievement: the five-set tennis match. Where else can you see grown men, wearing those ginger Scottish hats and holding inflatable palm trees, for some reason being treated to an awe-inspiring four-hour spectacle like Djokovic vs. Murray? Where else can seeing and hearing John Inverdale, Cliff Richard and Andrew Castle be even vaguely classed as “entertainment”? Where else would you queue all day so you can pay to sit on a hill, in the rain, to watch something on a big screen which you could freely enjoy at home on your sofa?
It might be a bizarre tournament, but there’s no questioning the sporting prowess on show. While everyone will of course be focused on Murray, Djokovic is emerging as one of the all-time greats of the game, and is a clear favourite to retain the title. However, with Federer and Nadal still presenting a challenge – although both are now increasingly erratic – and new big-hitters like Stan Wawrinka and Milos Raonic threatening to upset the established order, there’s never been a better time to be a tennis fan. Throw in mercurial talents like the uber-brat Nick Kyrgios and the wildly entertaining 18-limbed phenomenon Dustin Brown, and you potentially have the recipe for an absorbing two weeks of tennis.
David Foster Wallace knew a thing or two about upsetting the established order too, and he also knew a thing or two about tennis. Library of America’s String Theory: David Foster Wallace on Tennis (NAL; 9781598534801; £15) demonstrates just that, collecting DFW’s articles on the sport, including his definitive essay on the Swiss Maestro, “Roger Federer Both Flesh and Not”. For Wallace, tennis is “the most beautiful sport there is, and also the most demanding” – hard to argue with. A teen tennis prodigy himself, he saw both the endurance required to become a great, and, according to John Jeremiah’s excellent introduction, realised early on the knowledge that “[tennis] is the most isolating of games… it may be as close as we come to physical chess… a good game not just for writers, but for philosophers too.”
If you’re um-ing and ah-ing about whether to read one of Wallace’s lengthier and immersive works, this collection provides a great introduction to this most demanding of writers – and its release couldn’t be better timed. If you’ve already read Infinite Jest or The Pale King, kudos – and you won’t need persuading to read this one. And even if – horror of horrors – Andy doesn’t do it this time, we always have the consolations of great art. Wallace knew that, and now you can too.
Anyone for more tennis?
Wimbledon: The Official Story of the Championships (VSP; 9781909534636; £20) – Simply the official, definitive guide to this years’ tournament.
Centre Court: The Jewel in Wimbledon’s Crown (VSP; 9781909534605; £25) – Sumptuous photo book focusing on the legendary Centre Court venue. Foreword by Roger Federer.
Game Changer: My Tennis Life by Paul McNamee (Text Publishing; 9781922147387; £12.99) Absorbing autobiography of the legendary Australian doubles champion.
String Theory is published 12 May by New American Library
Post by Tom