by Steve Flink
Those of us who follow tennis with more than a passinginterest have grown accustomed to watching the sport in person or viewing itacross the airwaves. We celebrate the powerful images of the leading playersgoing about their business, and appreciate the beauty and grace of a sport thatis like no other. This is an era made for people who love to sit back andabsorb the images of a singularly graceful game performed by artists,craftsmen, supreme competitors, spirited individuals and athletes of thehighest order. Watching tennis played by the best in the world is inspirationaland captivating.
But tennis also lends itself very well to the written word.For a lot of fans, finding a good newspaper or magazine article, going online,or reading an enlightening book on tennis is a nice alternative to sitting infront of a television or observing from the stands. Recently, I read an intriguingbook called “101 Incredible Moments In Tennis” (“The Good, The Bad And TheInfamous”), authored by a teaching pro and tennis coach named Joshua Shifrin.Shifrin is not a polished or extraordinary tennis journalist by any means, buthis boundless enthusiasm for tennis is evident across every page of his book,and he has chosen a wide range of remarkable moments and packaged these piecesof history well. In the process, he has taken us back to some historiclandmarks and allowed us to relive or recapture those times of consequence.
At no stage is this book monotonous. The 101 most incrediblemoments are an eclectic collection. It is a fine mixture of the game at it oncewas long ago along with the modern world of tennis we know so well. We ventureback to Virginia Wade winning Wimbledon in 1977, to “Big Bill” Tilden’s“triumphs and tragedies”, to Fred Perry becoming the first man to record acareer Grand Slam in the 1930’s. We travel to Roland Garros, where the young AmericanKathleen Horvath becomes the one and only player to topple Martina Navratilovain 1983, to the overpowering serving excellence of Ellsworth Vines, whoreleases 30 aces in only 12 service games against Bunny Austin in the 1932Wimbledon final.
There is more. We return to the scene of John McEnroe’sdisqualification against Mikael Pernfors at the 1990 Australian Open, to“Little Mo” Connolly’s Grand Slam in 1953, to Suzanne Lenglen’s one and onlymeeting against Helen Wills in 1926. On these pages, Arthur Ashe is producing astrategic masterpiece to strike down defending champion Jimmy Connors in the1975 Wimbledon. Michael Chang is serving under-handed on a crucial point againstIvan Lendl during a stunning upset at the 1989 French Open, the pivotal momentfor Chang en route to taking his only career major title. We follow theexploits of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, and marvel once more at thegreatness of these two towering champions.
Yet all is not joyousin this book. The reader is taken back to the spring of 1993 in Hamburg, when19-year-old Monica Seles was stabbed in the back at a changeover when she wasat the height of her powers. Seles had won eight Grand Slam singleschampionships, and was seemingly on her way to the double digits, but after thetragedy in Hamburg she took only one more major. Another Shifrin momentoccurred in 1983 during a U.S. Open junior match. Stefan Edberg hit a servedown the T, and center service linesman Dick Wertheim got hit in the head. AsShifrin writes, “Wertheim, reeling from the blow, fell forward and struck hishead on the court. Although he was rushed to a nearby Flushing Meadow, New Yorkhospital, he had suffered a brain hemorrhage and never regained consciousness.In a devastating turn of events, Wertheim died at the age of 61.”
Each story resides in a separate chapter. Some are amusingand irreverent. Others are monumentally important. A few are relatively obscurebut still enjoyable. All are worthy of inclusion. The reader is free to bounceback and forth throughout. Shifrindeliberately does not move chronologically through these vignettes, knowingthat his audience would surely like the freedom to move from era to era andstory to story without any constraints. On the whole, his formula works. Theauthor is to be commended for sharing his passion with a segment of the publicwho are similarly devoted to tennis. As he writes, “From playing to watching Iam truly consumed by every aspect of the game.”
Anyone who picks up this enjoyable book will recognize thatthe author is unabashedly a tennis enthusiast. He is to be commended for theoriginality of his work and his deep appreciation of those who play the gamefor a living.
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