Tennis in 1600. Image from BibliOdyssey.
Tennis has always been – beneath the flannelled pomp – an outsiders’ sport. For all the glamour of its major stars, the A-list oligarchy of Roger-Rafa-Novak, it remains in a small but vital way a sport liked by people who don’t necessarily like sport. And not just liked, but pored over, cherished, meditated upon and generally engaged with in a way that seems distinct from the more garrulous engagements with other mass spectator sports. It isn’t hard to see why. Tennis is a strangely intimate spectacle. At times it can resemble less a display of athletic excellence than a revelation of personality, glimpsed through the familiar repartee of serve, rally, volley, drop shot, winner. Then there is that touchingly stark on-court isolation. No other sport presents its players so nakedly to the world, alone in all that space, surrounded only by ball-grabbers and towel-handlers, engaged in the most mannered of arm’s-length emotional wrestling matches. Little wonder it is so easy to identify rather too closely with a tennis player, to imagine those distant professional athletes as warriors, victims, heroes, friends and general objects of private obsession.
Read the review of Love Game by Elizabeth Wilson at The Literary Review.