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The Wimbledon Fortnight – Day Ten: Tennis in Fiction

Wimbledon means I'm watching far more tv than I probably should. That's why I decided to read some novels about tennis. But, really, they're quite hard to find. Odd, isn't it?

It’s time to retreat into my literary safe space again. (Federer has lost. I need to escape reality for a while – or forever.) There are novels about pool, novels about boxing, novels about basketball, football, cycling, hockey, wrestling – even chess, as well as countless of novels about baseball. Sports are so very interesting: it can be about triumph and disaster (which works for tennis, too, as you can see here), about doping, about match fixing, and so on, as well as finding your place in the world (or on a specific court). It can be about love, about friendship, about rivalry… oh, I could go on. But what I need now is a novel about tennis. Let’s find out which ones I can choose from!

Before I did my Wimbledon research prior to the Championships, I couldn’t even name one novel about tennis. This could mean two things: either my knowledge about books wasn’t as vast as I had thought (which would be utterly disappointing), or tennis simply isn’t that easy to write about (which, let’s be honest, would be just as disappointing, but wouldn’t hurt my ego as much). However, since almost every tennis player of importance has written an autobiography (or two), I’m not sure that’s the case. Turns out, it was the former; to my knowledge, there are only two novels that focus on tennis. I made sure to buy both of them – but I haven’t read them yet.

The first novel I found was Lionel Shriver’s novel Double Fault, which she wrote before her novel We Need to Talk about Kevin brought her critical acclaim. It’s about a couple who both play tennis; Willy is a pretty talented, hard-working player who started when she was very young, and Eric only decides to play tennis when he’s a student at Princeton. While at first they think their partnership is a match made in heaven, it soon becomes clear that he is only interested in his own success – especially when Willy becomes injured. The novel, as it says on the very first page, is “not so much about tennis as marriage, a slightly different sport”. I like how tennis is used here as a way to examine how relationships work.

The other novel I read about was one which sounded so interesting it might well turn into a favourite: Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. It’s a huge novel, and it’s not only about tennis. In fact, it’s about many, many things at once, including addiction, sex, fame, death, mental health, science, and culture. It sounds good, doesn’t it? To me, things only got better when I also read there are many references to other literary works, such as Shakespeare and Homer’s Odyssey. I am currently packing for my holiday to Sicily, and I’m definitely bringing this one, even if I haven’t even got a single clue what else I need and regardless of its weight. (Side note: I received another David Foster Wallace book as a gift last week. It’s odd how you have never heard of someone before, and two weeks later you suddenly own two of his books. Let’s consider it a sign.)

In conclusion, there are only two tennis novels, and they’re not even mostly about tennis. Lionel Shriver’s novel is actually about marriage, while David Foster Wallace’s novel explores, well, basically everything, as well as a little bit of tennis. I think that answers the question whether tennis on its own does not make for a very interesting novel. Or it might just mean that the ultimate, perfect tennis novel has not been written yet. Well, maybe, eventually, I’ll try my hand at writing it… Here’s what it will be about: a young woman desperately trying to find a way to write the perfect novel about tennis. Now, doesn’t that sound like a great idea?

Have you read any of these two novels? Do you know any other tennis novels that I might have overlooked? Do let me know in the comments! Also, don’t forget to follow me for more book-related posts!

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