Concrete Elbow by Steve Tignor - A Thank You and a Good-Bye
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A Thank You and a Good-Bye 09/15/2008 - 8:14 PM

OpenIt’s been a busy and bewildering week or so at the TENNIS Magazine offices. I’ve been putting together a wrap-up article on the U.S. Open for our next issue and trying to get my head around the suicide of a great writer and lover of tennis, David Foster Wallace. With that in mind, here are some thoughts on, among other things, two weeks spent at Flushing Meadows and 10 years of reading Foster Wallace’s writing, about tennis and pretty much any other subject imaginable.

1. Favorite quote: At the end of Sam Querrey’s press conference after his loss to Rafael Nadal, we heard this exchange between reporter and player:

I’m curious if you have any nieces or nephews so that we know whether you're actually Uncle Sam?

QUERREY: No, I don’t. Oh, wait. No, no. I only have a sister who’s younger than me. (laughter)

Some of my cousins had, like, some kids, and I was just spacing.

It’s a sad fact that the silliest questions always elicit the most revealing answers. I present to you Sam Querrey, space cadet.

2. Favorite Matches: Novak Djokovic d. Andy Roddick in the quarterfinals. There was a pro wrestling quality to this one, but could you take your eyes off it?

Novak Djokovic d. Marin Cilic in the third round. Ball-striking from the future, in Ashe Stadium today.

(I think we can deduce from these two matches that I like to watch Djokovic when he’s playing well. That’s why it’s always so disappointing when he seems indifferent out there.)

Roger Federer d. Igor Andreev, in the fourth round. Federer learning, on the spot, to embrace and enjoy the new challenges that have come his way this year, and will continue to come his way.

3. A Comeback: The Times’ Verlyn Klinkenborg is an excellent writer and a stylistic role model. But I thought his U.S. Open article about Roger Federer last year reached for more significance than can be grasped in an athletic contest. This year he kept himself in check when he visited Flushing Meadows.

I didn't realize until today that Klinkenborg was a colleague of Foster Wallace's at Pomona College. He wrote this tribute in the Times.

4. Reading Material: I took a commuter train, the Long Island Rail Road, to and from the Open each day, plus a subway to and from Brooklyn. The three-borough trip takes an hour each way. The downside is that the combination of the trip, the tennis, and the writing gets tiring. I hit the wall in the middle of the second week and had trouble getting out of bed at all for a few days.

The upside is that the long journeys allow me time to read undisturbed. When I’m at a tournament and writing, I typically try to read someone with a distinct voice that will seep into my own stuff. This year I alternated between two Brits: David Lodge’s mid-60s comic novel of academic misery, The British Museum is Falling Down; and a tour memoir from the 1960s and 70s by tennis writer Rex Bellamy, The Tennis Set.

The former begins with this sentence, about the hapless main character: “It was Adam Appleby’s misfortune that at the moment of awakening from sleep his consciousness was immediately flooded with everything he least wanted to think about.” That gives you a pretty good idea of the blackly humorous tone of the rest of the book.

As for Bellamy, he describes young Chris Evert like this: “She plays like a computer with a heart.”

What I read usually has an indirect effect on my writing, even though I don’t end up mimicking the style. But Bellamy’s influence was more direct, even if I didn’t realize it until just now. This is how I described Juan Martin del Potro in my final-grades post: “His game has a machine-like quality, but it’s a machine with a heart.”

5. Pressed: I spent more time in the media room this year. In the past, I’ve written my posts from home or in the office; this time I commandeered a desk and composed them on site, beer in hand, sitting next to my friend and colleague Tom Tebbutt of the Toronto Globe and Mail. There’s an odd sort of camaraderie among the tennis press. You know every one around you, but you have a chance to talk to them only sparingly—a shared meal here, a shared match there—over the course of your two weeks together.

This is especially true for me in New York, where I head home at the end of the day, rather than to a media hotel. This year I didn't run into another friend, Doug Robson of USA Today, until the fourth or fifth day of the tournament. We’d been sitting a few rows apart for 10 hours each day but hadn’t seen each other once. On the final, 15th, day of the tournament, Matt Cronin of Inside Tennis, who I also know pretty well, walked past and tapped me on the shoulder. It was the most contact we had the entire tournament.

The atmosphere is best in the morning. You get there at 10:30, sip your coffee, and look at the day’s schedule. There’s a sense of possibility. By 5:00 or 6:00, it's gone. You’re woozy from catching glimpses of dozens of matches, watching hundreds of balls fly back and forth, and waiting for players to come into the interview room. You need to start writing very soon, if not immediately. And there’s a nagging feeling in the back of your head that the great match, the memorable moment, the essential story, the day itself has gotten away from you.

6. Surprise favorite match: After the men’s final, I came back to my desk in the press room not wanting to look another tennis ball for the foreseeable future. Somehow, though, the monitor in front of me had been turned to the Tennis Channel. The network was airing a Fed Cup match from 1990s between Steffi Graf and Kimiko Date (who attempted a mini-comeback this week at age 37). Maybe it was the novelty or maybe it was the players—always loved Graf and marveled at Date—but I couldn’t stop watching.

7. Night session notes, in front of Ashe Stadium, Sept. 3, 2008: “French girls in white Lacoste sneakers. Two guys with untucked dress shirts. Blood orange sunset. Vintage Nikes. Green calypso wrap dress. Costume jewelry. Sweater over shoulders. Special Topics in Calamity Physics under a woman’s arm. Trucker hat. Mets shirt. American flag blowing in the wind above the stadium. Lime green shirt. Light-brown blazer. Favre No. 4 Jets shirt. Dark suit, no tie. Heavy tans. Hair product. Loafers, no socks. Goodyear blimp. Guy behind me waiting in line for the night session wants the Murray-Del Potro match to end; he yells at the Jumbotron: “Flub it, Du Pont!”

8. The Lonely Slam: When I was a kid, I read about an old vocal-group song by the Tradewinds called “New York’s a Lonely Town.” I wondered how New York could be lonely with all those people there. It doesn’t take long to find out once you move here: In New York, you see hundreds of people every day, every hour, who you will never see again. If you want to get some kind of realistic idea of your significance on this planet, take a long stroll through Manhattan.

The Open, for the same reason, is the loneliest Slam. Like my notes above indicate, an early evening walk through the grounds leads you through a sprawling mass of wealth and health that’s impossible to grasp and seems to have no end. After one of these excursions this year, I walked back to the media center in a daze. The time alone had filled my head with a million tiny anxieties: “Did I pay the rent this month?” “Does this shirt have a hole in it?” “Could I possibly get a mortgage now?” “I’d be so much cooler if I knew a second language.” “Is it lame to have crepes three straight days?”

These thoughts inevitably turn darker—“My thoughts just way me down/And drag me to the ground,” Ray Davies sang in the Kinks’ “Too Much on My Mind.” And it’s true even at the U.S. Open. This time I found myself staring at the dusky sky, reliving some terrible, tactless, shameful incident from the past, and asking, out loud, “What is wrong with me?” As I neared the press-room door, I saw Jon Wertheim of SI. He’s the most successful of my colleagues, the Walter Cronkite of tennis writers, and a great guy as well. I wondered: Does Wertheim, as he walks around the grounds here, ever find himself looking up at the sky and asking, “What is wrong with me?” For his sake, I hoped not.

9. Seeing the Lights As I said, I took the Long Island Rail Road back from Flushing Meadows each day. Until the last one, that is. The special trains for Open fans had been discontinued by the final Monday, so I went the old-fashioned way, by the No. 7 subway line. It was dark and I could see the ruins of the 1964 World’s Fair for the first time all tournament. The Unisphere, the Space Age rockets, the rusting pavilions: It was a landscape of kitschy wreckage. A little farther on, I saw two bright beams of light that soared into the clouds. 9/11 was nearing, and the city had recreated the shapes of the Towers at ground zero with these lights. Roger Federer, Serena Williams, and the green calypso wrap dresses were things of the past. The Open was over.

10. A Small Tribute In the last year, I’ve criticized David Foster Wallace’s NY Times Magazine article about Roger Federer on two occasions in this blog. I didn’t like the way he set up a good vs. evil dichotomy between Federer and Rafael Nadal, as if a tennis match were akin to a screen play. He has used this scenario in other articles as well: Pete Sampras vs. Mark Philippoussis in a U.S. Open article for TENNIS; the reporters vs. the roadies on the McCain bus in his famous article on the candidate for Rolling Stone.

ImagesThis doesn't mean I viewed Foster Wallace with anything less than awe. His pieces about playing the game in the Illinois wind, and on journeyman-turned-Sharapova-coach Michael Joyce are about as good as tennis writing ever gets. I never spoke to Foster Wallace, but I did send him a note a couple years ago asking if he would be interested in writing a piece about John McEnroe for some kind of anniversary issue. He hand-wrote a very nice note back that addressed me as “Mr. T” and closed with a smiley face. He didn’t want to write about Johnny Mac, but he was interested in other projects. I doubted we could afford him.

This morning I read that he had hanged himself. I was floored and sickened; I knew he was a deep, hyperactive thinker, but had no idea he his problems were that serious. My first sad thought after finishing his obituary this morning was that we can never, ever know what’s in anyone else’s head.

So I’ll have to thank David Foster Wallace posthumously for helping me with his writing on two occasions. In 1997 I contracted pneumonia and couldn’t get out of bed for three weeks—I couldn’t even breath without coughing up a lung. I pulled up the covers and tried to read a new, much praised collection, “The Stories of Vladimir Nabokov.” I couldn’t get into it, so I stumbled to the book store across the street and picked up something that looked a lot more fun, Foster Wallace’s essay collection, A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again. I coughed my way back to bed, pulled up the covers again, and strained to hold the hardback above my head long enough to get through a sentence. I read the book non-stop for the next four days. The geeky, massively informative prose had a momentum that couldn't be resisted. The title piece is a whopper, but well worth the time spent on it—no one else has gotten to the bottom of the cruise-ship experience quite like DFW. By the time I was done with the book, I felt better, but I didn’t really want to get up and leave the apartment. I just wanted to keep reading it.

Ten years later, I wrote a blog from the Rome Masters tournament for Like I said, I usually read an author with a strong voice to inspire me. At Indian Wells this year it was Norman Mailer, at the Open last year it was Anthony Lane, this time it was Rex Bellamy. Judging from the reaction I got for my Rome blog, I’ve never written anything better. Readers still tell me how much they liked my stuff from there. I’ve wondered why, and have read the posts over from time to time. The first thing I remember is how freely I wrote for that week. The second thing I remember is the book that I was reading while I was there: David Foster Wallace’s Consider the Lobster, which, like all his other books, had a thrilling sense of freedom inside its winding sentences. From one tennis player and tennis lover to another, I can only offer a sincere thank you, and a sickened good-bye.


Posted by Nichole 09/15/2008 at 08:49 PM

Very Interesting

Posted by Andrew Miller 09/15/2008 at 09:29 PM

this was a really deep post. Thanks so much Mr. Tignor for your inspiriing writing and please thank your colleagues Mr. Bodo and Kamkashi and Tom. Personally I use a lot of the writing to inspire me and send it to friends and family members.

In fact some of writing I jotted down in a little notebook I keep with it.'s excerpts are on the front and back inside flap of the notebook (to keep me focused). The actual pages consist of either reminders, checklists, plans (trying to figure out if a girl is worth planning a date for or whether to just wing it!) and, of course, a paragraph or two detailing how passive aggressive some of my bosses appear to be.

In any event: appreciate all the hard work and the VERY fine writing you and the staff bring to the table every single week. While I dont agree with some opinions, at least not every time, I think you and Mr. Bodo are definitely grand slam champions of tennis writing and hall of famers in that regards.

Also: I am always impressed by how the blog has one vibrant tone and the stories in tennis magazine have another. It is amazing how you are all able to keep the content for the magazine super impresive, while making the blogs also extremely interesting, and never "robbing peter to pay Paul." yet another secret of your trade, but something I know that newspapers have not learned!

Thank you for keeping it fresh, and most of all, thanks for keeping it going! I am looking forward to the future posts.

Posted by E.S 09/15/2008 at 09:35 PM

" think we can deduce from these two matches that I like to watch Djokovic when he’s playing well. That’s why it’s always so disappointing when he seems indifferent out there."

Novak's opponent has something to do with that Steve. You statement is reminscent of some Fed and Nadal KADS unadulterated adualtion for their idol who they consider unbeatable when they're "playing well" and "on their game", as result of which they come to the erroneous conclusion that their favourite lost the match (on acount of a myriad of excuses -- psychological and physical)instead of their opponent having justly won the match.

As such, your obsession with Djokovic is a tad over the top, somewhat akin to the "Federer as Religious Experiece" article by Wallace (R.I.P) which despite being one of the best pieces of tennis journalism I have ever had the pleasure of reading was a somewhat over-zealous in it's appreciation Federer's no doubt sublime artistry and talent.

Posted by nora 09/15/2008 at 09:40 PM


Thank you very much for this tribute to David Foster Wallace. I too had no idea that Wallace was tortured, and sickened when I read about his death. I thought of you immediately, and would have written you but thought it presumptuous.

I was sickened in part because of the dryness of the reporting: it consisted of no more than 'his wife returned home at 9:30 and found that he had hanged himself. She called the sheriff's department to inform them.' There wasn't even a token, 'colleagues noted that he had been in bad form at the faculty meeting in July'.

I thought his article about the playing the butterfly drill on a tennis court during a midwestern storm was wonderful. But not really any better than your articles about Rome, to be honest. I remember them still.

RIP David Foster Wallace, but it is horrible to kill yourself.

Posted by 09/15/2008 at 09:59 PM

Perhaps you should reconsider what your real vocation in life is, i.e., a writer, Steve, a real writer, not just a tennis writer but a writer, full stop.

Posted by Mr. and Mrs. D. 09/15/2008 at 10:02 PM

"an early evening walk through the grounds leads you through a sprawling mass of wealth and health that’s impossible to grasp and seems to have no end"

wealth and health, love that

enjoyed the entire post

Posted by ja 09/15/2008 at 10:38 PM

"2. Favorite Matches: Novak Djokovic d. Andy Roddick in the quarterfinals. There was a pro wrestling quality to this one, but could you take your eyes off it?"

How could you like a match where one guy was okay and the other was garbage? Oh, because Roddick lost. Got it.

Posted by Tim (2008 - Carbuncle Fred to Full Flight Fed!) 09/15/2008 at 11:39 PM

thanks Steve, Ive got two delicious books awaiting me, from the sounds of it...

Posted by malefax 09/16/2008 at 12:01 AM

Wallace's essays are the entire reason I became interested in tennis. He was uneven as a writer, but his best stuff was incomparably good. He was the person on earth I would most liked to have met and had a conversation with. Tragic.

Posted by Fran 09/16/2008 at 12:10 AM

Sounds like writers all over the world are deeply saddened by the loss of David Foster Wallace.Me too.thanks for your thoughts Steve.

Posted by Heidi 09/16/2008 at 12:47 AM

Very special post, Steve. Lovely tribute to DFW.

I took the G and 7 back and forth to the Open and was nearly passed out when I got back to the Slope after the Blake-Young match. Good reading, though, as you say. I can't read David Lodge; it depresses me about my own future.

Posted by highpockets 09/16/2008 at 01:34 AM

WOW, Steve! That was deep and sad and funny and insightful and free-flowing and a very good read. I especially loved your random thoughts and the jolt of seeing the two beams of light where the twin towers once stood at the end of the tournament.

Very, very sad about David Foster Wallace. My brother had a friend who jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge the day after she got her Ph.D. Nobody had a clue she was headed in that direction at the time.

I remember your Rome blog and how much I enjoyed it ... your insights were so vivid and original.

Posted by Ro'ee 09/16/2008 at 01:53 AM

Stave, I never read David's stuff (we're a bit out-of-the-loop here), but yesterday I started googling some of his work. Here's the TMF piece from a couple of years back:

Posted by tennislover 09/16/2008 at 02:47 AM

I didn't get any impression of the good vs. evil dichotomy in that article, Steve. He was just highlighting the contrast between the two players' styles and personalities. To each his own impression, I guess.

BTW, I also don't think Verlyn K. overreached. That short piece of it, especially the conclusion was exactly what one used to feel while watching Federer. Now, he seems to have descended from Olympus, and needs to fight to win, while before it was sufficient to just out-talent his rivals..

Posted by M 09/16/2008 at 03:09 AM

"I didn't get any impression of the good vs. evil dichotomy in that article, Steve. He was just highlighting the contrast between the two players' styles and personalities. To each his own impression, I guess.

BTW, I also don't think Verlyn K. overreached. That short piece of it, especially the conclusion was exactly what one used to feel while watching Federer. Now, he seems to have descended from Olympus, and needs to fight to win, while before it was sufficient to just out-talent his rivals."

Quoted For Truth.

Posted by skip1515 09/16/2008 at 06:47 AM

All this and Ray Davies, too. Just too sweet. Thanks.

Posted by roGER 09/16/2008 at 07:09 AM

Great article, Steve.

Thank you, and thanks to the editor/boos/whomever for re-printing (is that the correct term on-line?) Wallace's article about the US Open a decade ago.

- roGER

Posted by CPM 09/16/2008 at 08:35 AM

Steve - Your description of DFW's "Federer as Religious Experience" as 'allegedly brilliant' struck me as le mot just - not a put-down, really, so much as a deflation. But in the aftermath of his suicide, I revisited the piece; while I have my reservations about it, one line (+ its footnote) was just ... true:
"The human beauty we’re talking about here is beauty of a particular type; it might be called kinetic beauty. Its power and appeal are universal. It has nothing to do with sex or cultural norms. What it seems to have to do with, really, is human beings’ reconciliation with the fact of having a body.(1)"
"(1) There’s a great deal that’s bad about having a body. If this is not so obviously true that no one needs examples, we can just quickly mention pain, sores, odors, nausea, aging, gravity, sepsis, clumsiness, illness, limits — every last schism between our physical wills and our actual capacities. Can anyone doubt we need help being reconciled? Crave it? It’s your body that dies, after all."
Especially in the aftermath of the Wimbledon final, as fine a display of tennis - and of sport - as ever there was, I think that passage gets at the most important question: why do we care? What draws us to the spectacle of two men scampering about a plot of grass for almost five hours?

And I should add that, though maybe Wallace himself didn't see it at the time, this passage gets at what's so compelling about Nadal, too. A writer in the Guardian described his game as exhibiting "aggression devoid of hostility" (or something to that effect) - isn't that a bit of reconciliation to our bodily, animal lives, too? To see that most animalistic of traits suspended - cancelled, but at the same time preserved, even lifted up - and become something human: there's a great deal of satisfaction, of pleasure in that, too.

Well. Needless to say, we're poorer now for his absence, and we'll have to muddle through without him. Your thoughts and reflections, Steve, are always appreciated.

Posted by ava 09/16/2008 at 09:44 AM

really enjoyed this post. sad, funny and infinitely interesting. while i was never the greatest fan of Mr. Foster's writings (esp Federer as religious experience) I did enjoy 'A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again'. I hope his soul rests in peace free from all the troubles that haunted his mind in life.

P.S. The last paragraph was enlightening. Reading an another author to inspire one's works! must try it myself. thank you very much.

Posted by ava 09/16/2008 at 09:44 AM

really enjoyed this post. sad, funny and infinitely interesting. while i was never the greatest fan of Mr. Foster Wallace's writings (esp Federer as religious experience) I did enjoy 'A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again'. I hope his soul rests in peace free from all the troubles that haunted his mind in life.

P.S. The last paragraph was enlightening. Reading an another author to inspire one's works! must try it myself. thank you very much.

Posted by SwissMaestro 09/16/2008 at 10:01 AM


In some sort of way you get to accomplish with us the very same thing those writers did with you. You arouse the interest of your readers by writing posts in this blog of such high quality and this quality can only be achieved by keeping it to its very simplest, for that we thank you. I know I not only speak for myself when I say your blog is one of the best there are, my personal favorite.

Posted by Tim Lewis 09/16/2008 at 10:03 AM

Steve, I also disagree with your reading of Foster Wallace's Federer article. DFW was not critical of Nadal; he just wasn't writing about Rafa. What the article is about is Federer's significance. Nadal, for all his gifts, is not a beautiful player. Muscle tennis is powerful, but it is not beautiful. Foster Wallace was interested in beauty, and its relationship to power.

"Beauty is not the goal of competitive sports, but high-level sports are a prime venue for the expression of human beauty. The relation is roughly that of courage to war."

"Genius is not replicable. Inspiration, though, is contagious, and multiform — and even just to see, close up, power and aggression made vulnerable to beauty is to feel inspired and (in a fleeting, mortal way) reconciled."

The article was great because it was of aesthetic and political significance, and Federer's most profound meaning is in his style of play, his Mozart-like transcendence when playing as only he can. To see beauty overcome power even while using it is a moving experience rarely performed. The biggest loss of Federer's off year has been the loss of his style. What a relief that he recovered much of it at the end of the US Open this year. We should relish it while it is still there, because when it's gone we'll miss it in deeper ways than we know.

Posted by EWK 09/16/2008 at 10:49 AM

It's always sad to hear that someone was in so much pain that they resorted to suicide. But it sounds like he spent his time well when he was alive, at least when it came to his writing and he will live on, so to speak, from his published works.

Posted by tmf rules - USO 2008 09/16/2008 at 11:37 AM

Good morning All. Wonderful post. Actually brought tears to my eyes. I have only ever read Mr. Wallace's article on Roger as a Religious Experience and I actually saved it to my favourites so that I could read it whenever I got depressed when Fed was playing really poorly. As someone who really loves to read, I have actually put in an order at my latest bookstore for the book mentioned above about the cruise ship.

Posted by frances 09/16/2008 at 11:52 AM

Hi Steve, please don't use the word "savage" when describing the physicality of two young black women (Venus and Serena Williams). I was offended. That word would never in a million years appear in a piece by about oh, Sharapova -- for instance. And she screams like Sheena of the jungle on every ball strike. I know you didn't mean anything by using the word savage and probably can't understand why, as a black woman, I am sick and dang tired of words like savage being used when talking about the atheletic or physical pursuits of Serena and Venus; but that's the point -- right?

Posted by nora 09/16/2008 at 12:11 PM

Re-reading David Foster Wallace's article now I think it is better than I thought at the time of first reading, both because time has validated those of Wallace's observations which might have seemed temporal, and because with the detachment of distance, his elaborate and detailed observations about the state of the power-baseline game seem all the more succinct and accurate. There's really no dis on Nadal there.

David Lodge's most famous novels are his academic romances. The first, Changing Places, is set in Berkeley ('Euphoria'!), CA during the mid-60s and Birmingham, UK ('Rummidge'). It's really, really funny. One of my professors at Berkeley told me that he was represented very accurately and amusingly in the book, and that Lodge had done the same for several other English Dept. profs: that is, use them in his books without annoying the people involved. Knowing the fragile egos and insecurities of English departments, that on its own is no small achievement.

I am a big fan of David Lodge's work, but he seems to me to have been somewhat unlucky as a writer. One example is that in 2004 he wrote a novel based on the short period in Henry James' life (1895, basically) when he attempted to embark on a career as a playwright, only to find that Colm Toibin had done the same -- the *exact* same -- thing, and published his novel, to great acclaim, a couple of months before Lodge. Toibin got better reviews, but I thought Lodge's book was better, and simply obscured by the coincidence.

Posted by 09/16/2008 at 12:42 PM

'this time I commandeered a desk and composed them on site, beer in hand,'

Lucky you..not many can drink and work lol

Posted by Dragonfly 09/16/2008 at 12:55 PM

Tim Lewis, brilliant reading of DFW's piece on Federer. I couldn't agree more with you that it isn't a good-vs-evil dichotomy on 2 tennis rivals. It was largely an exploration of the concept of beauty, and genius, if you will, as it applies to high level sports.

I also agree that the most "profound meaning of Federer" is this transcendent style of play. We can only hope to keep on seeing more of it.

Posted by Dunlop Maxply 09/16/2008 at 01:03 PM


It is a great shame that it took a tragic death to sort of get you in the mood to write this post, but as a result I think you captured one thing which is rarely mentioned about the tour.

As close as the tennis community may be, and by "tennis community" I mean the travelling, upper eschelon, amateur and professional touring community (where, for example "touring" means driving around from town to town, and later, interstate, and later, internationally) -- the farther you go into the tennis community the more you leave the regular world.

Everyone who has played tournament matches know that at the end of the day, often you can be pretty much alone. The last players on the courts, reporting the score to the last guy hanging out at the tournament desk. Out to a parking lot with one car in it.

When most people leave the office at the end of a workday, there are others leaving. In many instances, many jobs, this is really a jumping off point for one's social life. In other team sports, you end the match with at least your own teamates for company.

I would say that in competitive tennis that the alone moments may even outweigh the social moments. These days, players tend to travel more alone than ever. You cannot appear to count on the Australians to have a party going every night back at the hotel bar.

Its one thing that I think underscores the somewhat ambivalent attitude of many WTA players -- who wants to spend their 20's being alone most of the time?

Anyway, Foster Wallace's death is a real loss. I for one did not read "Federer as a Religious Experience" as so much as a paen to Federer as someone, in this case DFW, with an in-depth knowledge of the game straining, simply straining, to explain its beauty, evey though he must have known deep down that the beauty of the game cannot really be explained.

Posted by jhurwi 09/16/2008 at 01:43 PM

I appreciate your very thoughtful comments on David Foster Wallace. After re-reading the "Federer as a Religious Experience" article for the first time since it was originally published, and taking it in conjunction with the "Democracy and Commerce" article linked on's homepage, I see that a lot of what was taken as over-the-top infatuation with Federer is simply part of Foster Wallace's style in writing about any of his experiences. I must agree with Dunlop Maxply's characterization of the article as more about the modern game of tennis than about Federer personally. (By the way, it's interesting that Foster Wallace's famous or notorious title was derived from the remark of a Wimbledon bus driver quoted in the article, that watching Federer was a "bloody near-religious experience" )

Posted by Diane 09/16/2008 at 01:43 PM

Not to worry--your writing looks pretty good from here...

Posted by Eric 09/16/2008 at 02:06 PM

Great stuff, Steve.

Posted by Eric 09/16/2008 at 02:12 PM

Steve, there was an article about Andre Agassi written a few years ago on the SI website. It was a long read and probably the most in-depth feature on Agassi I can ever remember. If you've read it, you'll no doubt instantly recall it. Do you know if that was Wertheim? The Cronkite of our game? I ask because I want to know what the most established tennis writers are capable of, and I remember that article being a mesmerizing piece that transcended tennis, and did so regardless of my thoughts on Andre Agassi, as a player or a man, good or bad.

Posted by fedfan 09/16/2008 at 02:42 PM

Thanks for this thoughtful post.

Posted by Sher 09/16/2008 at 02:56 PM

[Federer learning, on the spot, to embrace and enjoy the new challenges that have come his way this year, and will continue to come his way.]

I don't get where this sentiment is coming from. Why the assumption that he didn't know before?

Posted by Eric 09/16/2008 at 03:02 PM

Steve, nevermind. I found the post. Does Gary Smith ring a bell? I've never heard of him. But here's the link for anyone who wants to read it. It's a great article and it really delves into Andre Agassi as more than just Agassi, the tennis player.

Posted by Sher 09/16/2008 at 03:12 PM

"My first sad thought after finishing his obituary this morning was that we can never, ever know what’s in anyone else’s head."

This kind of captures what I meant in my previous comment.

Steve, I still remember Rome blog as one of your finest work. That blog from Italy is the reason I started visiting more seriously in the first place. I thought the article about Murray you posted recently was of similarly high quality, as well.

Posted by crazyone 09/16/2008 at 03:23 PM

Eric: thanks for that link, that was an amazing article about Andre Agassi, and now I appreciate him more than I ever did.

Posted by JS 09/16/2008 at 03:32 PM

Steve, thanks for your tribute to DFW. And also thanks for being one of my favorite tennis writers. You and Bodo are the 2 writers I've been reading regularly.

I remember reading "Fed as a religious experience" 2 years ago and being very impressed by DFW. He had excellent insight into tennis, as Tim Lewis and others have eloquently described. In fact, I even saved a copy of the article on my computer, which I rarely do. I then tried to read some of his other works but couldn't get into them much, though.

Eric, I remember Gary Smith's piece on Agassi. He did a masterful job portraying Andre's background and what makes him tick. Smith is a famous sportswriter, particularly for his bios like the Agassi article:

Posted by Ruth 09/16/2008 at 03:45 PM

"Muscle tennis is powerful, but it is not beautiful. Foster Wallace was interested in beauty, and its relationship to power."

I can only hope that the writer of those words -- and DFW, too -- realized that many may find beauty in what some may call "muscle tennis." Perhaps, those who appreciate muscles find tennis that seems to depend heavily on muscles or tennis that does not look like Federer's more beautiful than they do Federer's style of tennis.

As for me, I've often felt, when reading descriptions of Federer's "beautiful" tennis at TW and elsewhere, that people were talking more about the elegance or seeming effortlessness of his tennis (which they found beautiful) than they were describing a stle of tennis that "owns" the rather more elusive word, "beauty."

Posted by CPM 09/16/2008 at 04:04 PM

I think Dunlop Maxply is right when he says that what DFW is "straining ... to explain [tennis's] beauty," and that Tim Lewis is right when he claims Wallace is trying to talk about the relationship between beauty and power. And I think it's the bit about exceptional athleticism as a kind of reconciliation to the crudity of bodily, animal life that constitutes Wallace's best stab at an explanation of what's beautiful in tennis, or how mere force can become something beautiful. This is a very compelling bit of insight, I think, and the question of whether or not he properly appreciated Nadal, or whether he operated with a dichotomy of Federer/Good/Noble vs. Nadal/Evil/Base, or whatever is rather picayune in comparison.

That being said - I think DFW *did* miss (or maybe simply failed to anticipate) what's so compelling about Nadal on the tennis court, and I think Mr. Tignor has been very good on just what it is that Wallace missed. [Has Tignor been responding to Wallace with every appreciation of Nadal's game he's written? Maybe so.] I won't belabor the point I made above, or recapitulate everything Mr. Tignor has (very aptly, I think) written on the subject, but maybe I'll put it this way: if Federer is the tennis-playing image of bodily life redeemed, Nadal is that of the labor of redemption. Or, to borrow a pair of aesthetic contraries (that is bound to be misunderstood, but who cares, this is the internet, damnitall): Federer's game is beeutiful; Nadal's, sublime.

Posted by Eric 09/16/2008 at 04:21 PM

JS: Thanks for the background on Gary Smith.

Ruth: Maybe to carry that analogy a step further, of Federer being beauty and Nadal being muscle, it's like watching different football matchups. Some would say that a pass-happy offense is aesthetically pleasing (ie, West Coast teams, spread offenses, etc), while others, purists perhaps, may be partial to the 3-yards and a cloud of dust-type football (ie, Big Ten, SEC, etc). Now the twist is, would that mean tennis purists would favor a grinding game like Nadal's over a flowing one like Federer's? Hmm.

Posted by Syd 09/16/2008 at 04:49 PM

Thanks Steve, for this post, with all of its self-revelations. As for DFW, the much vaunted boy genius, the inheritor of Thomas Pynchon, the voice of Gen-X, only sadness. Perhaps when one sets the bar so impossibly high, only darkness and disappointment can follow. I must admit that I was not so much carried away by the prose of "Federer as Religious Experience", as I was gratified that it was written at all. I note that Dunlop Maxply has hit the nail on the head when he talks about DFW "straining."

Never, ever, found Manhattan to be a lonely town—just exactly the opposite. Try living in Toronto if you want to know what a 'lonely town' is!

Posted by 09/16/2008 at 05:04 PM

I echo Syd on the self-revelations aspect of this, Steve. Very moving piece.

Posted by Tari 09/16/2008 at 05:04 PM

Me. Headless @ 5:04.

Posted by siggy melancholy 09/16/2008 at 05:44 PM

Steve, I've been feeling lachrymose at the thought of such a talented writer passing so young... and it hurts to think of the depth of suffering he must have endured in quiet desperation. I enjoyed and appreciated your thoughtful reflections on DFW. I wonder if Rog himself is aware of DFW's hyperbolic homage to him... and of his passing. I would like to think that DFW was able to take joy in the return of TMF at the USO.

Posted by Ruth 09/16/2008 at 05:48 PM

Thanks, Eric, for extending the analogy. I was definitely thinking of the variety of styles in other sports as I wrote my comment, and I was thinking also of hearing boxing fans speak quite earnestly about "beautiful left hooks to the jaw" etc etc and thinking how some would question the use of "beautiful" in that and similar settings.

I always try to avoid using those pesky (though true) cliches; but, in discussions like this one, one cannot help thinking of what they say about beauty and the eye of the beholder.

Posted by siggy melancholy 09/16/2008 at 05:49 PM

*waves at Syd and Tari*

Syd, I echo your sentiment re: the piece on TMF being written at all. But I'd also like to add... as a one-time resident of NYC, I can relate to the "lonely in the crowd" part of life in the fast lane.... call it existential longing for belonging or whatever, that feeling can get overwhelming (hmmph, this must be the one time I forgot my frivolic self!).... re-reading DFW now, there's a poignancy I had not felt before....

Posted by Andrew Friedman (a.k.a. Rolo Tomassi) 09/16/2008 at 06:16 PM

Steve - Believe it or not, you were the first person I thought of when I heard the news about DFW. Was wondering about your greater feelings about him and his work (always assumed that despite your criticism of some micro issues, you must've been a fan of the macro) - glad to have them, and thanks sincerely for this very personal post.

Posted by Eric 09/16/2008 at 06:51 PM

Ruth: I think the interesting thing about tennis is, as an individualistic pursuit, how does its fandom associate with its heroes? I could easily say that I'm from AA hometown so I root for the AA basketball team, or I matriculated from BB school so I follow BB sports (or all the athletes that at one time played for the BB banner), but what is the tennis fan to do? Do we look inside ourselves and implement our own value systems, and then choose the player or players that best exemplify that same structure we uphold? The logic in how we choose quickly becomes a little less linear, I think.

I had no clue why, as a kid, I idolized Ivan Lendl for so many years, as there was seemingly no connection to this man beyond the fact that I aspired to play (recreationally) the sport that he would go on to dominate. Was it enough to be a fan of his because he had maybe the best forehand in the game? Or that the logo on his adidas shirt looked cool? But now that I'm older, I can draw a lot more conclusions about the representations of our heroes and why our fandom pushes us in certain directions. At essence, I think everyone knows what they like and dislike, and even though they can't always explain it, it makes sense to them anyway.

For the record, I think Nadal's game is beautiful to behold and dare I say, elegant in its fiery machinations, and I think the intrinsic beauty in Federer's game does not overshadow the fact that he can counterpunch and grind and retrieve with the best of them.

Posted by Eric 09/16/2008 at 06:51 PM

(Wow, sorry so rambly. Slow day at work.)

Posted by Tim Lewis 09/16/2008 at 07:04 PM

I'm glad DFW's article and our collective commentary have resulted in an interesting discussion. I certainly didn't mean for it to result in an assessment of the relative merits of Federer and Nadal. It helps if we remember that when the article was written, Nadal had won only 2 slams and Federer was something like 4000 points ahead of him in the rankings. It was too early for Nadal's significance to be determined.

That said, I really like CPM's characterization:"if Federer is the tennis-playing image of bodily life redeemed, Nadal is that of the labor of redemption." This is probably the best way to appreciate both players. Nadal does not, and this is not criticism, remind anybody of Mozart. He is breathtaking, though, in the nobility of his relentless effort in any circumstance. And clearly both players have elements of each other's game.

However, I don't want to step back from my original claim in terms of DFW's power and beauty theme. I think of Nadal's style as embodying the will to power, but in that formulation power is primary and transcendent. So to Ruth's point, it's not that muscles aren't beautiful - they can be, and many things can be beautiful, even great evil can be - but rather a political and aesthetic question. Do we wish a world where power is everywhere and always triumphant? Or do we want moments when power, even if present, is defeated by beauty, by art? I'll take the latter even as, indeed because, I see the world determined by the former. And so much as I admire Nadal, I am more moved by Federer. Is this subjective? Sure, in a way. But if we accept DFW's premises, perhaps some things follow.

Posted by ND 09/16/2008 at 07:35 PM

Steve, a worthy farewell. Fed as a Religious Experience was actually one of my favorite articles, and got me interested in reading more about tennis online. In addition to leading me to this site. Note that I used the past tense. Re-reading the article years later, it doesn't offer as much to me now, given all the fine-grained analysis I've read over the years.

"...there was popcorn all over the couch and I was down on one knee and my eyeballs looked like novelty-shop eyeballs."

Fed has given me so many of these moments. So I believe it was written for the casual fan, and definitely not the TWibe :).

Now the twist is, would that mean tennis purists would favor a grinding game like Nadal's over a flowing one like Federer's?

I don't know about purists. But most coaches that I've talked to advocate the two handed backhand, more topspin, being patient, point construction etc. It still amazes me that Fed didn't get discouraged in his younger days. I imagine everyone used to attack his backhand, and make him overcompensate by going for broke.

Posted by Ruth 09/16/2008 at 07:53 PM

Not "rambly" at all, Eric...and I wholeheartedly endorse the sentiments expressed in the last paragraph of your first 6:51 comment.

With wide open eyes and minds, we would all discover that beauty, in all its varied forms, surrounds us in tennis, as it does in many other sports.

Posted by Sher 09/16/2008 at 11:38 PM

> Try living in Toronto if you want to know what a 'lonely town' is!

Aww, Syd.. you have got to go to the queens & bloor west areas, they are a ton of fun. The thing that you have to really understand about Toronto is you need to know what it is you like, because when you do you'll find a place for it and people who like it and then you have fun. Too much variety creates a sort of isolation in itself.

Steve, I'm ashamed to admit that I did not comment on the main thrust of your article which was Wallace's death. I was shocked and saddened by the news when I first found out from an email by a friend. The nature of his death is particularly stunning considering his "Religious Experience" essay has always seemed to me one of the most hopeful pieces out there. It's hard to imagine the same man who wrote that piece losing his will to live. Thank you for a thoughtful tribute to a great writer.

Posted by Biljana 09/17/2008 at 12:08 AM

Mr Tignor,
That is some serious writing. I like how your style appears tough and manly and yet there is emotion rising from every sentence you write. I also like fairness in your analysis of every event. For me the most memorable match was also Roddick vs Djokovic but not because I saw my favorite player win but because of the emotions each player showed before, during and after the match. As soon as players entered the court I said to my husband this was going to be battle to remember. I saw fear and regret in Roddicks motions and cruel coldness in Djokovics and knew what the end was going to bring. I do not remember ever to get so emotional watching tennis.
It makes me to want to watch it more and am looking forward to many good games in the future hoping that our dear Nole will be shed o the burden that others and himself also are responsible for. I am also looking forward to more of your writing and thank you for a wonderful wrap up.

David Foster Wallace rest in peace.

Posted by Biljana 09/17/2008 at 12:29 AM

One more thing, like a reader above who reads Wallace's article of Federer whenever he is not playing well I go to my bookmarked
"Nole's Best Impersonation Yet"!

Posted by DOWN THE TEE tennis blog 09/17/2008 at 12:32 AM

Great piece Steve! I really enjoyed it! Funny quote from Sam "Space Cadet" Querrey!

Check out DOWN THE TEE tennis blog at:


Keep up the good work Steve! I always enjoy reading your tennis articles!

Posted by zolarafa 09/17/2008 at 02:05 AM

A very nice post and tribute . Thank you.

Posted by 09/17/2008 at 04:20 AM

Suicide: the most selfish thing anyone could do. What a horrible thing to do to his wife (especially, as she found him) and other family, friends etc. Will make sure I never read anything he wrote.

Posted by Kenneth 09/17/2008 at 12:22 PM

Such a personal and resounding post here, Steve. My tennis reading starts and stops here at TW, so I wasn't at all familiar with DFW's writing until now.

Great, great piece here. One for the record books.

Posted by Vie 09/17/2008 at 01:35 PM

I think it is hype to peg or delineaate Federer to beauty and Nadal to power. This cannot be a pure differentiation. Federer mostly wins with the awesome power of his forehand (and of course oher stuff)- see how hard he hits it. Nadal mostly wins not just with power but more with his tactics, the spin of his stroke (on clay), patience, and construction of points - mostly it results in a well-rounded, beautiful match with his opponent.

If beauty is limited to traditional strokes and technique, then most say Federer is one of the best, and there are notable others, like Djokovic and so on. Nadal seems to get the negative comments in this department.

The most beautiful match I've seen is that Wimbledon match this year. Both Nadal and Federer were playing their games with beauty and power as only the two of them together can produce.

Posted by GVGirl (In Madrid!) 09/17/2008 at 03:01 PM

Thanks Steve that was deep.

Posted by FeFe 09/17/2008 at 03:53 PM

Driven to distraction.

Posted by daylily 09/17/2008 at 04:59 PM

with neither trite homilies nor paragraphs awash in excess sentiment, you've created a somber mood in this piece which somehow managed to strike me as profoundly uplifting simultaneously. perhaps the beauty of your writing, along with that of your subject, touched me so deeply and left me in a pensive mood, grateful in the knowledge that such flights of perfection can exist.

as someone said above (dunlop?), pity that this type of event inspires one to write to the best of his ability, but art and genius are all about pain, i think. feeling can be a curse as well as a blessing. sometimes imperviousness to pain and joy offers its own solace.

Posted by daylily 09/17/2008 at 05:01 PM

with neither trite homilies nor paragraphs awash in excess sentiment, you've created a somber mood in this piece which somehow managed to strike me as profoundly uplifting simultaneously. perhaps the beauty of your writing, along with that of your subject, touched me so deeply and left me in a pensive mood, grateful in the knowledge that such flights of perfection can exist.

as someone said above (dunlop?), pity that this type of event inspires one to write to the best of his ability, but art and genius are all about pain, i think. feeling can be a curse as well as a blessing. sometimes imperviousness to pain and joy offers its own solace.

Posted by daylily 09/17/2008 at 05:01 PM

scuze the double post....

Posted by steve 09/17/2008 at 06:22 PM

thanks, everybody. i now have tears in my eyes again, i will admit.

and i will reread "federer as religious experience" as well. not that i really want to get into an argument about it. better just to appreciate the writing for the time being.

Posted by Suny 09/17/2008 at 06:57 PM

Steve, thank you for the understated yet deep comments about David Foster Wallace(DFW). He is perhaps the best writer to write seriously about tennis, and when you read him you realize what is the frontier of tennis writing. You know that difference between journalists writing about tennis and a novelist writing about it. You get an unique intimacy with the things they are writing about. I often felt strongly about journeymen and qualifiers, but after reading DFW's article on Michale Joyce, I felt fulfilled in many ways (even though it is difficult to explain how). It is a tremendous loss to literature.
I will part with a little a footnote from DFW's Michael Joyce piece, "John McEnroe doing color commentary is like William Faulkner doing gap ads" .

Posted by Dunlop Maxply 09/17/2008 at 07:22 PM

Did anyone ever stop to think that, once you know how to read, you can never look at a billboard or a sign without reading it? I mean, when I drive by a sign written in Chinese or Korean characters, its just an image, with no meaning. At one point, before we all learned how to read, looking at a sentence was the same. Now, its impossible to go back.

I think that Foster Wallace, in the FedAsRegEx article, was trying to give people who had not played the game at a particularly high level a glimpse of what those of us who did play at a high level see when we watch Federer.

Now, this is not really a Federer v. Nadal post, but I will use Nadal as an example.

The distinction is that, just like a person's written language, I cannot watch a tennis match without technically analyzing every stroke that is hit, and without guessing, during each rally, where the next shot will go.

I can certainly understand fans who watch simply for the drama, or to see the outfit worn by their favorite player, but years of forced analysis have sort of left me with a more or less permanent technical tilt.

With that in mind, I can say that over the last however many years of watching Nadal, for example, I know exactly what he will do on the return of serve on an important point when his opponent does not serve and volley, -- he'll load up the topspin and hit it exactly on the "T" to start the rally. Come to think of it, I do not think I have ever seen Nadal hit an elective return of serve winner.

This, by the way, is hardly a criticism. Every player who has played at the national junior level of above knows the moment in time when they realize that they are going to have to start limiting their own game. The day you realize, for example that there are shots, or groups of shots, that you will never quite get, no matter how much you practice, and that you have to start structuring your game to avoid being forced to play those shots in a competitive match at all costs.

So when I see Nadal, I know he is a defensive player, and I have seen how his winners on the fifth or tenth or twentieth shot in the rally are amazing, but I also know that he himself has gotten to a point where he is structuring his matches to his own maximum advantage, trying to get everyone to play his game.

He does it on a very high plane, mind you, but he does it.

Federer, on the other hand, does something very different. It is as if he never had to face "the moment" Need a slice one handed backhand? Fine. Need to serve and volley Pete Sampras off the court at Wimbledon. Sure. Need to almost beat one of the greatest clay court players of all time on clay (and beat him once)from the baseline. why not?

It is as if he can just hit the shot that is called for, no matter the situtation.

This is so unbelievably rare, I mean, this is why Foster Wallace is going nuts in his prose.

Players who play like Federer usually manage to pull it off in practice or very limited runs, and then descend into the mire of errors that wait for all players.

Anyway, don't mistake Foster Wallace's analysis for fandom, because that is not what the article was about. I am sure he appreciated Nadal's game for its own unique points in a similar way.

Posted by daylily 09/17/2008 at 09:26 PM

hank, it's ok. even the most rabid rafakad -- myself -- could find no fault with your last post. it's not confrontational at all. very nicely said, all true. i've never disputed the artistry of roger's tennis, and you're right, in no way does appreciation for that detract from respecting rafa's style as well.

i love goya, but i love picasso too. the styles manage to coexist on the planet....

Posted by Tinh 09/18/2008 at 10:33 AM

Tennis is a conservative sport, always has been and still is.

The roots of the sport are to be found in the upper class. A passtime for those who had the luxury of not having to work.
A sport like soccer stands on the other end of that spectrum; it has its roots firmly in the working class.

Tennis goes back to a society where the verb "work" used to be an insult and instead, one should be graceful and stylish with the stiff upper lip and all that.

I love tennis but I HATE this viewpoint and it's nonsense IMHO.

In soccer, showing effort is no shame. Although a lot has changed and soccer has become a business where a lot of money is at stake, it still reflects to its old roots in the working class.
The same can be said of tennis, those old viewpoints still show today.

When Nadal plays tennis, you notice the effort he puts into it and the raw power. It's exciting, passionate,...Fire!
Problem is that his game style doesn't hide his workmanship.

Federer on the other hand, works hard as well but he's more a pupil of the stiff upper lip class (only when he's under pressure does he let that mask slip) and the afiocionades applaud it because that's what tennis was all about in the first place: grace, style, elegance.

Having said that, my sympathies to those close to this author who are now left behind. Dealing with suicide is very hard.

Posted by Dunlop Maxply 09/18/2008 at 01:02 PM


Next time you are in a bookstore, check out "The Ball is Round" -- don't buy it unless you really need help falling asleep at night, because it is an exhaustive history of soccer.

Basically, soccer was a sport established by the English aristorcracy at first. There is an interesting story about one of the first great English clubs, the Corinthians, made up entirely of nobility, who did not believe that penalty kicks were "fair" so that they would miss them on purpose and, if the team they were playing was hard done by on a call or two they would intentionally fail to defend their goal so that the other team could score.

When the clubs started hiring Scottish professionals in the late 1800s, the elitist roots slowly waned. So now the common belief is that soccer is a game built from the grass roots, although that was not actually the case.

Tennis hung on to the country club heritage far longer, but I've always viewed on court behavior as something integral to the game. The professionals, many of whom have played in sort of a coccoon since the juniors, today get away with quite a bit of emotion on court, but obviously this type of emoting would not go over well in a game with friends, and this applies regardless of socio-economic status.

I think the major difference between the two sports, and I say this as pretty much of a soccer nut, is not the emotions, per se, its that soccer is basically a game based on cheating, while tennis is a game based upon honor.

In tennis, up to a very high level, you call your own lines, and the game does not even function if you cannot give your opponent the benefit of the doubt on the most fundamental aspect of the competitive game -- whether a ball close to the line was in.

By comparison, soccer cannot be played at any sort of advanced level without learning how to bend basically every rule, from appealing for offsides when the defenders know the player is onside, to "selling" fouls where there was in fact minimal contact. To intentionaly fouling players when the need arises.

To be accurate, its not really "cheating" its more a question of unwritten rules.

Posted by michele 09/18/2008 at 01:58 PM

Wow. Possibly your best post I've read. Your comment about being lonely in this city reminded me of E.B. White's gem Here Is New York. RIP DFW.

Posted by Tinh 09/18/2008 at 02:33 PM

Interesting, Dunlop. Didn't know that. Thanks. Well, let me rephrase it then. lol.

You do agree that soccer is more a sport perhaps not started by the working class but more rooted in it?

Posted by Matt Van Tuinen 09/18/2008 at 03:55 PM

Steve, great post. There is no doubt in my mind that your writing has risen to another place in the last year...the depth, thought, and understanding is constant, and the writing is exceptional.

Thought some may be interested in this interview DFW did a few years ago...stay with it till the end for a great mention about Tennis Magazine.

Posted by Dunlop Maxply 09/18/2008 at 07:06 PM


I agree certainly, but after having listened to 30+ years of arguments as to how tennis can broaden its base to the less wealthy, and having a good eight years of junior soccer experience under my belt through my kids, I can say this.

Soccer is "cheaper" in the critical sense that almost any kicking of a ball is good when you are a kid. Dribbling, juggling, playing one on one with your friends, its all good.

Most importantly, coaching, while helpful, is not critical at a young age to be a great player later on.

In tennis, its the reverse, its not whether you simply start playing tennis at a young enough age, which of course you need to do, its that you need some sort of adult coaching help at a young age, and this is the difference.

There have been any number of tennis champions who have not been particularly rich. But all of them had parental support.

I do not think there will ever be a tennis champion who, when young, was both poor in the economic sense and had a disadvantaged family life.

The Williams sisters may not have been rich when they were young, but their parents gave them as much support as Tim Henman's parents gave him, and Henman's family were actually members of The All England Club.

Posted by cool 09/18/2008 at 07:37 PM

yeh hands down djokovic roddick best match of us open =] amazing amazing stuff from novak. gotta love it. totally agree about this one mr.tignor

Posted by Monica 09/19/2008 at 08:44 AM

Just read "Federer as Religious Experience" for the first time (after reading ST's post), and, having read it, it doesn't surprise me that DFW committed suicide. We're reading it as a sad event, but in DWF's paradigm of thought, it may have been the ultimate act of liberation. Either that, or relief. I often wonder how Woody Allen has managed to survive into a ripe old age, but I guess his sense of humor brings him back to earth often enough. We human beings, for better or worse, cannot survive in the stratosphere.

Posted by luxsword 09/19/2008 at 02:53 PM


Posted by JS 09/23/2008 at 08:43 PM

Dunlop: very interesting last couple of posts. I really appreciate your perspective, and entries like yours make reading the comments worthwhile.

Here's an interesting article by the former ATP head of communications, who arranged DFW's interview with Fed for the "religious experience" piece:

"In the article, Wallace whined about the hassles he encountered securing the Federer interview, and compared it to "the old story of someone climbing an enormous mountain to talk to the man seated lotus on top, except in this case the mountain is composed entirely of sports-bureaucrats." Sure, I'm happy to know Federer, but to be kicked by David Foster Wallace on his way up the mountain? Now that's something to brag about to my kids. RIP, DFW."

Posted by JQui 10/04/2008 at 11:01 PM

"Does Wertheim, as he walks around the grounds here, ever find himself looking up at the sky and asking, “What is wrong with me?” For his sake, I hoped not."

Is he a New Yorker? If he is, he probably does- it is, I sometimes feel, deeply ingrained within our psychology.
Maybe it's the lack of flouride in our water.

Posted by luxsword 11/30/2008 at 07:48 AM

Trying to find which DFW books had a French translation (2 only) and trying to find some on the web, I found this on youtube.
I thought you Steve might like it :
He reads from "a supposedly fun thing..." I think. (my English's not fluent enough to grasp everything, he reads pretty quick lol)

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