String Theory: David Foster Wallace on Tennis by David Foster WallaceAn instant classic of American sportswriting—the tennis essays of David Foster Wallace, “the best mind of his generation” (A. O. Scott) and “the best tennis-writer of all time” (New York Times)
Both a onetime near-great junior tennis player and a lifelong connoisseur of the finer points of the game, David Foster Wallace wrote about tennis with the authority of an insider, the showmanship of a literary pyrotechnician, and disarming admiration of an irrepressible fan. Including his masterful profiles of Roger Federer and Tracy Austin, String Theory gathers Wallaces five famous essays on tennis, pieces that have been hailed by sportswriters and literary critics alike as some of the greatest and most innovative magazine writing in recent memory. Whiting Award-winning journalist John Jeremiah Sullivan provides an introduction.
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David Foster Wallace wrote about tennis in fiction, essays, journalism, and reviews; it may be his most consistent theme at the surface level. Originally they had played it with the bare hand, then came gloves, then paddles, then rackets. A lovely detail in that it suggests a scene, a Florentine ear at the fence or the entryway, listening. They often built those early courts in the forest, in clearings. The call in the air.
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Between the ages of 12 and 15, he competed in tournaments all over the Midwest, at one point achieving a regional ranking of And most crucially, unlike practically every other player on the planet, he relished playing in the wind. Facing him — especially in a howling gale — must have been a nightmare.
As Federer has only become increasingly canonized as the greatest of all-time tennis player, the piece survives as an artifact of a rare journalistic moment in which everything fell into place. Here is one. It was like something out of The Matrix. Inspired by the piece, I went to YouTube to see if I could find the highlight, as I do with many amazing sports moments. You can watch the point for yourself, and conclude that it bears only a passing resemblance to what Wallace describes. Nice article on the Swiss genius nevertheless. This also brings up an interesting journalistic conundrum: if Wallace took so much liberty in describing this seemingly fictional instance, what about everything else in the piece?
Here is one. Open, Federer serving to Andre Agassi early in the fourth set. It was impossible. Journalistically speaking, there is no hot news to offer you about Roger Federer. He is, at 25, the best tennis player currently alive. Maybe the best ever. Bios and profiles abound.