Steve Flink is the best person to write a book recounting the greatest tennis matches of all time. He is extremely knowledgeable about the history of tennis, its matches, and its personalities. He is fair, insightful, and judicious in his research and writing, and his captivating writing style assists readers in experiencing his enthusiasm for the sport. Flink also recognizes the area of subjectivity that necessarily accompanies any discussion of the greatest matches, players, and strokes of all time, but he nevertheless always gives intelligent, solid reasons for his choices.
The book contains, fittingly, a foreword by Chris Evert, one of the greatest tennis players of all time and a good friend of Steve Flink. In it, she praises his knowledge of the game, his fairness, his dedication to the sport, and the legacy his book will leave by reminding people of the Greats of the past who shaped the game, carried it forward, and made it possible for the game to be what it is today.
The main part of the book consists of Flink's choices of the greatest tennis matches of all time. Specific criteria guided his selections. He chose matches that had temporal and geographical distribution; that is, he chose matches from 1920s-Present and matches from all over the world. In general, he selected matches that featured two Greats who were competing in a critical match that had historical significance - significance for each individual player, for the rivalry, and for tennis as a whole. In order to prevent any one player from dominating the discussion, Flink limited his match selection to two per player. So, for example, Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova appear twice (fittingly in tandem): the 1982 Australian Open final and the 1985 French Open final, and Roger Federer appears twice (2008 Wimbledon vs. Rafael Nadal, 2009 Wimbledon vs. Andy Roddick).
In his description of each match, Flink provides a prologue of sorts, giving substantial information about each player involved, their development as players, their career trajectories, and the state of the game up to that point. Then he describes the match itself. Perhaps the greatest strength of Flink's book when compared with other historical accounts of tennis is that he devotes serious attention to the mental side of the game and the various external and internal pressures that affected the players and established the aura (and even outcome) of the match. He provides details about the actual tennis of the match - the tactics of each player, the changes in pace and score, all the statistical 'stuff' people can read in an online newspaper article about the match. But his main concern is to make the match come alive, as though readers were there themselves and were able to pierce the minds and hearts of those competing so as to understand their feelings and experiences. Finally, Flink narrates the outcome of the match and delineates the significance the match had for each player, that particular rivalry, and for tennis in general. By doing so, Flink creates a comprehensive, logical, and interconnected history of tennis.
The final part of his book is perhaps the most controversial. At the end, Steve Flink ranks the 10 greatest male and female tennis players of all time. He also ranks the greatest strokes of all time: the greatest male and female first serves, second serves, forehands, backhands, forehand volleys, backhand volleys, lobs, passing shots, etc. Readers will find some of his choices for all these categories obvious, but other of his choices will prove to be a delightful surprise.
In only a couple places did I find factual errors. That is necessarily part of writing a book on history and it in no way diminishes the quality, integrity, and accuracy of the book. If tennis enthusiasts read this book with an open mind, they will be more informed people of the sport they love so much; and I hope that they, like me, will derive great pleasure - and even a little bit of nostalgia - perusing this book. Enjoy the journey; Steve Flink is a wonderful tour guide.