Paul Fein's new book, Tennis Confidential, is a wonderful book filled with interesting facts, great interviews and profiles, accounts of his choices for the 10 greatest matches, and intriguing discussions of tennis's current and past controversies. I bought the book on a Friday evening and spent most of the next two days reading it. I found it completely engrossing.
The book is divided into 6 major sections: Portraits of the Stars, Memorable Interviews, Topical Trends and Burning Issues, The Great Controversies, 20th Century Retrospectives, and The 10 Greatest Matches in Tennis History. This collection of articles, many of which won journalism awards, runs the gamut of the current players such as Venus and Serena Williams, Andre Agassi, and Pete Sampras, to the stars of the late 1970s and 80s such as Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, Martina Navratilova, and Jimmy Conners to several of the games legends such as Rod Laver, Arthur Ashe and Bobby Riggs. Yes, there are some players missing, mostly due to space limitations, I suspect. I would have enjoyed profiles and/or interviews with Chris Evert, Steffi Graf, Martina Hingis, and Monica Seles on the women's side. On the men's side, Ken Rosewall, Stefan Edberg, Bill Tilden, and Don Budge. However, he writes about several of these players in the section on the 10 greatest matches, so perhaps I'm just greedy.
Regarding the controversies and burning issues, he writes about the problems with the advancing technology in racket manufacturing, and the effect these advances have had in the power game, especially in the men's game. He also discusses such critical issues as the role parents (especially fathers) have taken in developing their child's game. He deals with most of the famous "Bad Dads, " only really missing the recent addition of Jelena Dokic's father. He talks about the need for the Grand Slam to be accomplished in one calendar year, why we should keep the let serve rule, the use and possible misuse of the tiebreak rule, the ranking system problems, why Wimbledon should remain a grass court tournament, the problems that occur with letting teens play early and often, the issue of equal pay for men and women, and the effect that more black players could have on the game, including the inherent problems in attracting and keeping black athletes in tennis.
I don't have any complaints about the book. There are several items I might have liked to read about, but I fully recognize the limitations and choices one needs to make in such a work. One extra I would have enjoyed is a brief player update after the original profile and/or interview. Although most of these are from 1997 on, there are few from earlier that an update would have been nice. For instance, there are two interviews with the late Arthur Ashe. Many people who have become interested in tennis in the past five years or so, may not have much of a sense of his contribution. The interviews help in that regard, but it would have been nice to have a brief obituary about his death. The same would have been nice in regards to Bobby Riggs and Ted Tinling who have died since their interviews were done.
Also, to no surprise, there are several matches I would consider in the last few years that could rank among the best. One, in terms of historical importance, would be the Bobby Riggs/Billie Jean King "Battle of the Sexes" in the Astrodome in 1973. This match helped to put women's (at least American women's) tennis on the map. In a period where the women's game is so much more vital and interesting than the men's, this match's importance cannot be overstated, even though it was nearly 30 years ago. Also, there have been three great women's matches in the last three years that I would place somewhere: the Graf/Hingis French Open Final in 1999 (I thank Paul for reminding me of this one), the Clijsters/Capriati French Open Final in 2001, and the Hingis/Capriati Australian Open Final in 2002. But these are quibbles on my part.
All in all, I found this a wonderful read. I had a lot of trouble putting the book down. Anyone who appreciates tennis and good writing cannot go wrong in purchasing this book. I am a big fan of tennis and there aren't a lot of great books available. Through the years, there have been some, but not nearly the wealth as there is for baseball. Do yourself a favor, buy it, read it, tell others. Let's encourage those who write and write well about tennis. I'd love to see more by Paul Fein, and will be looking forward to more.