Top critical review
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Superficial and frustrating.
on 3 September 2014
I was glad when I finished reading this book. I have no doubt that Harman has done the travel miles, watched a fair number of matches and burnt the midnight oil to meet many deadlines. That said, although I found the book loaded with anecdotes about things I did not know - they were mostly diluted by the frustration that much of what he commented on was fairly innocuous. There is way too much gossip and opinion in the book and not enough evidence and analysis. The book clearly illustrates that the tennis business is fraught with benefits going to whom you know off the court and only the highest ranked players on the court.
Despite Harman giving a structure to the book, using the four Slams, Doping, Seasons (for example) as chapters, he doesn't really do justice to any of the chapter headings. They all seem to lack any meaningful depth or court side insights. However, he does spend a lot of time pondering who is dating whom (Serena Williams and Berry Gordy Jnr's son for instance) Since he does like to name drop as to whom he is friends with. Maybe this allows him interviewing opportunities. I don't begrudge him that having paid his school fees. It's just that he does make it rather obvious that he wants you to know that he is well connected, without telling the reader anything material about whom he is connected to.
In case the reader didn't quite get the message that the author is a good guy, despite his plagiarism admissions, he said 'I sent Roddick a note later that day wishing him well. He sent one back thanking me `for being one of the good guys'. It meant the world. being one of the good guys'. Got it.
Harman does play more than a supporting role in the book. He goes as far as to let you know when he chokes up when players are ill. He can be rather preachy and sanctimonious too. Especially when he bends the rules for knowingly entering the off limits players restaurant and when reprimanded, he accuses and preaches to the person for overly reprimanding him. In another instance he said, 'The way most of us run around the world - those who hit the balls and those watching those who hit balls - does not often give us pause to consider the world around us. We become blasé.' Really? Surely only speaking for yourself?
I think readers eyebrows could be raised at a few of the writers unsubstantiated and veiled allegations. For instance, I was left wondering what the writer was in fact alleging regards the ambiguous impression he left regards Federer and his seemingly relentless money making or money grabbing deals. Also, if any doping amongst the Spanish players could have involved Nadal. At the US open the author has a go at his fellow writers, as he questions if any of them ever actually watch any tennis.
I found the writer well connected and clearly knowledgeable, however not very likeable. His is ego seemed to appear fairly often. While he clearly has bent the rules by his own admission, yet he snitches on Bitti. He wrote 'Even Ricci Bitti was seen using his mobile phone in the box during one match and I sent a cheeky text to Brook, the chairman, telling him that a chap two rows in front of him was breaking the rules. Brook waved from across the opposite side of the court that he had received the message.'
The author's friendliness with Rory McIlroy was undermined by his relentless lack of success to interview him with his then girlfriend, Caroline Wozniacki. I fail to understand why the reader would be interested to hear so often about an interview that never happened.
There are some good points made about the splitting of the prize money, leaving many players not even breaking even on the tour after expenses. Some seemingly appropriate pot shots were taken at wastefulness by the tennis hierarchy and their not keeping in touch with the changing world of tennis.
Round about half way through the book there was this frustrating piece about some Spanish players getting lost driving from Heathrow and reaching their hotel in the early hours of the morning. At this stage I was wondering why the book was meandering in so many directions. For example, the narrative goes on about the Nottingham tournament within the Wimbledon chapter. All very confusing and frustrating at times.
Needless to say, some meanderings involved the writer. Such as when Ivan Lendle was supposed to have noticed the importance of Harman's collar and tie at Wimbledon. Then there is a story about the writer having engaged Rupert Murdoch in tennis talk in his USA office. He writes 'I met Mr Murdoch in his office in New York three years earlier, while talking tennis with Robert Thomson, the managing director of the Wall Street Journal and my first editor at The Times. Thomson said how much he felt I had engaged Mr Murdoch. I was pretty pleased with that.' ...Right.
In conclusion, I failed to recognise the value and purpose of this book as a means to gather new information or as a riveting read. It was neither. It reads like a series disconnected excerpts from a diary over a year, clustered together under some decent chapter headings. Hence his relentless use of anecdotal name dropping. I haven't as yet read any of the other reviews regards this book and I would we interested to know if any other readers agree with any of my opinions.
For a seasoned hack, I would have preferred less gossip, bias and opinions, more facts and analysis. I didn't like this book and don't recommend it, as I found it frustrating and expected more coherence from a travelled professional.