No sport has gone through the seismic changes that rocked tennis when the game, long a holdout against professionalism and creeping commercialism, abandoned its roots as a genteel, amateurs-only enterprise and became a pro sport, vying for the heart of the public with rivals like soccer, NFL football, or NBA basketball.
Peter Bodo, who has covered tennis since the dawn of this "Open" era as the chief writer for TENNIS magazine, was there to witness this transition and what it promised, what it delivered. He has covered the game on every continent since the early 1970s. THE COURTS OF BABYLON is more than a collection of essays, most of them growing out of a deep familiarity and, often, relationship with subjects that include Bjorn Borg, Chris Evert, John McEnroe, Evonne Goolangong, Jimmy Connors, Tracy Austin, van Lendl and Martina Navratilova. It is also a commentary on what was lost and what was gained by the transition to professionalism, and how the new, "Open" era delivered—or failed to make good—on the promise that professionalism would make tennis a more inclusive, egalitarian, accessible game.
Relying heavily on formal, in-depth interviews conducted over two decades and his status as an "insider" in an insular game, Bodo's book is both a meditation and expose, a polemic and a tribute to the players who dragged tennis, often kicking and screaming, to the forefront of the public's imagination—even when those players got it all too fast and too young.
Bodo delves into the darkest and most controversial areas of the game, chronicling the follies of overzealous parents and pampered athletes. He fearlessly wades into sensitive issues stemming from sex and gender, politics and commercialism. He celebrates the game while holding it to task, all the while acknowledging the reality of the demands and distortions that come with a way of life that is both difficult but glamorous, and eagerly embraced by athletes who, in some cases, are no older than fourteen. read more
This is on my to do list - I haven't read this in full yet. But I've picked it up off my bookshelf and thumbed through it enough times to know that there's some pretty solid information contained herein. Bodo goes through some of the changes that both tours underwent from the beginning of the Open Era until the then-current generation (mid-90s), while mixing in some extended profiles on some of the players he covered closely. Will come back and edit this once I finish, but I wholly anticipate it being good and it already seems like it's worth a recommendation.read more
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Tennis was the last major sport to abandon the British ideal of the gentleman amateur, which it did with the advent of so-called open tennis in 1968. The results of that seismic change are detailed in this chronicle by reporter-analyst Bodo, who has covered the sport for two decades for Tennis magazine. The first result in the U.S. was that the amateur game was all but abandoned, with outstanding players often turning pro at the age of 14 or 15, especially girls. The second was the erosion of sportsmanship and its replacement by what Bodo calls the puppy-eat-puppy world of cutthroat young players, the extreme cases being Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe. Bodo considers all the factors involved, including parents, coaches, the controlling associations, television, even the born-again Christian movement. But his greatest strength lies in discussing the players, all of whom he likes enough to see the individual beneath the media image. He may veer at times into pop psychoanalysis, but he adduces enough personal data from his in-depth interviews that his portraits have the ring of truth. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved