The best books about tennis that may or may not feature pornography

The Books I Picked & Why

Open: An Autobiography

By Andre Agassi

Book cover of Open: An Autobiography

Why this book?

I think it’s fair to say that even those who are not familiar with the game of tennis recognize Andre Agassi, because he was such a media-gravitating force in his heyday. Not only did he excel in tennis itself, he married Brooke Shields. He wore that entrancing mullet of hair, which at some point became a secret hairpiece. Then there’s the time Andre played a match while high on crystal meth. And what about his legit crazy father, the guy who instilled the game of tennis so much in young Andre that as an older adult, he sometimes couldn’t tell whether he loved or hated the sport? Written with the assistance of J.R. Moehringer (of The Tender Bar fame), this is an eminently fascinating autobiography. Sorry, no porn.


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Strokes of Genius: Federer, Nadal, and the Greatest Match Ever Played

By L. Jon Wertheim

Book cover of Strokes of Genius: Federer, Nadal, and the Greatest Match Ever Played

Why this book?

There is definitely porn in this book, except it’s tennis porn. How could it not, when we are talking about two of the greatest players to ever play the game? Although lately Novak Djokovic has entered the conversation for a good part of the last two decades, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal were men’s tennis, and the pinnacle of their rivalry was Wimbledon in 2008, the specific tournament and the specific final that Jon writes about in this book. A classic match deserves a classic retelling, and this work of nonfiction does so much more by threading the many changes that have taken place in modern tennis: advances in racquet and string technology, performance-enhancing drugs, and the impacts of online betting.


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The Tennis Partner

By Abraham Verghese

Book cover of The Tennis Partner

Why this book?

Let me just come right out and say it: this is a sad book. It’s a tragedy – like The Great Gatsby, Abraham plays the role of the narrator Nick Carraway while David Smith, an Australian doctor, becomes his unfortunate Jay Gatsby. The man is troubled (substance addiction), but what brings the two men born generations apart is the game of, you guessed it, tennis. (Sorry to disappoint, but not porn – though there is some sexual compulsion, so maybe a tiny bit?) What is most impressive about this work is Abraham’s restraint. There’s some high drama here, but he keeps it all in sensible, practical check, which is why it all feels so very real.


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String Theory: David Foster Wallace on Tennis: A Library of America Special Publication

By David Foster Wallace

Book cover of String Theory: David Foster Wallace on Tennis: A Library of America Special Publication

Why this book?

If there’s a writer who could have written about tennis and pornography and made it work way better than yours truly, it is David Foster Wallace. But David did not waste his time on this planet (suicide in his 46th year) on idle silliness – no, he wrote essays like “Federer as a Religious Experience” for The New York Times, which is the fifth and final essay in his collection of his tennis nonfiction. Ranked nationally as a junior, David possessed intimate knowledge of the sport, and the first essay, “Derivative Sport in Tornado Alley,” indeed features a tornado that rips through team practice, but believe it or not, that natural disaster is not as frightening as the drudgery of tennis drills that he must master.


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Double Fault

By Lionel Shriver, Barrington Saddler LLC

Book cover of Double Fault

Why this book?

Lyricism porn? Wordsmith porn? I don’t know what you call this, but here’s how Lionel starts Double Fault: “'The serve was into the sun, which at its apex the tennis ball perfectly eclipsed. A corona blazed on the ball's circumference, etching a ring on Willy's retina that would blind-spot the rest of the point.” Sigh. If I could write 10% as well as her, I’d die a happy man. This is the only novel in this list of five, and that alone should be reason enough to read it. Tennis novels are few and far in between; savor them when you see them, especially ones that are as beautifully acerbic as this one.


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