Tennis and literature, beyond Sant Jordi

Martin Amis said that tennis is “the most perfect combination of physical form, art, power, style and ingenuity”. With these laudatory words, the British writer reflected the close relationship that tennis and literature have maintained over the years, and which is repeated today with the union of the tournament’s semifinals and the Sant Jordi day, the most literary of the whole year.

There are many authors who have combined the letters with the racket, starting with Javier Cercas, a regular at the tournament. The author of “Soldados de Salamina” played several tournaments during his youth and came to dream of dedicating himself professionally to this sport. The man from Cáceres, who this Sant Jordi presents “El Castillo de Barbazul”, has affirmed that tennis taught him the value of discipline, and also that he had a good forehand. “Everything I know about morality I learned playing tennis,” he said on his day, paraphrasing Camús.

More profound was the late David Foster Wallace’s relationship with the racket sport. The controversial American writer played tennis in his youth, between the ages of 12 and 15. Wallace considered himself “a pretty good junior tennis player”, and reached 17th place in the Midwest tennis ranking, an experience that left him with a love for the racket that is reflected in all his work, and especially in the enormous and well-known “La broma infinita”. He also wrote several tennis essays, some published in Spanish such as “Tennis como una experiencia religiosa”, where he goes deeply into the US Open in the same way as the rivalry between Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer.

Tennis also appears in the polyhedral biography of another great writer, Vladimir Nabokov. The author of ‘Lolita’, born in Russia in 1899 to a wealthy family in St. Petersburg, enjoyed a high-level education during his childhood by English and French governesses. But the Russian revolution and exile expelled him from that idyllic life. Nabokov was forced to earn a living with various jobs, including teaching tennis during his stay in Berlin. A period that meant a step back in his social status, although in return it led to the meeting with his future wife, Vera, another Russian exile like him.

The love for the racket is also hidden, disguised as chance, in the origin of one of the best-known novels of recent decades: ‘The Lord of the Rings’. The author of it, the South African J.R.R Tolkien, was a great tennis fan, a sport that he practiced during his years at Oxford. After the age of 40, and in a match with Angus McIntosh, 22 years his junior, Tolkien sprained his ankle, forcing him to rest for a season. What did he spend this time on? To draw the master lines of ‘The Hobbit’, the work that gave rise to Middle-earth and the epic adventure to destroy the power of the ring.

Less casual is the relationship with tennis of authors such as J.R. Moehringer and John Carlin, authors respectively of the biographies of Andre Agassi (“Open”) and Rafael Nadal (“Rafa, my story”), two acclaimed pieces that offer the most human side of some athletes who, in the solitude to which they they face each other during matches, they have filled the pages of many great books with the poetics of tennis.