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Love Game

A History of Tennis, from Victorian Pastime to Global Phenomenon

Love Game

A History of Tennis, from Victorian Pastime to Global Phenomenon

Tennis has never been played better than it is today. To watch Rafael Nadal spin a forehand at 4000 rpm, Maria Sharapova arabesque out of a serve, Serena Williams utterly destroy a short ball, or Roger Federer touch a volley into an impossibly angled winner is to watch not only the best players with the best coaching hitting with the best racquets, it is to watch the culmination of an entire history. Love Game is different from most tennis books—it isn’t a ghostwritten biography, and it won’t teach you how to slice your serve. It’s a book about tennis’s grand culture, one that unveils the sport’s long history as it lives and breathes (or grunts) in the modern game.
No one is better equipped to tell this story than novelist and historian Elizabeth Wilson. With a penchant for tennis’s inherent drama, she finds its core: a psychological face off between flamboyant personalities navigating the ebbs and flows of fortune in the confines of a 78 x 36–foot box—whether of clay, grass, or DecoTurf. Walking the finely kempt lawns of Victorian England, she shows how tennis’s early role as a social pastime that included both men and women—and thus, lots of sexual tension—set it apart from most other sports and their dominant masculine appeal. Even today, when power and endurance are more important than ever, tennis still demands that the body behave gracefully and with finesse. In this way, Wilson shows, tennis has retained the vibrant spectacle of human drama and beauty that have always made it special, not just to sports fans but to popular culture.
Telling the stories of all the greats, from the Renshaw brothers to Novak Djokovic, and of all the advances, from wooden racquets to network television schedules, Wilson offers a tennis book like no other, keeping the court square in our sights as history is illuminated around it.    

352 pages | 19 halftones | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 | © 2016

History: General History

Sport and Recreation


“Weaves a wandering, eccentric path through the century and a half since modern tennis’s founding as a boxed game called Sphairistike. . . . Wilson drop-shots mini-essays on broader intellectual topics.”

New York Times

“A richly textured history distilled through an illuminating private passion.”

Literary Review

“A sporting history unlike any I've read—one that, in its sophistication and thoughtfulness, shows up the hollowness of most other accounts.”


“A love-all letter to the beautiful, sweaty, glorious, grunting game.”


“Ms. Wilson’s is an original and provocative mind at work.”

Jane Leavy | Wall Street Journal

Table of Contents

1 The game of love


2 Healthy excitement and scientific play
3 Real tennis and the scoring system
4 The growth of a sporting culture
5 On the Riviera
6 What’s wrong with women?
7 A match out of Henry James
8 The lonely American
9 The Four Musketeers
10 Working-class heroes
11 Tennis in Weimar – and after
12 As a man grows older
13 Three women


14 Home from the war
15 Gorgeous girls
16 Opening play
17 Those also excluded
18 Tennis meets feminism


19 Bad behaviour
20 Corporate tennis
21 Women’s power
22 Vorsprung durch Technik
23 Celebrity stars
24 Millennium tennis
25 The rhetoric of sport
26 Back to the future

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