June 30, 2014
The reading habits of tennis players, Wimbledon edition
by Julia Fleischaker
Taking a break from the World Cup, John Dugdale at The Guardian turned his attention to Wimbledon, and the reading habits of top players:
Wimbledon begins this week, and the prospect of a champion who champions reading seems as remote as ever. Martin Amis, Geoff Dyer, Sebastian Faulks, David Foster Wallace, Sophie Kinsella (as Madeleine Wickham), John le Carré and Lionel Shriver are among the novelists who’ve written about tennis, but their efforts have evidently made no impression on the sport’s elite, who tend to cite YA fantasy fiction, Dan Brown or Paulo Coelho when asked to name a favorite book.
In this video, Dugdale points us to a wonderful 2009 compilation of (unidentified) tennis players naming their favorite books, we get a brusque “I don’t read” from Andy Murray, and Andy Roddick waxing rhapsodic about Dan Brown’s Angels & Demons (because he’s a “big history buff”). Roger Federer, who has himself inspired some timeless writing, claims his favorite book is “magazines and newspapers.”
But, in truth, it’s not quite so dire as Dugdale would have you believe, and literature’s love for tennis isn’t totally unrequited. Bulgakov, Tolkien and Franzen are all mentioned in the video. Rafael Nadal has claimed both The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne and Isabel Allende‘s The City of the Beasts as favorites. Venus Williams has a whole page on her website devoted to her favorite books, where she praises J.K. Rowling, Pittacus Lore, and DC Comics. Serena Williams doesn’t list her favorite books, but Venus mentions that Brandon Mull‘s Fablehaven series was a recommendation from her, so it seems that a love for science fiction and fantasy runs in the family.
Ana Ivanovic‘s website claims that, “Reading is one of her favorite hobbies and rarely will there be a time when she is not midway through a novel,” but you have to be a paying member of “Club Ana” to see her 5 favorites. Novak Djokovic has praised Ivo Andric and Eckhart Tolle. And when Andre Agassi wanted to write his memoir, he tapped JR Moehringer, author of The Tender Bar, to help. The result, Open, was widely hailed as a triumph of the genre.
But a few players, Dugdale knows, rise above the crowd, specifically:
No 20, Germany’s Andrea Petkovic, who regaled sports journalists during this year’s French Open with her thoughts on Nietzsche, Sartre, Camus, Goethe (“the greatest genius with words”) and, yes, Foster Wallace (“I’m totally amazed by him”). Petkovic’s equivalent in the men’s rankings is Latvia’s Ernests Gulbis, a provocative gadfly in press conferences who has enthused about Haruki Murakami, scientific non-fiction, and classic Russian authors and their present-day successors, notably Victor Pelevin.
And though Serbian player Janko Tipsarevic has fallen in the rankings, his skills, and his reading list, remain more impressive than mine:
1. Genealogy of Morality – F. Nietzsche
2. On the Other Side of Good and Evil
3. The Idiot
4. Writings from the Underground
5. Counsels and Maxims – A. Schopenhauer
(Janko had foot surgery this month, and is sitting this Wimbledon out. It also seems like he might be going through something, as his list of three books he’s recently read seems slightly out of sync: Power of Positive Thinking, Why Do Good People Do Bad Things, How to Survive Family Life. Feel better Janko!)
You can read Reeves Wiedeman‘s 2010 take on Tipsarevic in The New Yorker. Wiedeman notes of Tipsarevic, “The tattoo on his left forearm—’Beauty will save the world’—comes from Dostoevsky. He decorated his back with Schopenhauer, and has two favorite painters: Dali and Caravaggio. He has begun writing a book of his own, ‘but it is still far from anything serious.’”
Julia Fleischaker is Melville House's director of publicity.