Tennis Prose



Conor Niland’s New Tennis Book Drawing Rave Reviews

While Wimbledon rambles on, a new tennis book has caught my attention. It’s by former ATP journeyman Conor Niland, from Ireland, titled The Racket: On Tour with Tennis’s Golden Generation And The Other 99 Percent.

Obviously it’s a profound perspective of pro tennis from the lens of a player who competed for a decade but only managed to make it to two Grand Slams. Niland is a talented writer and reveals the interesting social dynamics between the high and mighty players and the majority of strugglers and grinders. In other words, he takes you behind closed doors of the professional tennis world and writes about topics and interactions, the tennis media never does.

The reviews are excellent…

A very enjoyable read, this paints a pretty grim picture of the sweat and toil of a mid-level pro player, picking up loss after loss after loss from Chile to Banja Luka to Siberia but it’s told in a charming voice and provides insight into the mentality of a pro-athlete. It has very many funny and moving moments, I laughed out loud 4 times, it’s an easy read which is honest and entertaining.

I normally loathe sports books, biographies included. They are turgid, ‘and then’ accounts with, possibly, a minor item thrown in to generate a few headlines and ignite ‘controversy’. When a sports book is good however, it can be great. This one IS great, to my mind. I do love tennis, and played it for many years. I have also been at many ATP tour events. But I don’t think a reader would need a tennis background to love this book. It chronicles in painful detail the highs and (mostly) lows of a hard-working, grafting, tennis professional who aims for the big time and falls agonisingly short. It’s well written, it’s gripping, he’s very honest about his own failings and where things went wrong. And, occasionally, when the stars aligned and things worked out. I loved it. Five stars.

A fascinating window into life on tour for “the other 99%” whose ceiling ended up being outside of the Top 100.

I really enjoyed Niland’s insights into the American college circuit and the chaotic, globetrotting existence that goes hand in hand with playing Challengers and Futures events in the hopes of gaining those all-important ranking points.

I also appreciated Niland’s matter-of-fact portrayal of the less glamorous aspects of professional tennis, from the gruelling, relentless grind necessary to even crack the Top 300 (especially if your national tennis federation does little to support you), to the match fixing, doping and hate-mail from angry bettors that sometimes happens in the background at these events.

It is quite fitting that I finished this book on the day Andy Murray retired from what was likely his last match at Queen’s, where he is the 5-time champion. Niland’s account of the kindness he and his mother Judy showed him multiple times throughout his career only served to consolidate my belief that he’s a stand-up guy (it also tickles me to know that Dimitrov was obsessed with watches even as a teen!).

I do vaguely remember the buzz at home that we had an Irishman playing at Wimbledon (meaning no offence to Niland – I was a teen at the time with a very old TV that had unreliable signal for BBC!), so it was very interesting to get an account of the Mannarino match from his point of view.

Ultimately, while I always knew the sport was ruthless and that Trojan amounts of work and tenacity is essential to even get by as a pro, this book has given me a newfound appreciation for what players go through to make even the smallest gain. I will be looking at unfamiliar names duking it out in Slam qualies with nothing but awe and the utmost respect and am really glad that Niland took the time to provide this fresh, underrepresented perspective.

I have not got my copy yet but can’t wait to read this excellent book on a subject all of the media rarely focuses on.

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  • catherine · July 9, 2024 at 4:20 am

    Most of the readable tennis books and tennis writing seem to be about players who don’t make it.

    I suppose those who do make it don’t have the time and/or depend on ghosts.

    ‘Open’ was an exception but I’ve never rated it as highly as some.

    From another, more pastoral, time ‘A Handful of Summers’ is still my favourite.

  • Scoop Malinowski · July 9, 2024 at 8:11 am

    Catherine, Open was superb because Agassi told the truth, he didn’t write a fairy tale PR story, he kept it totally real, the good the bad and the ugly. We know it tennis there is a dark side, most players don’t make it big. They are more relatable, they’ve seen it all, done it all, except winning those lottery grand slam finals.

  • Ryan B · July 10, 2024 at 8:33 am

    Scoop, thanks for the article – purchased the book and looking forward to reading it while in Newport next week for the last year of the 250 Hall of Fame Open.

    Break Point was a great book which detailed one year as Vince Spadea was on tour, authored by Dan Markowitz.

    Great read and Vince in my opinion was both an extremely talented and fun player to watch but at one point in his tennis career a “journeyman”

    Scoop look forward to hitting next week – maybe this is the year i take 1 game to 10 against you????

  • Scoop Malinowski · July 10, 2024 at 8:41 am

    Thrilled about this book also, yes Vince was called a journeyman by Agassi which inspired Vince to some of his best results. Yes we will hit, you should have whupped me last time )

  • Matt Segel · July 10, 2024 at 12:18 pm

    Doesn’t seem to be available on Amazon, at least in the US

  • Scoop Malinowski · July 10, 2024 at 9:40 pm

    Matt, sure? Ryan Balon just bought it, he’s in Rhode Island.

  • catherine · July 12, 2024 at 5:34 am

    It’s not listed on Amazon UK although I remember buying it a few years ago. Could be out of print. Abe books ?

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