There's no better time than now to catch up on your reading, and if you're a tennis fan, look no farther than String Theory: David Foster Wallace On Tennis. For tennis aficionados everywhere, the five-essay collection boasts a permanent fixture on their bookshelves for good reason.

In fact, Andrea Petkovic is opening Racquet Magazine's Book Club with String Theory, which has prompted the tennis community to pick it up for the first time, or reread it more closely.


The first essay, "Derivative Sport in Tornado Alley" explains Wallace's background in the sport. A moderately accomplished junior player in Illinois, Wallace masters the wild winds of the Midwest—an unseen opponent many players wilt against.

Come for his story of a tornado crashing through the middle of a practice session, but stay for his description of one of the most classic chores in tennis: the butterfly drill. If you've ever done the tiresome exercise—one player hits down the line, the other hits cross court—you know exactly what Wallace is talking about here:

"...once the first pain and fatigue of butterflies are got through, if both guys are good enough so that there are few unforced errors to break up the rally, a kind of fugue-state opens up inside you where your concentration telescopes toward a still point and you lose awareness of your limbs..."

In his second essay "How Tracy Austin Broke My Heart" Wallace explains his utter disappointment with Austin's 1992 autobiography Beyond Center Court. Readers can be easily entertained by Wallace's viscous descriptions of players, but Wallace was actually a huge Austin fan.


His brutally honest reaction to Austin's book is something any sports' fan can relate to when it comes to mass produced memoirs. He goes beyond just a scathing review to dive into the psyche of an elite athlete: "Great athletes usually turn out to be stunning inarticulate about just those qualities and experiences that constitute their fascination."

Watch, or read, almost any interview with a pro about what they were thinking or feeling during a particularly brilliant moment of a match, and the answers will always be regurgitated cliches.

"The real secret behind top athletes' genius, then, maybe as as esoteric and obvious and dull and profound as silence itself," Wallace writes, emphasizing that "nothing at all" goes through their minds.

The third essay is arguably Wallace's best, "Michael Joyce's Professional Artistry". Wallace trails a young Joyce around as he plays the Rogers Cup qualifying rounds in Montreal. More than just dissecting the painful grind of a lower-level pro's life, Wallace also comes to the cold, hard realization of his own tennis skills: "I resolve not even to let Joyce know that I used to play competitive tennis, to play seriously and (I'd presumed) rather well. This makes me sad."


It's in this essay that you'll find what might be Wallace's most famous sentence, "I submit that tennis is the most beautiful sport there is, and also the most demanding."

The fourth essay "Democracy and Commerce at the U.S. Open" is a no holds barred take of what it's like to be a spectator at Flushing Meadows in 1995. He dissects food court prices, ticket scams, sponsorships signs and the players themselves (he really unpacks his hatred of Andre Agassi). He describes the American as "scrawny and faggy, and with his shaved skulls and beretish hat and black shoes and socks and patchy goatee, like somebody just released from reform school..."

The fifth and final essay is passionately focused on Roger Federer, and is the most famous of the five. "Federer Both Flesh and Not" introduces something called "Federer Moments" which any tennis fan has witnessed, most likely on TV but if they're lucky, live.

All in all, String Theory is a must-read for anyone that's remotely interested in tennis. Beautifully written and boldly unfiltered, Wallace digs into and exposes the delicate nerve endings on some of the most sensitive topics in the sport.

Wallace wrote a number of other influential books including Infinite Jest, A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, The Pale King, The Broom of the System, and more. A longtime sufferer of depression, he committed suicide in 2008 at the age of 46.

Book Review: David
Foster Wallace's
String Theory

Book Review: David Foster Wallace's String Theory