I wanted to read The Circuit, Rowan Ricard Phillip’s book on the 2017 ATP season, since I heard him on the Beyond The Baseline podcast. Phillips came up with the idea for the book while recuperating from tearing his achilles on the basketball court. An accomplished writer and poet, the Manhattan-based Phillips would watch all the majors and travel to some while writing this exquisite book suitable for tennis nerds everywhere.
So what were the stories of 2017? The resurgence of Fed, whose surprise Aussie Open win that year was followed up by another Wimbledon title. 2017 was La Decima for Nadal at Roland Garros, and he also picked up the US Open title in an easy walk past Kevin Anderson. It was also a good season for Sasha Zverev and young American Frances Tiafoe, who took Fed to 5 sets in the first round of the Open. Phillips doesn’t cover Jack Sock, who is ranked as high as 15 during 2017 but would fall off to a subpar singles ranking in 2018. It was a disaster of a season for Murray, who started the season No. 1 but struggled with his hip injury all year. Nole, likewise, ended his season early with an elbow injury.
Phillips has some interesting reporting on Alexandr Dolgopolov, who suffers from Gilbert’s syndrome, which causes sudden exhaustion. He adjusted his style of play to limit his time on court. Phillips also has a soft spot for the diminutive Goffin, a player I barely follow.
Phillips saves some of his best pages for the talented and temperamental Aussie Nick Kyrgios. “Kyrgios is clearly bored. He’s not bored when he plays Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, or Murray. Adrenaline, opportunity, and pride run through the veins then. But aside from that? He loves basketball, he’s passionate about it. He ended up being better at tennis. Let’s leave his parents out of this and say tennis chose him. He hates to train. He hates to travel, the alpha and omega of being an elite tennis player; but let’s just say tennis chose him. He and tennis are at odds. And he lashes out at it. There’s not much in the way of sympathy or empathy that comes his way from people who have paid to see a proper match and, let’s be honest, aren’t inclined to root for him anyway because he’s brown, and recalcitrant is not what people pay to see at a Grand Slam or Masters 1000. Foolish but not stupid, he must sense this, because it looks like he carries this dark cloud often to the court with him.”
Besides the 2017 season, Phillips has a nice chapter on the creation of the clay court. You can find it as a stand along article in Paris Review here. #recommended