Book Review: Strokes of Genius


Wimbledon is my least favorite tournament. I hate the all-white rule. I hate that the grass gets cut up and causes injuries nearly every year. See also Bethany Mattek-Sands. It starts late, and the players don’t play on the middle Sunday. It rains. All. The. Time.

That said, I literally watched Strokes of Genius four times, so I thought it was time to read the book. Author Jon Wertheim is an entertaining commentator, and while he covers all five sets of this final, he fills each with tidbits about tennis, the All England Club, and about the players themselves.

The most interesting parts for me: Hawk-Eye is named for its creator, a 30-something (at the time) Brit named Paul Hawkins. The system employs 10 evenly spaced high definition cameras and projects the probably path of the ball to within 3.6 millimeters.

Federer does not have “tennis parents.” His father Robert worked for Ciba and traveled to South Africa, where he met Roger’s mother, Lynette. There are no great athletes in the family, and Wertheim describes Robert as 5’7″ish with sausage fingers. Lynette comes across as the bigger force when she takes an 8-year-old Roger to the local TC Old Boys club and says, “Here is Roger. I think he can already hit many shots. Maybe you can train him.”

Since they travel so much, appear worldly, and are usually only asked about sports, it’s easy to forget that professional tennis players don’t always have a lot of formal education. Roger left school at 16. Roger had a tendency to break racquets and throw things on court when he lost but says he gained confidence after winning his first grand slam.

Rafa, by contrast, was never allowed to throw racquets and Uncle Toni stressed that the shoes and equipment he was given were expensive and to be treated with care. Roger didn’t initially employ an agent and negotiated a poor initial Nike contract. Mirka took over the reigns of the Fed empire and now manages his interviews and appearances and helped design the RF logo.

Wilson spent more than a year designing Roger’s new racquet. Rafa will almost literally play with any AeroPro Drive you give him. Babolat describes him as the perfect pitchman. Wins a lot of matches. Isn’t very picky. Rafa plays with Babolat because that’s what Carlos Moya used. Moya is also from Mallorca and is currently Rafa’s coach. Rafa plays in very tight shoes because that’s what soccer players do. Not sure what to make of that one.

Strokes of Genius is an interesting and fast tennis read. My copy is going to a sports obsessed fellow traveler. It is available at the library. The movie is very different, so go ahead and watch that too.