Monday, 27 May 2013

Court Confidential

Neil Harman, is a renowned and highly respected Tennis correspondent for The Times having previously held the same post with the Sunday Telegraph and Daily Mail.  Mr. Harman releases his new book Court Confidential: Inside the World of Tennis, published by The Robson Press.

Court Confidential is a year in the life of a tennis correspondent, as our man travels from continent to continent, country to country, surface to surface following the great names of the modern era - Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Britain's own elite sportsman, Andy Murray as these men chase titles on grass, clay and hard courts for the prestige of the number one World ranking.

Starting in December 2011, with the announcement of Andy Murray's newly appointed coach, Ivan Lendl, up to the end of the momentous year in 2012 which saw Murray lay to rest the ghost of Fred Perry with both his first Grand Slam title and Olympic Gold on home turf during London 2012.

However, this is not just a book about the rise and ascension of Murray to the summit of tennis, but Harman uses the book to show us details of behind-the-scene information of which is not normally divulged in daily tennis columns and feature pieces and gives good scope for both the men's and women's game - his coverage of the women's game comes across as respectful and admiring especially his close relationship with Victoria Azarenka.

Journalists used to write books like this all the time, an expose about the 'real' tennis as a means of getting a message across.  Unfortunately, those books (mostly in football and ghost written) would descend into gossip material, however, Harman uses his unique access to paint a picture of a sport still evolving with the demands its success has breed - having to deal with the gruelling year-long schedule, his conversations with Justin Gimelstob show a player's reprsentative on the ATP board desperate to save the players from this treadmill - especially the top four - before they succumb to injury and burn-out, as is apparent with the disappearance of Nadal from the last 100 pages of the book owing to his continual knee problems.

One telling contribution amongst the many interviews conducted by such big name contacts (a fact that never becomes sheer name dropping), is the email sent to him by Amer Delic, a Bosnian by birth now of American citizenship, which highlighted all the monetary downfall of playing Grand Slam tennis such as the Australian Open in Melbourne in January.

Delic reacts to those who criticise as to why players who lose a first round Grand Slam match are guaranteed just under $20,000.  In two paragraphs he explains how a player loses 30% to tax leaving him $14,000. The minimum $3,000 round trip from Los Angeles to Melbourne in economy, which is costly but also physically arduous for a 6' 5" tennis player with a surgically repaired knee. You add on a ticket for his coach, three weeks of hotels at $100 per night plus food per day means the average player is down $1,120 by the time he returns to American soil.  He jokes that it would be easier to declare himself a charity or a non-profit organisation.  Sadly, Delic retired from the professional tour in August 2012 and is now assistant coach at the University of Florida.

Harman takes you back to those amazing two months in Andy Murray's career when he became the first British man since Bunny Austin to reach the Wimbledon final only to lose to a resilient Roger Federer, then to return to Centre Court three weeks later to oust the Swiss for the Olympic Gold medal in straight sets no less with incredible poise and strength.  Then the piece de resistance in Flushing Meadow, New York when Murray beat Novak Djokovic to win his first Grand Slam title.

Reading Harman's prose is very different to that of his Times reports.  Whilst the Times writing comes across as a voice of authority and distinction; in the book in general there is a real joie de vivre about the whole proceedings and you get a real sense of Harman personal sense of pride and satisfaction in witnessing Murray's victories on this scale having had to suffer so many near misses with Greg Rusedski and Tim Henman, followed by the lack of funding for a sport that is so beloved in this country.

Harman is not just a reporter, most importantly his voice as a fan reads loudest - his passionate voice and belief that the Lawn Tennis Association should not waste this obvious opportunity to cement Murray's legacy and influence to make sure he is writing about other future British champions for years to come.

The book is a wonderful gift to not only Tennis fans but sport fans in general and those who want to see behind the enigmatic characters that intrigue us for weeks throughout the year -

The best complimetn for the book and a metaphor that Mr. Harman would approve of is - Court Confidential as crisp and neat as a Stanislas Warwinka one-handed backhand, and just like that shot it is a winner.

Harman's book is ultimately timely and in future years will become a veritable time capsule book for future generations of this memorable golden era of tennis.

Court Confidential is out on Monday 27th May from The Robson Press fror £20 RRP in hardback and also available in e-book format from all the providers.

Follow Neil Harman on twitter @NeilHarmanTimes
Follow The Robson Press @TheRobsonPress

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