Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Break Point: The inside Story of Modern Tennis

Kevin Mitchell is a writer this reader has long admired, from his work on The Guardian and The Observer to his appearances on Cricket Writers on TV.  A born Australian who has slowly become more English in his years, due to the demand and pains of watching English cricket every summer.  Mitchell writes but also specialises in the trifecta of boxing, cricket and finally tennis.

Mitchell makes no pains about being given the role of Tennis correspondent as a means of cutbacks, he admits tennis is not his forte, nevertheless he remains a journalist who sits merely three rows from the court at Flushing Meadow whilst the four gladiators of this golden era; Rafa Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and our own Andy Murray.

Following a similar template to his contemporary, Neil Harman (The Times), in his Court Confidential, it is Mitchell's point of view of the tennis treadmill tour full of off the beaten track destinations as well as the glitz of Paris, Monaco and New York.  Whilst Harman's position allowed him to garner juicy pieces of gossip focusing at times in he women's game thanks to his friendship with Victoria Azarenka; Mitchell seeks out the male side of the ATP indulging the chance to encounter Mats Wilander who offers great interview material.

Whilst the male side of the game is eclipsed by the big four, Mitchell is intrigued to consider the past asking if legends like Boris Becker and Pat Cash could compete in this modern game.  Whilst those guys were purveyors of touch and feel, today's players are all about power, strength and muscle.  The chapter where Mitchell par takes in a mere smidgen of Andy Murray's brutal winter workouts in Miami puts in sharp context the lengths these players go to for the extra dimension to achieve victory.  Whereas when Mitchell asks Becker how fit he was, the German replies in the inquisitive, 'Do you think we weren't fit?'

The interviews with Cash and Wilander are intriguing as they long for a time in tennis where it was less predictable to name the winner of a tournament.  Mitchell is at pains to make clear how shocking it was to see both Nadal and Federer lose at Wimbledon to Steve Darcis and Sergei Stakhovsky respectively.  Yet the author is more surprised by Federer's departure, especially as he greatest tennis player of all time could not adapt to a serve and volley onslaught.

Similarly to Simon Barnes of The Times, reserves his greatest admiration for the Swiss superstar who is as close to a Pele or Muhammed Ali as the sport has had - universally admired and the personification of the sport full of grace and balletic quality coupled with a dignity and gentlemanly charm.

Yet by the end, Mitchell becomes much like Ernest Gulbis who called out the top four for being boring; the author yearns for a time of surprises.  Whilst this is undoubtedly a golden era for the sport, Mitchell makes you more aware that without the excellence of Federer the sport would not have the exposure and money at its core.  As he makes the point for certain players, Federer has earned over $60m in prize money and an extra $75m in endorsements.  The conclusion remains that without Federer and his intoxicating rivalry with Nadal, there would be no coat tails for Djokovic and Murray to hang to.

Not that Mitchell does Murray a disservice in the book, although his acknowledgement towards Murray is genuinely touching.

Written with clarity and expertise as expected it also includes the most concise explanation of Marin Cilic's suspension I can recall.

Out now on hardback and eBook, seek it out

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