The Circuit by Rowan Ricardo Phillips [8/10]

Book-length sports writing is heroic and tough. A tennis player myself, it saddens me that I had not read an engaging tennis tome for many years. Thankfully the situation is now rectified, for poet Rowan Ricardo Phillips has penned a humdinger: “The Circuit: A Tennis Odyssey.” Phillips spent 2017 immersed in the annual tennis circuit, a sequence of major tournaments bookmarked during each of the seasons by the Grand Slams, commencing with the Australian Open around Australia Day in January, then proceeding with the French Open from the end of May, then resplendent at Wimbledon in July, before exploding with the U.S. Open concluding in early September. Phillips’s electrifying plotting device is that at the start of 2017, Federer and Nadal seem to be has-beens, while Djokovich and Murray reign supreme – will the year pan out that way? Interspersed global rankings narrate the bones of the story, but the drama lies in the author’s bold and stylish take on each tournament. I was swept up by his alternately lyrical or noirish descriptions of key matches. Beyond the top four players, another two dozen or so are beautifully showcased. I don’t know how but Phillips has turned a year of commercial tennis into a grand pageant of grand clashes between the grandest of athletes. Even if you don’t watch tennis, come read “The Circuit“: it’s a tour de force.

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