Writing with clarity and superb interpretive insight, conveying a depth of appreciation for both players that few of his peers could equal, building drama across chapter after chapter, Wertheim does a masterful job of allowing all of us to revisit an incomparable occasion. He helps readers to better understand the subtle shadings of the Federer-Nadal contest. He allows fans to remember why they were so emotionally immersed in a Centre Court epic. He reminds everyone why this clash mattered so much to both diehard aficionados as well as sports fans that rarely pay attention to tennis.
Good. I was hoping for something that would cover both the geeky tennis deets and the bigger picture.
I have read a number of interviews previously with Uncle Toni, and in most cases he seemed reluctant to reveal much of substance. But he may well be the star of Wertheim’s book. Here he is portrayed in a different light, and it is more apparent than ever that his influence with his famous nephew has been even more far reaching than we ever knew. Moreover, Wertheim’s savvy reporting takes us into the locker room during the two rain delays, and we are drawn into some fascinating dialogue between player and mentor. As Wertheim describes the conversation between Uncle Toni and Nadal during the rain delay at 2-2 in the fifth set, a remarkable role reversal takes place as Nadal reassures his uncle and urges him to stay calm.
The idea that it was Rafa calming Toni down during that fifth set rain delay blows my mind.
Reflecting on the role of Uncle Toni in “Strokes of Genius”, Wertheim says, “A lot of the information from him came when I spoke to him at the U.S. Open. If you stuck a microphone in his face that Sunday night at Wimbledon after the match, you wouldn’t get the same stuff he would say in a more relaxed environment later on. Uncle Toni is a fascinating guy. I think Nadal’s tennis is terrific but as a subject I had a hard time [with him] because he is a tough nut to crack. That is part of what makes him so good. Even in press conferences, when he gets asked something that is personal and isn’t about forehands and backhands, he is very guarded and he usually gives an uncolorful response.”
Well, colorful if not exactly revealing.
Not so with Uncle Toni. As Wertheim pointed out to me, “Uncle Toni is very thoughtful. In tennis we are sort of prejudiced when we see a family member coaching a player. We assume the worst. But this guy Uncle Toni really knows his tennis and is very smart and a bit of an eccentric. He is not what we are used to in that role. You hear about a tennis player’s uncle coaching him and instinctively roll your eyes and assume it is only a matter of time until that player gets smart and finds a real coach. But Uncle Toni is really a great tennis mind, and I don’t think a lot of people knew that.”
In the end, Wertheim turned out an honorable piece of work, one that will appeal across the board to fans, and one that will enhance the landscape of tennis literature. I was there on that momentous day at Wimbledon as well, and I have had the great pleasure of watching the battle play out again several times on my ESPN, NBC and BBC tapes. But I thank Jon Wertheim for giving me the chance to reexamine the Federer-Nadal epic though the clear lens of an excellent journalist, and I urge you to add this book to your library.
Sounds like it’s two thumbs up!