Review: “Strokes of Genius”

Strokes of Genius

Steve Flink has posted a review of the upcoming “Strokes of Genius” book that Jon Wertheim wrote about the 2008 Wimbledon final. (Available for pre-order from

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.”

Some did.

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!

17 Responses

  1. rez says:

    This is awesome. I wish they also had it on DVD.

  2. SA says:

    I will so be getting this when it comes out.

    • dutchgirl says:

      Me too! And I’ve always thought that a big part of Rafa’s succes comes from the combination of the great person and player he is, and the influence uncle Toni has.

  3. faecoleman says:

    I agree, definately one to buy. I too truly believe that Rafael and his Uncle Toni must have a real special relationship, Toni himself has said that he doesn’t know how Rafa has done the things he does, and is amazed too how he achieves what he does at times, oh and that bit about Rafa consoling his Uncle is amazing, who would have thought that..? What a wonderful champion he is, there’ll never be another sportsperson like Rafael Nadal.. I really look forward to reading this book. Thank you

  4. tiemyshoe says:

    So excited for this book. I love how Uncle Toni is the ‘star’ of it. And I’m kind of glad even that because he’s rather verbose, Rafa can keep it pretty close to the chest.

  5. miri says:

    Woot! I just got a notice from Amazon that my copy is shipping.

    • tiemyshoe says:

      Whee! You’ll have to do a review once you finish reading it! I’m going to buy it, too, but I’ve already exploded my budget for books this term for school. Maybe I’ll wait for my library to order it, ha.

  6. Denizen says:

    Yes, please review it, since I am too cheap to buy it blindly. :) I think several people have gotten their hands on the latest Rafa bio and haven’t said anything about it (such as whether they’ve been motivated to read it).

    I expect quality writing from Wertheim, but it may be hard to stretch a tennis match into a book-length opus.

  7. patzin says:

    I got this book yesterday. Read it in one “sitting” until 3am. Couldn’t put it down. Great book, exciting in a way, to relive the match emotionally. Great insight and info regarding both Roger and Rafa. Good read.

  8. miri says:

    You guys want a review from someone who’s spent her educational career avoiding book reports? Just go read Flink’s review! Between that and patzin’s, we have two big thumbs up. (You know, I should go check my porch – perhaps the book his here.)

  9. miri says:

    Okay, I’ve read the book. It’s a good read – not a “heavy” or long one. I felt like we were given more info on Roger’s background than Rafa, but that could just be because more of that was new to me, you know?

    Anyway, for me, it was worth the price of admission for two stories.


    Before the weekend, Costa kept nagging Rafa to shave for a promo thing he needed to do. Rafa kept demurring. When they practiced before the final, Costa noticed Rafa had shaved. Costa was happy and said Rafa would now look presentable for the message.

    Oh, no, said Nadal, his decision to shave wasn’t based on that. Flatly, and without boasting, he explained. “When you win Wimbledon, you want to look your best.”

    #2 – during the rain delay in the fifth set Rafa told Toni to try not to sleep this time (he napped during the first rain delay.

    Toni said, “I liked the position you were in a lot better the last time I was here.” Rafa smiled back and shook his head.

    Toni then did a pep talk – you shoudln’t be the one losing, do the right things, don’t lose confidence, etc

    Nadal set and listened. When he uncle had finished, the player spoke, not boastfully, just matter-of-factly. “You know last year, when I lost, I said I don’t know if I’m ever going to be in the final again?”

    “Yes”, said Toni.

    “Well, I know I told you that, but here I am in the final and it’s not going to happen. I’m going to make it. And if I don’t make it because I lose in the end, I will make in the next year. Stay calm.”

    Toni looked up, “You’re telling me to stay calm?”

    “Stay calm. I lost the two tiebreakers but he didn’t break my serve in either set. I won the first and second sets, no? Why can’t I win the fifth set too?”

    Toni and Maymo went back out and when asked by the family how Rafa was doing, Toni

    shook his head. “Either he’s the best actor alive, making great theater, or he’s actually very relaxed.”

    And I truly believe that is why Rafa won.

    • tiemyshoe says:

      Amazing, isn’t it? The shaving part makes me smile. It’s interesting that he didn’t shave for the RG final, but did for Wimbledon – gotta look nice for the posh crowd.

      • miri says:

        It made me smile too.

        Nothing against RG, but I think Wimbledon was bigger dream for him and felt like more of an almost impossible accomplishment.

    • patzin says:

      great review. I agree Roger was more prominent in the book, but I thought the one portion of the book on Rafa’s background was excellent. I think the comparisons were fair and on point. I will prob re-read to see what I missed the first time. I actually got another point of view re: Roger’s personality.

      • miri says:

        I think Roger’s prominence might be due to the fact that originally the book was to be about his record breaking Wimbly win. ;)

        And yes, I think the author tried to compare and contrast the two players without falling too much into the “artist/basher” traps and point out how each player had a bit of artist and a bit of basher in them.

        And I too found the bits on Roger’s childhood/youth to be interesting.

  10. faecoleman says:

    I agree Miri, Wimbledon was really special to him after losing to Roger in the past 2 finals especially in 2007, I love the part about the reason for him shaving, he was that confident he could do it and thats exactly the reason he did. I can’t wait to get this book, when I can afford it of course. Thanks again, great reading!

  11. somarem says:

    Thanks for putting up the review and your own review miri