Friday, September 9, 2011

A highly entertaining snapshot into the most colorful era tennis - and perhaps any sport - has ever seen.

As the U.S. Open winds down in New York, it's a great time to look back at the "Golden Age" of tennis when legends such as Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors and Vitas Gerulaitis ruled the court.  In his book High Strung, available now at, Stephen Tignor vividly tells of the tumultuous time when tennis was unquestionably and forever changed from a "gentleman's game" to a media-driven spectacle filled with a colorful cast of characters unrivaled before or since.

Although several players from the era are profiled, Tignor focuses mainly on Borg - the Swedish heartthrob who burst onto the tennis scene by advancing to the Wimbledon Quarterfinals in 1973 despite being just 17 years old - and McEnroe, the Long Island-bred "super brat" whose amazing tennis skills were often overshadowed by his on court histrionics.  Borg, whose nickname morphed from "Teen Angel" to "The Silent Assassin", was easily the most dominant force in tennis is the late 1970's, amassing 11 Grand Slam titles, including five straight at Wimbledon from 1976-1980.  McEnroe would be the one to end the Swede's Wimbledon dominance, beating him in the 1981 final for one of his seven career Grand Slam titles. The book culminates with the exciting 1981 U.S. Open, where McEnroe again topped Borg and after which Borg, still unquestionably one of the greatest players in the world, shocked the tennis world by announcing his retirement.  Although he would play in a few more tournaments, Borg never again played in a Grand Slam tennis match.

Tignor goes to great care to differentiate the styles and public perceptions of the two players, yet is careful not to fall into the easy trap of vilifying McEnroe.  Instead, he focuses on the deep respect the two vastly different individuals held for another, a respect that grew to an eventual friendship which continues to this day.  The author's admiration for these legends of tennis is obvious, but High Strung doesn't come across as an oversimplified fan letter. Instead, it is a highly entertaining snapshot into the most colorful era tennis - and perhaps any sport - has ever seen.

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