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Saturday, February 3, 2007

Book Review: Paul Fein's You Can Quote Me on That (Foreword by Billie Jean King)

With a full-fledged blizzard swirling outside, it’s a good time to curl up with a book, or to write a review of one.

Paul Fein’s You Can Quote Me On That, isn’t a classic page-turner, full of mystery, plot and intrigue. It’s just what it sounds like--a collection of quotes about tennis.

Although it consists of 35 chapters, a necessity for organizing the vast material, I still found it difficult to stop when reaching a chapter’s conclusion.

Under the chapter entitled "The Feminine Mystique" for example, Fein ends with a quote from Anna Kournikova saying:

You cannot just be a great tennis player, or just be a beautiful person anymore to succeed in the game. You have to have it all, the talent, the looks, the brains and the drive.

The next chapter, "Paeans To the Champions", starts with this praise for Pete Sampras from Jim Courier:
He can hit shots the rest of us can’t hit and don’t even think of hitting.

And then continues as Becker, Agassi, McEnroe and Emerson assess Pete’s standing in the tennis pantheon.

What makes the book more than a sum of its considerable parts is the sense of history that pervades it. Nineteen twenties star Bill Tilden, who wrote several books on tennis, is quoted regularly, and we hear from Jack Kramer on early professional men’s tennis, Billie Jean King on the struggles of the women’s tour, Arthur Ashe on the class and race barriers, Martina Navratilova on sexual orientation. Not to mention Gussie Moran’s panties and Suzanne Lenglen’s rock star status in the 20s.

It’s a whirlwind tour of tennis history in doses as small or large as you like and it's also a reminder that the more tennis changes, the more it stays the same.

I’ll close with two of my favorite quotes:
Under these absurd and antiquated amateur rules, only a wealthy person can compete, and the fact of the matter is that only wealthy people do compete. Is that fair? Does it advance the sport? Does it makes tennis more popular—or does it tend to suppress and hinder an enormous amount of tennis talent lying dormant in the bodies of young men and women whose names are not in the social register.
Certainly there does not appear to be anything much wrong with the game of tennis itself, although proposals for changing it always are with us. There has been little change since the rules were settled upon and possibly improvement can be had by changing some rules, but a game so stylized as tennis should be treated with great restraint. One of the things wrong may be that so many people keep trying to alter it to suit other people who do not really play it.

The first quote is from Suzanne Lenglen, circa 1920s; the second from Al Laney in 1968.

Autographed copies of the book are available by contacting Paul Fein via the website www.tennisquotes.com.