I know I’m a little late to the review party on this book but I’m just now getting around to finishing “Hardcourt Confidential: Tales From Twenty Yeats in the Pro Tennis Trenches” by Patrick McEnroe with Peter Bodo. I wasn’t sure what to expect out of this read but I can say I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. This isn’t Andre Agassi’s “Open”, a memoir that got more press for Agassi’s stunning revelations instead of its superb prose, but “Hardcourt Confidential” gives readers a fine look into many sides of the tennis world, albeit from a very American focused point of view with emphasis on the ATP Tour and Davis Cup.
Even though “Hardcourt Confidential” is structured to follow the sport’s January to December season, the chapters actually adhere more to a rather loose and scattered timeline of McEnroe’s own accomplishments as a player, including winning the 1989 French Open doubles title with Jim Grabb, his work as Captain of the U.S. Davis Cup team, his television broadcast experience and his player development work for the USTA, all sprinkled with memories of growing up with his more famous and more outspoken brother John McEnroe. Structure aside, McEnroe doesn’t disappoint readers with his often birds-eye view from the broadcast booth and inside the locker room experiences with the sport’s biggest names, But there’s no big “Agassi-like” revelations made by McEnroe, especially about his older brother, that fans who follow the sport on regular basis wouldn’t know already.
Following Davis Cup has never been a priority for me, but I actually found McEnroe’s stories of past ties with Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras, Andy Roddick, the Bryan Brothers and others the most interesting and engaging part of the book. Though some view Davis Cup as an antiquated and even meaningless part of the sport, how McEnroe discusses the passion and commitment that players put into representing their countries, not to mention how important Davis Cup ties are for the USTA, the ITF and other international tennis organizations, explains a lot as to why Davis Cup continues even though its current structure keeps being criticized. The passages on McEnroe’s experiences in Davis Cup are far and away the best part of the book.
Peter Bodo’s contribution is noticeable and welcome. Up to a point. Sometimes Bodo’s “voice”, very evident to those who read his other work, draws too much attention away from McEnroe at times, especially those that focus on the sport’s history and various “what if” scenarios such as what would happen if Bjorn Borg played Rafael Nadal with today’s equipment and others. Some readers like that stuff, but I personally don’t so I found myself skimming through those parts to get back to McEnroe’s own first hand accounts including must-read passages on why James Blake is the enigma that he is, what it feels like to rally with Roger Federer and a funny and touching story of an encounter the U.S. Davis Cup team had with a waitress only known as “the old goat” in Birmingham, Alabama.
This book obviously isn’t for everyone, but even with its flawed structure, “Hardcourt Confidential” gives tennis fans an honest and up-close account of McEnroe’s quite unique career of being involved in the sport for over 30 years in so many different capacities, something few players, coaches or even TV analysts can boast about. And that in itself makes “Hardcourt Confidential” if not a must buy, then a definite selection during your next visit to your local library.
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