I was looking for a book to read for an upcoming plane trip and thought this might be a chance to make a dent in the stack of tennis books on my nightstand. Yes, I admit it. I haven’t yet read Andre Agassi’s autobiography. And his pensive cover photo staring out at me makes me feel really bad about that.
But I can’t help it. I like what I like. So instead of delving into Agassi’s angst, I decided to re-read a book on tennis that I’ve read a couple of times already but always get a lot out of. This time it was Winning Ugly by Brad Gilbert. But it could have been one of several other tennis books that I never tire of reading. So here is my list of all-time favorite tennis books. These are the books I think should be on the book shelf or night stand of any tennis player who loves the game.
Arthur Ashe on Tennis: Strokes, Strategy, Traditions, Players, Psychology, and Wisdom, by Arthur Ashe with Alexander McNabb – I love this book for its calm, its-within-my-grasp approach to tennis. While Arthur Ashe wasn’t around to see all of the changes we see on the pro circuit today (powerful racquets, indestructible strings, open-stance strokes, exaggerated grips), you and I aren’t playing on the pro circuit (well, I’m not anyway), so a lot of his points are still valid for club players like us, out to have fun and play some competitive tennis. He gives lots and lots of bullet-point tips on strokes and strategy – quick to read, easy to understand, just about perfect.
Winning Ugly: Mental Warfare in Tennis – Lessons from a Master, by Brad Gilbert and Steve Jamison – Well, this is just a classic. If you’re brand new to tennis and want a quick course in how to look like you’re not a complete idiot, this is the book to read. Whatever you may think of Brad Gilbert (I think he’s a little too quick with the nicknames), he has laid out exactly how someone with only a modicum of athleticism and tennis talent can become a pretty good player. Fast. Next time your opponent wins the spin and choose to start the match by receiving rather than serving, you can rest assured that they have read this book.
Tennis Beyond Big Shots, by Greg Moran – If there was ever a book that should be required reading for ALL tennis players, this is it. Greg’s philosophy is that consistency and control, not power and aggression, are the foundations to a great tennis game. I like this book because it not only covers tennis strokes and strategy, but it also has chapters dealing with the mental game, etiquette, and dealing with lessons and pros.
Vic Braden’s Mental Tennis: How to Psych Yourself to a Winning Game, by Vic Braden and Robert Wool – Speaking of the mental game, this one covers it all. We all know that your mental game is just as important as your physical game in tennis. And this book can help address and repair virtually any mental problem you’re having out on court. Pretty much anything written by Vic Braden will help your tennis, but I love this one for its in-depth treatment of all kinds psychological.
Extraordinary Tennis for the Ordinary Player, by Simon Ramo – This books was first published in 1977 and I bought my copy for 50 cents at a thrift store. But this is also one of my favorites, full of tips and insights that are just as useful today as they were 35 years ago. This book pulls no punches – it is clearly aimed at “ordinary,” even “mediocre,” players. The book then goes on to tell you how to win at ordinary tennis – which is a lot different from what it takes to win at pro tennis. Plus, the book is full of stick figure diagrams populated by players with memorable names. While I was lucky enough to grab this book up for 50 cents, it is worth whatever investment you have to make if you can find it.
The Art of Lawn Tennis, by Bill Tilden – Although it was first published over 90 years ago, this book is full of incredible insights and instruction that are useful today. Bill Tilden was a World No. 1 for seven years and won 14 Majors, including 10 Grand Slams. In 1920, he became the first American to win a Wimbledon singles title. Although his book was first published over 90 years ago, his insights and instruction on basic strokes, fundamental skills and techniques are still incredible useful and on-point. I originally got this book on my Kindle First for free and am not sure you can still get it there. But if you find this book somewhere, get it. It’s good.
Tennis and the Meaning of Life: A Literary Anthology of the Game, edited by Jay Jennings – While this book isn’t going to change your tennis game or reveal the meaning of life, it is a fun read and will definitely surprise you with the number of high-caliber authors who have said something about tennis. Authors excerpted include J. P. Donleavy, W. Somerset Maugham, A. A. Milne, and Vladimir Nabakov. This book is the perfect gift for your favorite tennis team captain.
Friend at Court: The USTA Handbook of Tennis Rules and Regulations – In my opinion, you should always have a tennis rule book with you when you go to play a match. It is amazing how many times people act like they know the rule on something and are just dead wrong. And I love to correct those sadly misinformed people. The rule book I carry around is the handy handbook that you receive once your become a tennis official – Friend at Court. (Do you remember that I’m a USTA tennis official? Yes, I’m a very low level tennis official, but still.) This book not only has the very latest version of the ITF Rules of Tennis, it also has The Code, and all of the USTA’s tennis regulations (which are important for tournament players). I like this book because (1) it has everything regarding tennis rules and regulations all collected in one place, (2) it’s small enough to carry around in my tennis bag, and (3) when I whip it out people look confused, frightened and (occasionally) impressed. There is a free pdf version of Friend at Court on the USTA’s website (you can find it by clicking on “Friend at Court” on the Officials page). You can also buy one in the USTA’s web shop for only $8.95 which is a deal.
If you’d like to know more about any of these books, I’ve written more complete reviews for several of them. Just click on the title below to see my review:
Have I left any great tennis books off the list? What are your favorites? Let me know in the comments below.
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