Winner of the 2019 PEN/ESPN Award for Literary Sports Writing
In The Circuit: A Tennis Odyssey, the award-winning poet—and Paris Review sports columnist—Rowan Ricardo Phillips chronicles 2017 as seen through the unique prism of its pivotal, revelatory, and historic tennis season. The annual tennis schedule is a rarity in professional sports in that it encapsulates the calendar year. And like the year, it’s divided into four seasons, each marked by a final tournament: the Grand Slams.
Phillips charts the year from winter’s Australian Open, where Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal renewed their rivalry in a match for the ages, to fall’s U.S. Open. Along the way, Phillips paints a new, vibrant portrait of tennis, one that captures not only the emotions, nerves, and ruthless tactics of the point-by-point game but also the quicksilver movement of victory and defeat on the tour, placing that sense of upheaval within a broader cultural and social context. Tennis has long been thought of as an escapist spectacle: a bucolic, separate bauble of life.
The Circuit will convince you that you don’t leave the world behind as you watch tennis—you bring it with you.
"Phillips reveals his love of tennis on every page. There is a generosity of spirit toward the reader . . . a joy to read: a poet’s love song to the game of tennis."—Geoff Macdonald, The New York Times Book Review
“As an aficionado and player, Phillips is especially attuned to tennis’ weirdness among other sports . . . Phillips’ lyrical impulses ignite his compressed, efficient, accurate, lively and always liquid prose . . . Phillips wields his prose like an elegant, one-handed backhand, fending off florid metaphors and deflecting the canards about sports, to present the tour’s basic process: the sport is a distraction.”—Walton Muyumba, Los Angeles Times
“The touchstone for any tennis writer is John McPhee, who wrote Levels of the Game, the finest book in the history of the sport. Mr. Phillips has writing skills comparable to Mr. McPhee’s, which is high praise.”—Tom Perrotta, The Wall Street Journal
“Phillips keeps the pages turning with an easy yet exacting style and keen observations. Tennis nerds in particular will enjoy his parsing of Federer’s retooled backhand . . . Phillips’s wit suffuses this text . . . The Circuit is a welcome palate cleanser, a license to enjoy an underrated sport at its best. It’s a love letter that looks to inspire a new generation of fans to watch through the darkness, and to motivate the older zealots among us to keep spreading the gospel to all corners."—Andrew Lawrence, The Atlantic
"Rowan Ricardo Phillips’s The Circuit is a tennis romance, and unique. Phillips knows the love. He is a sportswriter and poet, and remarkably, because tennis love isn’t easy to explain, he has found the right supple, sometimes tactile, and tender language for it."—Lynne Tillman, Bookforum
Reviews from Goodreads
PART ONE Winter
JANUARY 1, 2017: BRISBANE 1.0
Break point. Match point. Brisbane.
The first tournament of the year. The first day of the first month of 2017.
I had been waiting for this moment since last summer—my...