SHORT CIRCUIT by Michael Mewshaw


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Novelist/journalist Mewshaw (Land Without Shadow, Life for Death) was ""longing to write something lighthearted""--so he decided to follow the men's professional-tennis tour for a few months. (""I hoped that the. . . mesmerizing geometry of the game would elevate me to that state of grace which men experience in the face of any action. . . that is infused with genius."") Rather predictably, though, the awfully naive Mewshaw was soon disillusioned, finding a narrow, commercial pro-tennis world--with evidence of rule-breaking and shady-dealing everywhere. Starting out at a World Championship Tennis tournament in Genoa, Mewshaw learns to his horror that ""pro tennis was merely entertainment"". . . and over-commercialized: he talks to an umpire who was fired for refusing to wear a brand-name warmup suit. Then it's on to Strasbourg, Milan, and Nice--with accumulating rumors about gambling, ""tanking"" (purposely losing), favoritism (""Did the close calls always go to the higher-ranked player?""), bribe-susceptible umpires, illegal money paid to players Oust for showing up), and prize-splitting deals between players. At the French Open veteran tennis-reporter Bud Collins confirms it: ""The game is a scandal."" But everyone else Mewshaw talks to tries to gloss over or stonewall when it comes to infractions. (""I thought I had lost the capacity to be appalled by anything on the circuit. But I was mistaken."") Then Mewshaw really gets mad, at Wimbledon, perhaps in part because he is given a humiliatingly low press-status there: he attacks ""the tendrils of hypocrisy"" at Wimbledon, the arrogance, the plummy BBC announcers--though he must admit that there's nothing ""rigged or corrupt"" there. And finally, in N.Y. for the US Open, Mewshaw applauds the democratic noisiness of Flushing Meadows but ends up interviewing John McEnroe, Sr., who responds to questions about rule-breaking and star-favoritism by attacking the rules themselves: ""I felt I had not only come the full sickening circle, I had short-circuited."" When not indulging in self-righteous rhetoric and shrill (yet oddly limp) muckraking, however, Mewshaw does offer diverting glimpses of the tour-life: spacey Bjorn Borg dancing with Ilie Nastase's bodyguard, Ivan Lendl being surly, Jimmy Connors in an on-court ""obscene charade,"" a snidely amusing interview with est-ed Harold Solomon. So, though the minimal play-description is as lackluster as the valid-but-overblown exposÉ, some tennis fans will certainly want to browse through this promising, disappointing tour-journal.

Pub Date: July 12th, 1983
Publisher: Atheneum