THE COURTS OF BABYLON: Tales of Greed and Glory in a Harsh New World of Professional Tennis by Peter Bodo

THE COURTS OF BABYLON: Tales of Greed and Glory in a Harsh New World of Professional Tennis

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Bodo (Inside Tennis, 1979), who has covered tennis for two decades, reflects on the changes in the game since the Open era began. The coming of professionalism to tennis in 1968 brought with it a new era of unprecedented prize money, endorsement dollars, conflicts of interest, and spoiled-brat players. As a correspondent for Tennis magazine, Bodo has had a ringside seat for a circus that included such memorable high-wire acts as Ilie Nastase, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Chris Evert, Billie Jean King, and Martina Navratilova. Alternating between chapters detailing the myriad sins of this so-called tennis Babylon and profiles of key players, Bodo offers a sociological thesis: The ""elitism"" of the amateur game was displaced by the ""populism"" of the Open era, with the disastrous result that the game became more closed than before due to the escalating costs of being a competitive player. When it comes to tennis, Bodo is a stunningly good analyst, dissecting a player's stengths and weaknesses with keen insight, if occasionally in overly technical language; indeed, the profiles (with the notable exception of a mean-spirited look at Navratilova) are the best stuff here. As a sociologist and political thinker, however, Bodo's flabby. He bandies about words like liberal, conservative, populist, and elitist with little regard for consistency of meaning; certain figures conveniently change sides from chapter to chapter. A look at the race question in tennis veers between the intensely sympathetic and the condescendingly paternalistic. And the book is just too darned long. The problem is, quite simply, there are three different books here -- a series of profiles, a collection of deep-think thumbsuckers on the problems afflicting the sport, and a rollicking account of the lunacies of the pro tour in the past 20 years. A frustrating and disappointing book by someone who knows the game well enough to have done better.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1995
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Scribner