One Of My Favorite Book Passages

Abraham Verghese–author of The Tennis Partner

It has been a decade–…Every few weeks I feel the need to pull it out from the closet where it is carefully stored. First, there is the ritual of loosening the four wing nuts on the press until the racquet slips free. It feels lithe and spry in my hand, conjuring up an era of Brylcreemed hair, ribbed tennis sweaters and the grace of a Ken Rosewall.
This model, the Dunlop Maxply, is the one I coveted as a child–the Ferrari of racquets. I thought the Wilson Jack Kramer Autograph looked wimpy.

The Maxply shaft has Testarossa-red streaks on it, and it rises like a monument out of its dark leather handgrip. Layers of varnish bring out the delicate wood grain. The lower half of the oval head is painted white, giving it the squat, muscular look of a fullback. When I hit with it on court, I am reminded of the need for precision and how wood demands a long, graceful stroke. My swing begins in my feet and is fed by trunk and then by shoulder-turn and finally by the face of the racquet–tiny by modern standards–meeting the ball. I feel the racquet flex, as if to lovingly cup the ball, and then I feel it rebound, dispatching the ball with great authority, as if the racquet is an extension of my forearm. The dialogue between forearm and racquet is exquisite. I am reminded of the day when I was nine years old and when, finally, after months of practice, it all came together and I had mastery over that tiny but potent sweet spot. I kept reliving the feel of it, I kept hearing the “tock” sound of ball-contact, a note so pure that it carried up my bony arm and into my chest, a note so sustained that to this day, it still sounds in my head, and when it fades, I am restless until I can produce that sound again.

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