Almanac Tennis: On Court Confessions



This week marks the start of the magnificent Australian Open, and having two icons of the game once again battle it out at Melbourne Park is a rare privilege.


The sport of tennis is one of the few that is played by both sexes, all ages, abilities, and truly global. Yet despite such universal appeal, one’s relationship to tennis is personal; akin to a battleground for some, yet a celebration of friendship and comraderie for others.


A friend recently sent me a beautiful piece of writing by David Foster Wallace from his book ‘Infinite Jest’. Wallace was himself an accomplished junior tennis player who later became renowned as ‘one of the most influential (US) writers of the past 20 years’. Clearly an intensely introspective person, he tragically took his own life in 2008. His hauntingly considered take on tennis:


 “The true opponent, the enfolding boundary, is the player himself. Always and only the self out there, on court, to be met, fought, brought to the table to hammer out terms. The competing boy on the net’s other side: he is not the foe: he is more the partner in the dance. He is the what is the word excuse or occasion for meeting the self. As you are his occasion. Tennis’s beauty’s infinite roots are self-competitive. You compete with your own limits to transcend the self in imagination and execution. Disappear inside the game: break through limits: transcend: improve: win. Which is why tennis is an essentially tragic enterprise, to improve and grow as a serious junior, with ambitions. You seek to vanquish and transcend the limited self whose limits make the game possible in the first place. It is tragic and sad and chaotic and lovely. All life is the same, as citizens of the human State: the animating limits are within, to be killed and mourned, over and over again.”


The reasons that we love sport are intriguing and complex, and an appreciation of such complexity, bounded by our many frailties, helps explain why this endeavour is so compelling. The ultimate unfinished project that remains so addictively rewarding; one that we can easily justify as also being good for both our mind and body.


No doubt we will see all of Wallace’s insights and reflections played out in the coming fortnight, and we can only hope for a climax as spectacular and engaging as last year.


Come onnnn!!!

About Peter Robertson

Born and bred in Eumundi and Nambour, in strong company indeed. After studying Maths and Physics at uni in Brisbane, I pursued a business career that I sometimes worry is best described as 'Jack of all trades - master of none'. Having safely made it to my mid 50's, I am still yet to have a real job - but I expect to grow up someday. My love of sport has never waned and I regularly play tennis, golf and surf. Other pursuits include fly fishing and trekking. I have been serving on a few private and NFP boards in sports and other areas to keep me out of mischief.


  1. Kasey Symons says

    Such a good piece of writing you’ve shared with us here from Foster Wallace Robbo – beautiful. I have only recently started to delve into his work and picked up ‘String Theory’ at Christmas for some summer reading.

  2. G’day Robbo,any thoughts about the concerns re the heat.?

    Playing on a surface , reaching 69 degree celsius (reflected) heat raises a few issues re safety.

    Curious re the thoughts of others.


  3. “It is tragic and sad, chaotic and lovely”… what a great string of words to describe the game. There’s also a humour in tennis that I love. Tennis is a great game for so many reasons you’ve suggested here.

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