String Theory | David Foster Wallace

Summary of: String Theory: David Foster Wallace on Tennis
By: David Foster Wallace


In ‘String Theory: David Foster Wallace on Tennis’, celebrated American author and erstwhile competitive tennis player David Foster Wallace shares his insightful perspectives on the sport. Known for his unique writing, Wallace dives deep into the technical and psychological aspects of tennis while reflecting on his own experiences as a junior player. This summary encapsulates his views on the importance of adapting to different conditions, the grueling world of professional tennis, the impressive skills required, and the evolution of the game as a showcase of powerful poetic athleticism. Get ready to immerse yourself in the mesmerizing world of tennis as seen through the eyes of a true aficionado.

Wind and Sweat

David Foster Wallace’s tennis career could easily have gone the other way, but he found success by harnessing the power of the wind and sweating profusely. Growing up in the windy Midwest, Wallace learned not to fight the wind on the court but to use it to his advantage, lobbing high, slow, and straight to let the wind wreak havoc. He also used his atmospheric expertise while biking around town. Another trick up his sleeve was his profuse sweating, which allowed him to play on and on in the clammy Illinois summer while his slicked and preppy opponents wilted in the heat. Wallace called himself “a physical savant, a medicine boy of wind and heat, [who] could play just forever.”

The Grueling Reality of Professional Tennis

In the world of professional tennis, the top 100 players receive automatic entry to tournaments, leaving the remaining spots to be fiercely contested in qualifying events known as “the quallies.” These events are brutal, with players on the brink of the top 100 fighting to gain entry and notably varying levels of ability on display. Making it through the quallies only leads to facing the world’s top players and a high-stress lifestyle filled with sacrifice, discipline, and hardship. The glitz and glamour of the sport often shield the harsh reality of the physical and emotional challenges that top players endure, making their success all the more commendable.

The Incredibly Demanding Sport of Tennis

Professional tennis players possess exceptional skills that require years of constant training.

If you believe that you have what it takes to play tennis professionally, think again. You might be deluded. Watching the game on TV, it looks fairly easy. Still, the truth is that TV cannot fully transmit the abilities of professional players. They move with stunning speed, covering the width of the court effortlessly, and still manage to have complete control over the pace and spin of the ball. Additionally, playing a three-set match requires as much energy as playing a quadruple-length basketball game on a full-size court.

Tennis players’ towels and sweatbands are not just for show. These accessories are essential to prevent slippery hands and perspiration from blinding the player. In addition to all the physical exertion, tennis professionals require expert vision. They use two kinds of vision at once: hand-eye coordination, and peripheral vision. Hand-eye coordination allows them to hit the ball with both power and accuracy, a skill they develop through years of constant training.

Playing tennis professionally is a daunting feat, impossible to achieve without rigorous and consistent training. It demands the kind of vision and athletic skills that requires a constant willingness to learn and adapt. So, do not be fooled; becoming a tennis professional requires much more than just being able to smash a ball.

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