Earlier this year, Tad Friend wrote a fantastic, hilarious and insightful essay in the New Yorker about a fifty-something New York writer trying to improve at squash.
This past holiday weekend I read Gerald Marzorati’s new book, Late to the Ball: Age. Learn. Fight. Love. Play Tennis. Win. (Scribner) about a fifty-something (now sixty-something) New York writer trying to improve at his racquet sport, this time tennis.
The odd, unsettling subtitle aside, Late to the Ball is a lovely mediation about age, athletic decline, late learning and the meaning of a perfect stroke. As Marzorati begins to take tennis seriously, picking it up almost from scratch and playing in competitive tournaments, he recounts long conversations, Skype calls and email exchanges with the pro at his club, his psychotherapist and his playing partners (one with an inspiring backstory). He delves into the literature of neuroscience, poetry and philosophy of aging. He watches the US Open and Indian Wells. He heads to adult tennis camps in Utah and Arizona and spends a week at a digital laboratory at Rick Macci’s academy in Florida. One tiny squash nod: at the camp—or congress—in Arizona, he attends a workshop led by Allistair McCaw, the South African coach who has worked with many squash greats, including Ramy Ashour and Nicol David.
Marzorati’s journey is not without bumps and bruises. “I am on close terms with Advil,” he announces. He likes his cold white wine. He also likes to carefully, calmly ruminate on what it means to be human—how to live fully, on and off the court—in a way that invites you to sit in the grandstands and happily watch.