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Late to the Ball: A Journey into Tennis and Aging Paperback – May 2, 2017
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Being a man or a woman in your early sixties is different than it was a generation or two ago, at least for the more fortunate of us. We aren’t old…yet. But we sense it coming: Careers are winding down, kids are gone, parents are dying (friends, too), and our bodies are no longer youthful or even middle-aged. Learning to play tennis in your fifties is no small feat, but becoming a serious, competitive tennis player at the age of sixty is a whole other matter. It requires training the body to defy age, and to methodically build one’s game—the strokework, footwork, strategy, and mental toughness.
Gerry Mazorati had the strong desire to lead an examined physical life, to push his body into the “encore” of middle age. In Late to the Ball Mazorati writes vividly about his difficulties, frustrations, and triumphs of becoming a seriously good tennis player. He takes on his quest with complete vigor and absolute determination to see it through, providing a rich, vicarious experience, involving the science of aging, his existential battle with time, and the beautiful, mysterious game of tennis. “Enjoyable…crisp and clean” (Publishers Weekly), Late to the Ball is also captivating evidence that the rest of the Baby Boomer generation, now between middle age and old age, can find their own quest and do the same.
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—Michael Paterniti, author of Love and Other Ways of Dying and The Telling Room
“Marzorati teaches us that to be a novice is a gift. This book is for anyone who’d like to improve, at anything.”
—Leanne Shapton, author of Swimming Studies
"Only a writer as agile and intelligent as Gerald Marzorati could pull off a book like Late to the Ball. Part tennis story, part memoir, part scientific inquiry into the effects of aging, this marvelous book offers pleasures on every page and moves with the energy of Roger Federer in his prime. A wonderful addition to that shelf of sports books that are about so much more than a game."
—Darcy Frey, author of the The Last Shot: City Streets, Basketball Dreams
“Gerry Marzorati was the Rod Laver of editors because of his rare enthusiasm, quick intelligence and shining insight. Now, in Late to the Ball, he brings those same qualities to his quest for mid-life self-understanding through the prism of a tennis racket. Will he defeat opponents? Himself? Time? This urgent, meticulous book hits the mortal sweet spot known as revelation.”
—Nicholas Dawidoff, author of The Catcher was a Spy
“Gerald Marzorati might have taken up painting at age 60. Or even guitar. Instead, he took up tennis. Competitive tennis. And I am so glad he did. His account of this surprising late middle-age journey simply took my breath away. It's filled with terrific tennis writing, sure, but more than that Late to the Ball is a deeply moving—inspiring, really—story of renewal and regrowth.”
—Jonathan Mahler, author of Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx Is Burning
“Marzorati’s prose is crisp and clean and his storytelling is focused. He also demonstrates an editor’s knack for capturing the intricacies of other people’s lives....This enjoyable work is a study of the physicality, psychology, and biology of learning.”—Publishers Weekly
"Late to the Ball is a soulful meditation on aging, companionship and the power of self-improvement. I know that sounds like the kind of cheesy thing people say on the cover of book jackets. But it’s really true."
—Jason Gay, The Wall Street Journal
“[Marzorati] undertakes a rigorous program of improving his tennis and himself, introducing us along the way to an appealing cast….He movingly meditates—at one point bringing me to tears—on the bond one forms with somebody whom one plays with and competes against, whom one faces across the net as if in a mirror. Reflective, wise and amiable, Marzorati is the kind of person and tennis player you’d be happy to share a game with and a beer afterward.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“[Marzorati] documents his unlikely late-in-life transformation into a tennis addict in his spirited and winningly self-deprecating memoir, Late to the Ball. It’s a book that any reader, regardless of age, or knowledge of the sport, would devour.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
"Marzorati’s prose is conversational, and the book encompasses more than insightful sportswriting—it is an intimate and captivating look at athleticism, competition, and aging."
—The New Yorker
“Late to the Ball offers a courtside seat for an affirming, against-the-odds contest….Like Marzorati, I am also a late convent to tennis and relished his dogged quest as a consequence.”
—Financial Times (UK)
“The topic is tennis, the subject mortality. A thoughtful and poignant take on the fight to hit a few winners before the match runs out.”
“Marzorati offers a thoughtful guide to growing older and dispensing with fixed ideas about age and ability.” —NYTBR’s Paperback Row
About the Author
- Publisher : Scribner; Reprint edition (May 2, 2017)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 288 pages
- ISBN-10 : 147673741X
- ISBN-13 : 978-1476737416
- Item Weight : 9.6 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.38 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #231,803 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Reviewed in the United States on June 30, 2016
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Marzorati is at some pains to make clear from the outset that he is much better than most people in all the ways that matter: more successful in his profession, more intellectually sophisticated in his tastes, more disciplined in his pursuit of excellence. He is likewise eager for the reader to understand that he is also better than most amateur tennis players, despite having started late (hence the title). Any reader expecting a lot of funny and endearing self-deprecation about the early stages of learning to play tennis in your 50s will find none of that sort of thing here. Marzorati is no casual weekend hacker, and by the time we meet him he is already well past the beginning of his late-life tennis journey. The author’s body, he wants us to know, has been honed to an impressive peak of fitness – his “fitness age,” we are told, is 26. The book, accordingly, is not about learning to play tennis late in life. Rather, it is about the author’s strenuous and expensive efforts, in his sixties, to become even better at tournament-level tennis than he is already. It is also about – and here’s where the “meditation on aging” angle comes in – Marzorati’s emotional struggle to come to terms with the melancholy fact that he will never be better than the very best amateur players his own age. Mind you, he never fails to mention that those players have had the advantage of starting to play and to train seriously very early in their lives, at a time when Marzorati was occupied with the intellectual pursuits that would make him so conspicuously successful in life. At the end, having vastly improved his singles game by dint of dedicated work with some prominent coaches, he arrives at this hard-won plateau of self-awareness (spoiler alert): he must settle for being merely a very, very good amateur senior player of doubles, and try to enjoy the game for its own sake even though he must sometimes expect to lose matches.
All of this preening is an unfortunate distraction, because when he actually writes about professional tennis players, and about what various tennis gurus think of the “inner game” of the sport, Marzorati can be illuminating. He is very good at describing what it’s like to be on a tennis court in a seriously competitive match, and what it takes to make various shots effectively. Most of this comes during his visits to tennis training camps, and yet here again, alas, the insistence on his own superiority intrudes itself on the reader’s notice. Marzorati is picky about the kinds of people he likes to play with. It’s not just their tennis skills that matter, it’s who they are. In a burst of candor, he confides that he can’t abide playing with people who aren’t in the same league of worldly success that he himself enjoys, because the chat at changeovers and between sets isn’t at a high enough level for him. Luckily, he is usually able to remain in this comfort zone of privilege by attending camps that are expensive and demanding enough to attract particularly competitive people with lots of money. Marzorati, as befits the editor of the New York Times Magazine, lives in one of the exclusive suburbs north of the city and, when he is not jetting around the country to tournaments and workshops, plays at places like the old Forest Hills West Side Club and the venerable Amackassin Club in Yonkers.
Tennis has spent many years, and the USTA has spent many millions, trying to overcome its traditional white-flannel image as a sport for the elite by getting more people involved in the game. Marzorati, by contrast, has no problem with that elite tradition; the sport’s air of privilege, its remoteness from ordinary people, accounts for much of what he likes about it. This book merely updates the traditional image: for the modern “serious amateur” like the author, body sensors have replaced white flannel, the better for world-class tennis consultants to film and analyze each step, turn, and stroke for their well-heeled clientele.
Marzorati’s penchant for boasting pops up throughout the text like a nervous tic. He can’t even mention his son, a senior in college, without remarking that the boy has his pick of the most elite law schools in the country. Or make an analogy to baseball without bragging about his early prowess as an outfielder. One can’t help feeling that it took a measure of restraint on Marzorati’s part not to tell us what kind of car he drives. Many readers are likely to find that these periodic thumb-in-your-eye jabs make the author a less than congenial companion on his strenuous and highly intellectualized quest for tennis excellence. No doubt Marzorati is an impressive fellow. But it’s difficult to work up much sympathy for his angst at, for once, not being the very best at something. And it’s harder still to avoid the conclusion that, in his journey toward keener self-awareness, he still has some distance to travel.
I started reading the book this morning, and I quickly read the first 74 pages. Here is the impact the book has already had on me:
I went out to my garage and found my old tennis bag. Then I went to my local sporting goods store and bought a tennis ball machine and a box of balls (as I know no one with whom to play).
In the late afternoon, I went to my local public courts, set-up the ball machine, and in the process of doing so I noticed a father going through drills with his daughter on the next court while his wife looked on. I made a comment to him that his daughter had a beautiful backhand. That started a 45-minute conversation about tennis, our tennis backgrounds, tennis injuries, the joy of being on the court, etc. I had yet to hit my first ball, and I had already met a very nice tennis family.
I hit cross court forehands and backhands, volleys, and ended the session with some serves. It was a beautiful late afternoon/early evening, and it felt wonderful to be back on a tennis court. Before heading home I stopped at the grocery store to pick up a few items. The clerk asked me if I had been swimming; that's how much I had perspired during my session.
I ordered three books on Amazon by David Foster Wallace after reading about him in Chapter 11 of Mr. Marzorati's book.
On eBay I found an old hardcover first edition of Levels of the Game, and I bought it.
This evening I already feel the soreness starting, and that feels good.
Tomorrow morning I will be back on the court, practicing my strokes using the ball machine.
All this, and I have only read the first 74 pages of Late to the Ball.
I enjoy reading good writing, and Mr. Marzorati's writing (he is a former editor of the New York Times Magazine) is very good, indeed.
Needless to say (but said anyway), I highly recommend Late to the Ball.
Top reviews from other countries
The book is both easy and enjoyable to read. I think however it's likely to be of most likely to be of interest to fans of tennis - I am left a bit uncertain how far the morals and messages emerging from the book are more widely applicable to learning in later life and success - and indeed happiness and fulfilment - in later life.The book will make most readers think however - particularly in episodes such as the one where the author loses a game 6-0 6-0 to the top seed in a tournament - and simply feels pleased to see the great skills of his (equally old) opponent, for example.
Des ambitions à mon sens démesurées en matière d'objectifs tennistiques. On peut regretter également dans l'ouvrage, une description trop peu exploitée du lien social que procure le tennis y compris en simple. Sinon un ouvrage plaisant agréable à lire qui mêle très agréablement âge et passion. En un mot on s'y croirait et j'écris cela en connaissance de cause.