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Customer Review

VINE VOICEon January 31, 2001
Ostensibly this book is about a tennis match, Arthur Ashe versus Clark Graebner in the 1968 US Open Semifinals. The match was historic in itself:
"It has been thirteen years since an American won the men's-singles final at Forest Hills, and this match will determine whether Ashe or Graebner is to have a chance to be the first American since Tony Trabert to win it all. Ashe and Graebner are still amateurs, and it was imagined that in this tournament, playing against professionals, they wouldn't have much of a chance. But they are here, close to the finish, playing each other. For Graebner to look across a net and see Ashe--and the reverse--is not in itself unusual. They were both born in 1943, they have known each other since they were thirteen, and they have played tournaments and exhibitions and have practiced together in so many countries and seasons that details blur."
But McPhee is actually after bigger game than this one match. He also provides insightful portraits of the two very different contestants. Ashe, the only championship level Black tennis player of his time, is single, liberal, mercurial, a finesse player and a risk taker. Graebner is married with kids, conservative, religious, a power player and risk averse. McPhee demonstrates how their personalities influence, indeed shape, their play and how their lifelong rivalry lifts their games to higher levels when they play one another, ultimately lifting Ashe's game towards perfection by the end of this contest.
Ashe would go on to win the tournament, becoming the only amateur to win it in the Open era and together Ashe and Graebner lead the US to it's first Davis Cup in years. After that though, while Ashe went on to a respectable career, Graebner slipped into obscurity. But in this book, McPhee has preserved a moment in time when the two were evenly matched on the court, despite being polar opposites off of the court and in charting the lives that brought them to that moment, he provides a penetrating glance at two fascinating men.
This is a real pinnacle in Sports writing.
GRADE: A
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