Picks and Pans Review: Passing Shots

updated 08/15/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/15/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Catherine Bell and Roy Peters

After writing five novels and a grueling nonfiction book about a 15-year-old sentenced to life imprisonment for murdering his parents, Mewshaw was looking forward to some much-needed literary R&R—six months observing on the men's pro tennis tour, followed by a leisurely book about it. To his chagrin, Mewshaw stumbled on a sport that often seems only half a rung above roller derby on the athletic evolutionary ladder. The pro tennis circuit he depicts in his journalistic tour de force (Atheneum, $13.95) is a rat's nest of dumped matches, drugs, tawdry sex, illegal appearance guarantees, Byzantine conflicts of interest and official indifference. Furthermore, it turns out that many of the top men players are indeed what they seem to be on the court: mean-spirited, spoiled brats. At one press conference in Italy, for instance, a journalist told Jimmy Connors, "You're lucky the umpire didn't fine you." "He's lucky I didn't pull him off his chair," Connors replied. After reading Mewshaw's fine reporting and writing, one is left with the image of these pros as a pack of unattractive egomaniacs stranded in a rotten demiworld of their own making. For those hard to disillusion, Passing Shots (Beaufort, paper, $9.95) offers action photographs by Englishman Roy Peters. While the photographs, taken mostly at Wimbledon in 1981 and 1982, are vivid, they often look a little like ads, since most of the players ostentatiously display brand-name clothes and equipment they're paid to use. The commentary, sometimes less than a caption, is by Catherine Bell, editor of the British magazine Tennis. Of an Ivan Lendl serve, the total text reads: "The bomb explodes." With some photographs there are discursive little paragraphs. One, on journeyman player Steve Denton, begins: "Tennis can be an amazingly becoming sport for human beings to play, or a spasm of swift and convulsive action." Twenty years ago only movie stars got this kind of fawning treatment. We've outgrown that peculiarity and ought to get over any lingering adoration we have for tennis players, too.

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