book review: high praise for 'high strung'

For our review of High Strung, TSF takes a rare dive into the serious, introspective world that sometimes the tennis world can inspire. Enjoy. -NM

It’s not the fault of Jimmy Connors or Vitas Gerulaitis that they were left off the cover and out of the title of High Strung: Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, and the Untold Story of Tennis’s Fiercest Rivalry, written by Stephen Tignor of Tennis magazine. For Connors and Gerulaitis will never have the Bjorn Borg-John McEnroe rivalry to their names, and that is nothing they can change, but it doesn’t make them any less instrumental in the story of tennis’ most storied few years.

Many in tennis do pin the 1980 final — and the season that went along with it — as the best that tennis has ever seen. The Mac-Borg tiebreaker is often referred to as the gold standard for drama and quality, and that McEnroe won that breaker 18-16 only to lose the fifth set made it that much more of a legend. “This is terrible,” Tignor writes Borg said to himself after the breaker. “I’m going to lose.”

TSF Vault: John McEnroe | Bjorn Borg

But the climax of that match (Borg won, BTW: 8-6 in the fifth) was as unexpected as the twists and turns that Tignor takes the reader through in High Strung. He puts out the 1980 final as the book’s first offering, and at my initial reading, I feared that the book wouldn’t have much to build on from there. But it’s there that Tignor weaves in the stories of Connors and Gerulaitis (and eventually makes a fearsome twosome actually a foursome) along with a host of other eccentric characters.

High Strung is bold in its claims about tennis’ shifting landscape, especially from the amateur era (pre Open tennis, before 1968) and that which came after. Tignor puts as much (if not more) weight on the arrival of the oversized racquet, the technology that stole the game from the Mac-Borg era and passed it along first to Ivan Lendl and then to Boris Becker, Andre Agassi and to the baseline-bashing game we know today.

More Tignor: His Tennis.com “Concrete Elbow” blog

What Tignor does so beautifully (and makes the book so compelling) is tieing in both history in a factual sense with that of juicy detail, quotes and I-didn’t-know-that kind of research. It’s obvious he spent a good amount of time with a tape recorder sitting down with everyone he could possibly get an interview with, but that he then states that “[n]o account of [Ilie Nastase] would be complete without at least a partial list of his more memorable antics” and then goes on to list such antics (pp. 129 to 131 if you’re a thumbing in a B&N), makes the read both fascinating and snappy.

I’m no tennis historian. Actually, I’m 25, pay somewhat close attention to the goings on on tour but can better recount that Matthew Perry was in Jennifer Capriati‘s box during the 2003 U.S. Open than tell you about the career of Bill Tilden. Yet, with that said, this book not only held my attention, but I felt pretty dang enriched by it. Even (dare I say it?) entertained. From Borg’s rocky marriage to McEnroe’s family life to the upbringing of Connors to the rise of Lendl to the death of Gerulaitis, Tignor does his duty in roping in the reader.

That last note — the death of Gerulaitis — is the last inclusion in the Epilogue, in which Tignor gives a Six Feet Under sort of wrap up of the post-1981 lives of these tennis players slash rock stars. I won’t go into too much detail about how the writer unfolds such events, but I will say that on a smelly, Uptown-bound 1 train in New York, I missed my stop because I was so wrapped up in his telling of what happened — and crying.

Suffice to say, I highly recommend picking up High Strung.

Buy: High Strung on Amazon for $16.79 (used from $13.50 and up).

(Image provided by Harper Publishing)

psa: sales at bjorn borg (20% off) and no mas (50% off)

Instead of complaining that we don’t get the full range of men’s clothing from Bjorn Borg stateside (we just get undies… waaah!), we’ll drown our sorrows in a skivvies sale.

Take 20% any purchase of $100 or more at bjornborg.com with this promo code: KUriPceW. Sale goes through October 7, 2009.

Meanwhile, No Mas — reviver of Borg’s “BJ” logo — is giving you half off any purchases if you use promo code “2004″. You’re welcome.

bjorn borg’s NYC exclusive: swim trunks!

tennis-swim-bjornborg

While TSF’s all smilies about being able to grab Bjorn Borg skivvies from the interwebs — check out the goods here — we were even happier about what we found at the brand’s only US store, in NYC’s SoHo neighborhood.

Yes, friends, they also carry swim trunks! Our fave is this take on tennis short shorts — clean, bright white punctuated by deep red lines. You can check out the rest of the pieces at the boutique located on 89 Crosby Street. (Note: if you’re coming from Spring, it might look like Crosby’s deserted, but fear not — the BB store is past that big construction site. Keep walking!)

Buy: The tennis trunks are $70, and the rest of the swimwear ranges from $52.50 to $80. For those not in New York, perhaps you can give the store a call — 212-625-2334 — to see if they’re willing to mail you your purchase.

More: Three more trunks from the Bjorn Borg spring/summer line after the cut…

breaking up isn’t hard to do

bjorn-borg-breakup

Customer satisfaction, guaranteed: Bjorn Borg and his right-hand pimpster Bibi wouldn’t be the kind to leave you hangin’. If their matchmaking and lucky charms can’t help you through the romance, perhaps you just need an out.

And even that‘s been simplified with the help of their Break-up service.

After answering a few basic yes or no questions about the state of your love life (with visual aids to match), out comes Bibi’s recommendation for what to do with your ball and chain.

If she deems ‘em ill-fitting, you have the option of sending a pre-written dump SMS to the offending party, and back on the merry-go-round you go.

If you are already with your soulmate, she wants you to consider leaving them anyway, just to spice things up. (Bjorn Borg even designated Feb. 13 as Break-Up Day.)

Face the music: Take the quiz here.

hus, little baby… buy your underwear stateside

An update on the U.S. presence of Bjorn Borg (the brand): men’s underwear from the f/w ’08 line is now available at Scandinavian goods importer [hus] in the West Village and at LASC in West Hollywood. BB will eventually expand into other menswear — sorry, ladies — when the SoHo store opens later this month.

More looks: I’ll have scans from the lookbook posted later this week.

(photo of [hus] window display for TSF by Matt/Ranting Details)