Stories That Don't Suck: SportsFeat's Guide To Wimbledon

A quick primer on SportsFeat: Every day, we post great sports writing from across the web, both new stuff and classics. A companion to Longform.org, the site is designed to be used with services like Instapaper and Read It Later, so you can read the stories later on your phone, iPad or Kindle. You can find our picks at SportsFeat.com, of course-we also send them out via Twitter and RSS. Every Friday, we'll be sharing a group of favorites with Deadspin. Up first: stories about winning and losing at Wimbledon.

Stories That Don't Suck: SportsFeat's Guide To Wimbledon

Federer as Religious Experience


David Foster Wallace • Play • August 2006

You've read it before. Read it again:

The metaphysical explanation is that Roger Federer is one of those rare, preternatural athletes who appear to be exempt, at least in part, from certain physical laws. Good analogues here include Michael Jordan, who could not only jump inhumanly high but actually hang there a beat or two longer than gravity allows, and Muhammad Ali, who really could "float" across the canvas and land two or three jabs in the clock-time required for one. There are probably a half-dozen other examples since 1960. And Federer is of this type - a type that one could call genius, or mutant, or avatar. He is never hurried or off-balance. The approaching ball hangs, for him, a split-second longer than it ought to. His movements are lithe rather than athletic. Like Ali, Jordan, Maradona, and Gretzky, he seems both less and more substantial than the men he faces. Particularly in the all-white that Wimbledon enjoys getting away with still requiring, he looks like what he may well (I think) be: a creature whose body is both flesh and, somehow, light.

Stories That Don't Suck: SportsFeat's Guide To Wimbledon

Raised By Women to Conquer Men


Frank Deford • Sports Illustrated • September 1978

The definitive profile of Jimmy Connors (and his mother), written two months after he won just seven games against Borg in the Wimbledon final:

That has happened is disillusioning for Connors and his mother. They speak of the latest wrack and ruin by Borg in hallucinatory terms, and Jimmy fitfully retreats to the glorious conquests of yore: "They'll be talking about '74 when I'm dead.... Don't forget what I did in '74.... Nobody can ever take '74 from me." On and on like that. And the greatest irony is that '74 will be devalued if he does not triumph over Borg in '78, because this year Borg can win the Grand Slam and the Davis Cup-and as extraordinary as '74 was, Connors did not achieve that. For history, then, what would '74 become but a real good year a kid had just before Borg became great?

And that was so long ago: 1974. Since then Connors's father has died, and his surrogate father—his manager. Bill Riordan—has become estranged from him. His only male instructor, Pancho Segura, has been discharged. His engagement to Chris Evert, the one sweet love of his life, was called off, nearly at the altar. Looking back, it all began to unravel then, the loss of dear ones and tournaments alike. A kind of incompleteness plagues Connors. In the big tournaments, the ones he shoots for, he virtually never loses until the finals. What is it there? What seizes him at the last step? There is a flaw somewhere, something that denies him consummation in his life.

Stories That Don't Suck: SportsFeat's Guide To Wimbledon

Isner, Mahut, and Endless Tennis


Ed Caesar • GQ (UK) • May 2011

On the longest match in professional tennis history:

While Isner took an ice bath — "the most miserable 12 minutes of my life" — his friend Roddick burst in, and asked if there was anything he could do to help. Boynton suggested that Roddick could organise dinner, which he did. That night, before collapsing into bed, Isner received a vast food delivery at his rented flat in Wimbledon Village – "chicken, pizza, calories" — and sent a few texts to his family. He and his coach both checked their laptops, to find that the match had set the world on fire. "That was the point he realised, 'this is pretty cool,'" remembers Boynton. "And also — 'I gotta win this.'"

Mahut, on the other hand, felt sprightly. He went to the gym to warm down for 15 minutes, before returning to his hotel, and eating a small dinner of chicken and pasta with his team at a nearby restaurant. Unable to sleep, he stayed up chatting — "kind of about the match, but also about other things," remembers Vallejo – before crashing at 1.30am. At 5.30am, Vallejo received a text message. "Nico said 'I can't sleep, you want to go for a walk?' I said, 'sure.'" That morning, Mahut tried to avoid all news of the match, but, having bought L'Equipe to check on the football World Cup, he found his picture on the front page. "I didn't read any of it," he says.

(More on Isner and Mahut: Xan Brooks' epic live blog for The Guardian.)

Stories That Don't Suck: SportsFeat's Guide To Wimbledon

The Natural


Tom Friend • ESPN The Magazine • June 2000

A profile of Alexandra Stevenson, estranged daughter of Julius Erving, who had reached the Wimbledon semi-finals the year before and had barely won a match since:

Perhaps this is why she hates basketball, the sport her father transcended. Her coach, the one in jail, used to ask her to play H-O-R-S-E, and she'd lose every time. He'd say, "You're not very good at this," and she'd say, "Thank you." Instead, she played tennis, and tennis soon became her joy, and also her curse. If she hadn't been the first female qualifier to ever reach the semis at Wimbledon last July, she wouldn't have her new villa right now or her new Nike contract or, for the first time ever, her own room. But if she'd lost in the first round, no one would care who her father is, and she wouldn't feel an ounce of pressure. She wouldn't have everyone wondering why she's kept losing in the first round since then. She'd be at UCLA. But instead, here she is at Wimbledon one year later, wishing she could just be Alexandra Stevenson. Wishing the other players would stop hazing her. Wishing the press would stop asking about a missing half-brother she never knew or a father she's never embraced. Wishing they would see her and not think Dr. J. "Yeah, right," Alexandra says. "When monkeys fly out of my butt."

Have a favorite Wimbledon piece that we missed? Leave the link in the comments or tweet it to @sportsfeat. A caveat: We only include stories that are publicly available and on a single page, otherwise McPhee's classic "Centre Court" (only available on Google Books) and his New Yorker stuff (behind the paywall) would have been on the list.