The Courts of Babylon
Dispatches From The Golden Age of Tennis
No sport has gone through the seismic changes that rocked tennis when the game, long a holdout against professionalism and creeping commercialism, abandoned its roots as a genteel, amateurs-only enterprise and became a pro sport, vying for the heart of the public with rivals like soccer, NFL football, or NBA basketball.
Peter Bodo, who has covered tennis since the dawn of this “Open” era as the chief writer for TENNIS magazine, was there to witness this transition and what it promised, what it delivered. He has covered the game on every continent since the early 1970s. THE COURTS OF BABYLON is more than a collection of essays, most of them growing out of a deep familiarity and, often, relationship with subjects that include Bjorn Borg, Chris Evert, John McEnroe, Evonne Goolangong, Jimmy Connors, Tracy Austin, van Lendl and Martina Navratilova. It is also a commentary on what was lost and what was gained by the transition to professionalism, and how the new, “Open” era delivered—or failed to make good—on the promise that professionalism would make tennis a more inclusive, egalitarian, accessible game.
Relying heavily on formal, in-depth interviews conducted over two decades and his status as an “insider” in an insular game, Bodo’s book is both a meditation and expose, a polemic and a tribute to the players who dragged tennis, often kicking and screaming, to the forefront of the public’s imagination—even when those players got it all too fast and too young.
Bodo delves into the darkest and most controversial areas of the game, chronicling the follies of overzealous parents and pampered athletes. He fearlessly wades into sensitive issues stemming from sex and gender, politics and commercialism. He celebrates the game while holding it to task, all the while acknowledging the reality of the demands and distortions that come with a way of life that is both difficult but glamorous, and eagerly embraced by athletes who, in some cases, are no older than fourteen.