The Racket: On Tour with Tennis’s Golden Generation – and the Other 99 Per Cent by Conor Niland - review by Norma Clarke

Norma Clarke

Baseline Blues

The Racket: On Tour with Tennis’s Golden Generation – and the Other 99 Per Cent

By

Sandycove 320pp £20
 

Conor Niland (pronounced Nye-land) was Ireland’s most successful tennis player. In this recollection of the few highs and many lows of his professional life, in which he achieved (in 2010) a career-high ranking of 129 in the world, Niland tells it how it is for the ‘other 99 per cent’. The non-golden boys might be ‘on tour’ with the elite, but the two groups rarely rub shoulders. There are occasional glimpses of the big stars – Niland sees Andre Agassi being offered water by someone in his entourage and gets to have a practice hit with Andy Murray – but these invariably leave him feeling small. Mostly, he and the other 99 per cent scrape out an arduous existence at the lower levels, frantically trying to earn enough ranking points to entitle them to enter the qualifying rounds of the major tournaments.

Even if you don’t keep losing in the first round, as Niland seems to do in tournament after tournament, life on tour is hell so there’s plenty to gripe about: nets, line calls, facilities (lack of). Nobody could want to play a physically and mentally exhausting match, and then get straight on a plane to go halfway across the world to play another. And then another. Winning isn’t always better than losing. After a Challenger Tour final in Salzburg, ‘floating in the deep peace that comes with a career highlight’, Niland has to fly at once to Tokyo. He lands without having mastered his itinerary. Is the tournament in Toyota or Toyoda? He gets on the wrong train. He’s been travelling for twenty-four hours by the time he reaches his hotel and is on court next morning.

Of course, if he were part of the 1 per cent, someone else would be managing his arrangements. There would be limousines. If he were playing a different sport, there would be teammates to share the load or at least to grumble with. Tennis is a solitary sport and it’s

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