No love lost in Amis tirade

RADIO 4 fans who tuned in yesterday morning to listen to short readings on the subject of tennis, were in for a shock.

The programme made no mention of gentle lobs or strawberries and cream, but instead delivered a devastating character assassination of tennis heroes such as Ilie Nastase, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe and Andre Agassi.

In critical terms, the programme was excellent. The actor Bill Nighy read from Martin Amis' article, originally published in The New Yorker, on the subject of "tennis personalities". Nighy, quoting Amis, explained that he was using the word "personality" as "an exact synonym of a seven- letter duosyllable starting with `a' and ending with `e' - and also featuring, in order of appearance, an `s, s' an `h', an `o', and an `l'." This word is not generally heard by the Radio 4 audience over its morning coffee.

He then proceeded to brand Nastase, doubtless thought of as a loveable clown by many, as the biggest "personality" of them all. "Ilie Nastase was a serious `personality' - probably the most complete `personality' the game has ever boasted," said Nighy/Amis. "Arthur Ashe... recalls Ilie called him `negroni' to his face and, once, `nigger' behind his back. Ilie, of course, was known as a`showman' that is, as an embarrassing narcissist."

Jimmy Connors, another popular chap at Wimbledon, was also a "total `personality'" and McEnroe and Agassi also achieved "personality" status. The two used to spend a lot of time together, and when questioned about their relationship, Agassi described it as "completely sexual". "Does such raillery inevitably come about when self-love runs up against mutual admiration? Or is it part of a bonding ritual between `personalities' of the same peer group?" Amis asks.

In contrast to the "personalities" are the "characters" who inhabited the golden age of tennis - Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall and Ashe. In modern tennis, Pete Sampras is praised for his talents ("according to the computer, he is almost twice as good as anyone else in the sport") and a happy lack of "personality".