Tennis Books For Christmas: Seismic warning alert for McEnroe debut

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JOHN McENROE made his Davis Cup debut in doubles in Chile, just after an earthquake had hit Santiago. "Maybe that was a warning from the gods," McEnroe writes in a foreword to The Davis Cup by Richard Evans (Ebury Press, pounds 14.99). "Quite a few of my subsequent matches were afflicted with seismic rumblings."

Further rumblings may be on the way. McEnroe, positioned perilously close to the umpire's chair, is due to make his debut as the United States' Davis Cup captain in Zimbabwe next February. The winners will be at home to Britain in the second round, provided Tim Henman, Greg Rusedski and A N Other survive on a slow clay court in the Czech Republic.

The International Tennis Federation, attempting to beat the rush of anniversaries, marked the Davis Cup centenary this year, even though the opening serve in Dwight Davis's wonderful team competition was delivered in 1900. In effect, we get two centenary celebrations, trusting that the second one goes smoothly, what with McEnroe poised to take Davis's baton at the start of the next chapter.

McEnroe's touch and tantrums naturally feature prominently in Evans's history of the Davis Cup, a work that will not disappoint readers of the author's other books, particularly the excellent Open Tennis. Few writers have watched the development of the men's professional game as closely as Evans, who is also the editor of The ATP Tour - Ten Years of Superstar Tennis (Universe, $35).

Although we can only surmise what Davis would have made of McEnroe's appointment, which has been hailed as the kiss of life for the competition in America, readers of Dwight Davis: The Man and the Cup, by Nancy Kriplen (Ebury Press, pounds 16.99), are treated to a well-rounded view of the person who, as McEnroe says, "had a genius of an idea".

Kriplen's admirable research - detailed in 32 pages of notes, five pages of bibliography and two pages of acknowledgements - has resulted in a fascinating portrait. The author emphasises that there was much more to Davis than his Cup. Decorated for his heroism in France during World War I, Davis became President Coolidge's Secretary of War in the 1920s, and President Hoover later appointed him Governor- general of the Philippines.

As for the Cup, not an ounce of sterling silver is left unaccounted for in Kriplen's descriptive passages concerning the creation of Davis's punchbowl. Incidentally, it was designed by Rowland Rhodes, from Newcastle under Lyme, Staffordshire, who died, aged 38, before his masterpiece gained international prominence.

The Faber Book of Tennis - The Right Set, edited by Caryl Phillips (Faber and Faber, pounds 12.99), is a splendid anthology, skilfully stitching together an informative and entertaining continuity of themes. A favourite segment, headed Tradition and the Game, features a New Yorker piece by Martin Amis, in which the author says he is uncomfortable with the word "personality", as in "Tennis needs a new star who is a genuine personality". But, Amis adds, "...if, from now on, I can put `personality' between quotation marks, and use it as an exact synonym of a seven-letter duosyllable starting with `a' and ending with `e' (and also featuring, in order of appearance, an `ss', an `h', an `o' and an `l'), why, then `personality' and I are going to get along just fine."

There is no shortage of personality in The Greatest Tennis Matches of the Twentieth Century, by Steve Flink (Rutledge Books, $24.95). Flink, a journalist and broadcaster from New York, has selected 30 matches, ranging from the 1920s - "when the sport's first towering figures and fascinating match-ups emerged" - to the summer of 1999, when Steffi Graf triumphed in an emotional French Open women's singles final against Martina Hingis. The author's extensive knowledge, and his sense of proportion, ensure the book is a work of intellect as well as passion.

British tennis has been busy marrying Lucy, but when the honeymoons are over, Tim and Greg will resume their Duel for the Crown (Andre Deutsch, pounds 14.99), the apt title of Neil Harman's perceptive chronicle of the rivalry between the nation's two contenders for major honours. There is also an updated paperback edition.

Tim Henman's advance to a second consecutive Wimbledon men's singles semi-final, in which he took a set off Pete Sampras, features prominently in The Official Wimbledon Annual (Hazelton Publishing, pounds 20). The text is by John Parsons and the photographs by Clive Brunskill, Gary M Prior, Alex Livesey, Clive Mason, Phil Cole and Stephen Munday.

Guess who: "At 17 the general belief was that this handsome, talented but slightly built player would achieve more in doubles than singles." Answer: Henman, as introduced in The Ultimate Encylopedia of Tennis, by John Parsons (Carlton, pounds 19.99). As with all work bearing the Parsons stamp, the book is diligently researched and written with enthusiasm; a labour of love.

Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi won the men's doubles title at Wimbledon this year (Paes also won the mixed doubles with the American Lisa Raymond), reminding spectators of the rich legacy of the sport in India. This is underlined in A Touch of Tennis - The Story of a Tennis Family, by Ramanathan Krishnan and Ramesh Krishnan, with Nirmal Shekar (Penguin, Indian Rupees 250).

"Ramanathan was a deceptive and clever player who could beat you with deft touch and uncanny placement," the Australian Roy Emerson recalls. "I remember his doing just that to me when he beat me in the quarter-finals of Wimbledon in 1960...Then, what a pleasure it was to meet his son Ramesh and to have the opportunity to coach and watch him play during his successful professional career. When Ramesh played it was like poetry in motion."

Goran Ivanisevic once put himself out of the game after trapping a hand in the door of his apartment, such was his haste to get back inside after forgetting to take his rackets. Similar mishaps are likely to befall tennis reporters who leave behind the ITF World of Tennis, edited by John Barrett (Collins Willow, pounds 12.99), and the Wimbledon Compendium, by Alan Little (The All England Club, pounds 9).