Winner of the 2019 PEN/ESPN Award for Literary Sports Writing
“The Circuit is the best sports book I've read in years, maybe ever.” —Rich Cohen, author of The Chicago Cubs and Monsters
“As sports writing goes, The Circuit is unusual in the very best way. Rowan Ricardo Phillips writes with such fluidity, and packs the book with bursts of brilliance. This is a compulsively readable guide to one truly Homeric year of professional tennis.” —John Green, author of The Fault in Our Stars
An energetic, lyrical, genre-defying account of the 2017 tennis season.
In The Circuit: A Tennis Odyssey, the award-winning poet—and Paris Review sports columnist—Rowan Ricardo Phillips chronicles 2017 as seen through the unique prism of its pivotal, revelatory, and historic tennis season. The annual tennis schedule is a rarity in professional sports in that it encapsulates the calendar year. And like the year, it’s divided into four seasons, each marked by a final tournament: the Grand Slams.
Phillips charts the year from winter’s Australian Open, where Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal renewed their rivalry in a match for the ages, to fall’s U.S. Open. Along the way, Phillips paints a new, vibrant portrait of tennis, one that captures not only the emotions, nerves, and ruthless tactics of the point-by-point game but also the quicksilver movement of victory and defeat on the tour, placing that sense of upheaval within a broader cultural and social context. Tennis has long been thought of as an escapist spectacle: a bucolic, separate bauble of life.
The Circuit will convince you that you don’t leave the world behind as you watch tennis—you bring it with you.
Poet and tennis fan Phillips (Heaven) serves an exciting account of the 2017 men's tennis season, detailing the games, sets, and matches as he follows the players from the Australian Open in January to the U.S. Open in August and September. At center court stand Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, who by the end of the season are ranked #1 and #2 in the world, respectively. Phillips then introduces a cast of challengers, including Andy Murray, who started the year ranked #1 with his "lighting quick two-handed backhand," though his promise early in the season was cut short by injuries. David Goffin, whom Nadal finishes off in straight sets in Monte Carlo on a clay court, is a technician with an attractive game whose backhand, "even when he makes an error with it," is perfect, according to Phillips. By the time the U.S. Open rolls around, Federer has moved up in the rankings from #17 to #3, leaving tennis fans eagerly anticipating a possible finals match between him and top-ranked Nadal, his longtime rival. Phillips energetically illustrates the fascination "to watch someone lose something that no one among the thousands or millions could see but all could feel" and the tactics players use. Phillips's enthusiastic recollection of the 2017 season will enthrall tennis fans.