This is that time of the year when the lush green grass just doesn’t spring to hallowed life but turns sentinels to the unparalleled spectacle of crowning glory in the pantheon of sports – it is time of Wimbledon. It is, arguably, the mecca of tennis, where every player worth his/ her salt wishes to give atleast one winning speech in their lifetimes. And so, what better time to read ‘Centre Court’, this scintillating fictional account of an Indian lad, pursuing his dream at ‘The Championships’, than now?
Ranked World No. 25 just a year ago, Shankar Mahadevan, a 25-year old, 6 feet 2 inches tall, feisty tennis player on the ATP singles tour, has dropped to World No. 41 now, owing to a nasty injury sustained last year. But the ambition of two decades must be chased till it gets all blurred and disappears. Hence, he is attempting to find his mojo back, and is aiming at a last, all-guns-blazing go at redemption. Having Pa by his side – his mentor, his coach, his strategist, his strength, his father – he lands at the All England Club and what we get, are the accounts of both their journeys.
‘Centre Court’ is a refreshing read, for multiple reasons. Firstly, it dwells deep and consistent, into the game. Tennis is no sidekick or backdrop; it is the hero. The terse, clear and engaging descriptions of the technicalities of play, the tour, the players and their teams, the rankings, the camaraderie (and fallouts), the endorsements, the federations and politics that appear consistently across the body of the book, provide an insider’s peek into the world of tennis. For a reader uninitiated into this game, this can well morph into a trimmed but exciting dossier. Of course, for the tennis enthusiasts, this turns into a mild riot. The narrative will sit up and take them back to duels between Arthur Ashe and Jimmy Connors, style contrasts of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, the domination of Steffi Graf and Serena Williams. And yes, one won’t doubt where the author’s loyalties lie with his protagonist speaking his mind on these lines:
I think equal prize money is something to be proud of. Even if hypothetically (and that’s a big IF), the men’s game is more valuable and the women have an unfair gain, we should be proud that in a world where it is so often skewed the other way, and for so long, we are the exception.
Secondly, the story manages to strike a balance between the professional and the personal sides of the protagonist. And Subramanian achieves this by playing a smart card – he presents the story in first person account, alternating between Shankar and his Pa. Their perspectives juxtapose energy and tranquillity, ambition and consternation, impulse and maturity, and together, they make a formidable team, plugging effectively, any lose ends that might hand the book, a fault. The tone of their conversations is taut, nimble on the senses and leave a ring in the memory – much like an ace.
Thirdly, and most appealing to me, was the climax. I hoped the author didn’t squander the advantage he had steadily gained over a substantial 250 odd pages and he does well, in the end, to pocket the match.
This is a riveting read that not only celebrates one of the most exciting sports of all time but also makes veiled attacks on the lacunae plaguing the Indian system, preventing it from producing Grand Slam champions, especially in the Singles circuit. Thus, while one might be tempted to tag the book as sports fiction, it still can lay a valid claim in being called a story of relationships, emotions and most importantly, dreams. And hence, this book shall survive the Wimbledon season and continue to appear lush green, long after the grass, at the venerated grounds, have turned yellow.
[Image courtesy realsport101.com]