- Routledge Handbook of Tennis: History, Culture, and Politics ed. by Robert J. Lake
Following his impressive A Social History of Tennis in Britain (2015), Robert J. Lake is a fine editor for this first edition of the Routledge Handbook of Tennis. This collection of [End Page 179] essays aims to understand the sport not solely through its top touring professionals but also through a thoughtful understanding of its complex administrative history; changes in etiquette, fashion, and playing styles; mediated representations in popular culture and the arts; and increasing internationalization, professionalization, and commercialization. Case studies of individual figures alongside broader macro-level analysis offer both a diachronic and synchronic understanding of the social importance of tennis, while featuring scholars from a diverse range of scholarly backgrounds, including "history, sociology, media studies & communications, leisure studies, sport management, philosophy, economics & business, politics, and gender studies" (10).
However, the collection's tripartite organizational structure—historical developments, culture and representations, and politics and social issues—obscures more than it reveals. Most of the best-written chapters in the collection pursue all three of these avenues. Instead, I would informally divide the book's forty-five chapters into five broad categories, with some overlap: British social history, likely owing to tennis's origins in Britain and Lake's own scholarly interests; location-focused chapters that often profile star players as representative anecdotes (chapters by Arnošt Svoboda and Dino Numerato on the Czech Republic [130–40] and Robert G. Rodriguez on Argentina [141–50] are particularly compelling); identity-focused case studies of players and eras to illuminate issues of race, class, gender, sexuality, and disability; the administration and governance of tennis; and the representation of tennis in various media.
Sometimes, chapters combine fruitfully, as if picking up where another leaves off. Following Stephen Wagg's chapter on Wimbledon as a shifting British national symbol with John Harris's profile of Andy Murray's complicated Britishness is perhaps the best example of a natural pairing. At other moments, one wishes to know what one chapter would say to another: John Carvalho and Michael Milford's chapter on Bill Tilden's rhetorical strategy of transcendence in defying the USLTA, which glosses Tilden's adulation toward and seduction of teenage boys, needs to communicate with Nathan Titman's chapter on Tilden's gender performance, inexplicably placed almost 150 pages away. The dual chapters on Tilden highlight an interesting inconsistency in the collection: while some chapters commit to a near-hagiographic portrayal of key figures, Jayne O. Ifekwunigwe's chapter on the Williams sisters (440–50) at times seems needlessly polemical, even while it raises important questions about the celebrification of blackness through harmful tropes and "the politics of protest and complicity" among "the post-Civil Rights Hip-Hop feminist generation" (447).
The strongest chapters in the collection set out an argument and doggedly prove it through innovative and relevant methods. Brad Hummel and Mark Dyreson's opening chapter, which argues that tennis has historically moved from a sport of patronage to a sport of sponsorship, is unrivalled as a piece of writing and effectively draws on the archived papers of George MacCall, founder of the National Tennis League at a pivotal moment in the professionalization of tennis (19–28). Similarly engrossing is Suzanne Rowland's chapter on women's tennis clothing. What she calls "object-focused material cultural analysis" (173) mixes garment analysis with visual and textual analysis to debunk common assumptions about "garden party tennis," recognizing instead that, while late nineteenthand early twentieth-century women stayed "within the confines of acceptable dress," they also made [End Page 180] important modifications for ease of movement and comfort (173). Lake's chapter on the introduction of the volley, lob, smash, and overhead serve—along with the arguments about masculinity, femininity, and etiquette attendant to these new shots—draws extensively on primary newspaper and magazine sources from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century (255–65). Alistair John and Brent McDonald's urban history of...