Need a quick summer read that will put a smile on your face? Thinking of a gift for a team captain? Don’t spend $20 on a gift card. You’ll find that Ode to Tennis (2017, Wild Creek Publishing Group, $9.95) by Barbara Wyatt with illustrations by Mario Barrera, might just fit the bill.
Ode to Tennis is a tennis poem that captures the euphoria and struggles of the game. Using a tennis lesson as a storyline, the poem begins with the player on fire as her balls fly effortlessly across the net and drop into the court.
“I whip it, I flip it,
The ball flies deep with spin.
No doubt Rafael Nadal
Is my identical twin.”
Tennis lessons are about recognizing a weakness and listening to expert advice to improve a tennis stroke and incorporate game strategy into the next match. As the teaching pro in the poem delivers instructions—“follow through,” “watch the ball,” “step into the shot,” “bend your knees”—the player hits balls into the net. Again and again.
“I chase the ball in tournaments,
I compete in the USTA
Yet my strokes leave players laughing.
I’m more comical than Tina Fey!”
The pro continues the lesson with coaching hints from The Inner Game of Tennis by W. Timothy Gallwey, the 1970s tennis instructional book of Gallwey’s theories on how to break bad mental habits. The player finally hits a perfectly executed shot against the teaching pro. She jumps for joy, as featured on the book’s cover, and says:
“The pro’s college matches are too far past.
Tennis teaching certificates be damned!
It’s me, the late start player,
Who made that ball go WHAM!”
Ode to Tennis is delightfully illustrated by Mario Barrera. One clever illustration shows balls piling up on the player’s side and not one ball on the pro’s side of the net. Another includes a half-dozen emojis showing the many faces of determination and frustration of tennis players.
This is a poem written specifically to tennis players. It is a first for rhyming poetry to include the words, “inside-out shots,” “top-spin backhands” and “USTA” in its stanzas.
It’s a clever and quick read that will be sure to bring a smile. This small gift book reminds us that tennis is a game of many brilliant strokes, followed by a few boneheaded ones.