Center Court

I am not a sports enthusiast. There was a phase when I got in Sports enthusiasts. For those 4-5 years, I used to ardently compile a cricket scrap book full of pictures and all statistics of almost all the major active players. At that time I would watch all the major tennis grand slam matches as well as major international soccer tournaments. This phase came suddenly and went suddenly. Books have been my true love before and have continued to be even after that phase. As far as playing sports goes, the only way I scored runs was by distracting the bowler to laughter with my amusing stance. If humor was my signature in cricket, violence was my signature in football. Whether I got the ball or not, I would definitely get the player. Such has been my harrowing experience with sports. So I am hardly the right reader for a sports novel. But since Sriram is a good friend on virtual communities and his previous book "Rain" was pretty decent, I ended up picking this one as well. And what a book this turned out to be! A complete page turner! A theme that does not interest me at all and main characters who are not at all like me. Yet the story hooked me from page 1 and kept me hooked till the last page.

Right plot, right characters, right language, right narration - this book has it all. The main characters are Shankar Mahadevan, India's top Tennis player, the first one to ever hold a chance at a Grand Slam. The venue is Wimbledon, the Mecca of Tennis. Shankar's father and coach form the main supporting cast. The story flows seamlessly taking the reader from match to match as Shankar makes his way through the 7 rounds of the tournament with the interval between each match interspersed with Shankar's back story, his social life, tit bits about Tennis history and the author's general philosophy about life. The author has managed to blend all of this elements very well and the reader's interest does not sag for a moment. There is quite a lot of drama going on both on court and off court. The notorious paparazzi  seeking sensational news, the corrupt sports federations, girl friends form the off field drama. Each player, each match is so different from the other - one player is a cheat, one player is a genius, one an ambitious upstart, one a complete jerk to name a few.

The author also manages to share his philosophy and impress on the reader his view of sports as an art form. He also manages to show us his vision for sports in the country. That was the story is not just entertainment - there is a message as well. The ending was also very good. After all the start I feared the author will wind up the story to a tame end. Luckily he did nothing of that sort.

I guess no review is complete without nitpicking somewhere and finding some flaw. So here goes - I felt probably the voice of the father and the voice of the son both seemed similar in some places. They did not seem distinct enough. Sometimes it felt as if Sriram himself was launching into a monologue of sorts that his friends on social media and probably in real life as well are used to.

Overall, a fantastic read that I would strongly recommend to just about anyone.

For whom the bell tolls

A book of faces