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“Tennis has always made sense to me as a conversation between the players that we, the spectators, get to overhear,” says Rowan Ricardo Phillips ’96. An acclaimed poet, Paris Review sports columnist, and Guggenheim Fellowship recipient, Phillips lyrically chronicles the remarkable conversation that was the 2017 professional season in his new book, The Circuit: A Tennis Odyssey (Farrar, Straus and Giroux).

“Often, art’s spark is set off by what you love,” he says, “and I felt compelled, in a good way, to write this book.”

What has tennis meant to you?

I inherited my love of tennis from my parents, but when schoolwork started to pile up, I left playing behind. I think I hit twice, maximum, on the courts at Swarthmore. But as I grew older, tennis came back to me with a spectacular and vibrant intensity. I play every week and catch as many matches as I can. Looking back, tennis is one of the longest relationships I’ve had in my life, even thinking back to the sneakers, tracksuits, and that old, wooden Slazenger racket that I wish I still had around.

What’s the response been like?

I’ve been moved to hear readers say the book made them want to go outside and play, or catch up on the next season. The book’s written in a style that reflects how I feel about tennis: It’s a lyrical thing with building increments, dips into sadness and humor, has turns that are historical and others that are more contemplative, but most of all, there’s a deep love for the game and for the sentence.

For artists, where is tennis going?

Tennis has many great stories to be told, with fascinating characters both major and minor. At its best, tennis is a beautifully multifoliate experience with so many possibilities for writers to explore. And The Circuit is just that: a possibility to look back at a year from a different horizon.