A Brief History
Tennis is a sport with a long and fascinating history, dating back to 12th century France, where it was played by monks as a form of entertainment. Over the centuries, the game evolved and spread throughout Europe, eventually making its way to England, where it became a popular pastime among the upper classes in the 16th and 17th centuries.
The modern game of tennis that we know today began to take shape in the late 19th century, with the establishment of formal rules and the organization of the first official tennis tournaments. Since then, tennis has become one of the most popular and prestigious sports in the world, with millions of players and fans around the globe. In fact, according to the International Tennis Federation, there are, in total, 87 million unique players in the world, which make up approximately 1.71% of the global population! 90% of those players live in Europe, Asia, and North America.
Ok, so a lot of people play tennis!
What you may not know is that there have been some phenomenal books written about tennis: some from players, others from coaches, and still others more broadly on the sport itself. My goal today is to provide you with tennis books that our team not only enjoyed but were a cut above the rest. These books are worth your time!
Before we do that, let's take a look at why you should read one of these books.
Why Read One of These Books
Before I read any book, it's important to think about what you want to get out of it. The nice thing about the books below is that they all have many of the seven elements below, which should help your game and also how you think about competition.
Fundamentals and Techniques: A book like Essential Tennis covers the basic strokes, footwork, and techniques involved in playing the game. Books like this provide detailed instructions, diagrams, and tips to help you improve your grip, swing, serve, volley, and other essential skills.
Strategy and Tactics: Books on tennis strategy delve into different game plans, tactics for different surfaces, and approaches to playing against various types of opponents. They can help you understand how to construct points, exploit weaknesses, and develop a winning game strategy.
Mental Preparation: Tennis is a mentally demanding sport, and books focused on the mental aspects can provide valuable insights on handling pressure, staying focused, maintaining confidence, managing emotions, and developing mental resilience on the court. The Inner Game of Tennis has become somewhat of a cult classic in this area for both tennis players and non-players alike.
Fitness and Conditioning: Physical fitness is crucial in tennis, and books on fitness for tennis players can provide training programs, exercises, and advice on strength, endurance, flexibility, speed, agility, and injury prevention specific to the demands of the sport.
Player Biographies and Histories: We feature several biographies of successful players below, who share their experiences, career journeys, and insights. These can offer inspiration and motivation, as well as provide a historical perspective on the sport.
Rules and Regulations: Books covering the rules and regulations of tennis can be helpful for beginners or those looking to gain a deeper understanding of the game's official rules, scoring system, code of conduct, and tournament regulations. No "rule book" per se made our top ten list, but there are several resources out there, including this one, that can help.
Coaching and Teaching: Tennis books aimed at coaches or those interested in teaching the sport can provide guidance on structuring practice sessions, designing training programs, analyzing and correcting technique, and developing players' skills. Winning Ugly falls into this camp given Brad Gilbert's impressive work as a coach over the years.
With that, please enjoy our top 10 tennis books.
The Top 10 Tennis Books
I've written about this book several times and also included it in our list of Best Motivational Books. It's raw, authentic, and beautifully written. In fact, this may be one of the best overall sports books of all time, tennis aside. I also wrote previously about J.R. Moehringer, who was the ghostwriter that worked with Agassi. Agassi was interviewed in a two-part series below right after the book was published:
2. The Master
New York Times correspondent, Christopher Clarey, puts in the work in this excellent biography about the greatest men's tennis player of all time. I recently watched a Netflix documentary called: Untold: Breaking Point. The movie is about American tennis player, Mardy Fish, but also does a great job talking about just how good Federer was. As players like Fish and Andy Roddick trained to beat him, Federer would often make easy work of both with his precision and seemingly effortless ground game. If you're a fan of Federer, you should also check out The Last Days of Roger Federer by Geoff Dyer.
3. The Inner Game of Tennis
This book explores the mental aspects of tennis and how they can affect a player's performance on the court. The book argues that many of the obstacles to achieving peak performance in tennis (and in other areas of life) are mental rather than physical. Gallwey proposes that the key to success is to focus on the "inner game," which involves managing one's thoughts and emotions in a way that enhances performance. The book offers practical advice and techniques for developing one's inner game, such as increasing self-awareness, learning to quiet the mind, and trusting one's instincts. While the book is specifically about tennis, its insights and principles can be applied to many other areas of life where mental toughness and focus are important. We also featured this on our list of Best Sports Psychology Books.
If you want a short overview of some of the key concepts in this book, check out the video below.
4. But Seriously
Any book written by John McEnroe is sure to be a hoot, and this certainly delivered. The book covers McEnroe's life both on and off the tennis court, and explores his experiences and reflections on a variety of topics, including his famous tennis rivalries, his family life, his struggles with anger and fame, his thoughts on the state of modern tennis, and his opinions on various political and social issues. Throughout the book, McEnroe shares personal anecdotes and insights from his long and storied career, offering readers a behind-the-scenes look at the world of professional tennis and a glimpse into his own complex and colorful personality.
5. Winning Ugly
Gilbert won 20 professional singles titles and then went on to coach several stars, including Andre Agassi and Andy Roddick. The book is a guide to winning tennis matches through strategy and mental toughness, rather than relying solely on physical ability or talent. Gilbert shares his own experiences as a player and coach, as well as insights from other successful tennis players, to provide practical advice on how to analyze opponents, exploit weaknesses, and maintain a winning mindset. He covers topics such as developing a game plan, adapting to changing conditions, using psychological tactics to gain an advantage, and dealing with pressure and adversity.
6. Essential Tennis
Unlike the previous five books, this book is for the person that wants to improve their tennis performance. Westermann founded the popular tennis site, essentialtennis.com, and has been teaching players around the world for years. He talks about ways to improve groundstrokes, volleys, and serves, as well as progressions, drills, and mindsets. A good mix of both mental and physical tips for players young and old.
7. All In
This book is brand new and well worth a read. Billie was ranked as the top women's tennis player in the world for six years and won 39 grand slam titles! She talks about the era in which she played, the women's movement, anti-war protests in the 1960's, and civil rights. She also gets personal about her own challenges: her battle with sexism in the sport and an eating disorder that almost ruined her career.
8. US Open
I wanted to include this because frankly, it's awesome. A great gift item or display piece for the coffee table, this book was released in 2018 to celebrate the 50 year anniversary of the US Open. The book revisits iconic moments with stars such as Arthur Ashe and Billie Jean King to more recent champions like Roger Federer and Serena Williams. For US Open fans, we wrote a previous article about the cost to attend the US Open.
9. A Handful of Summers
This book is a memoir by Gordon Forbes, a former professional tennis player from South Africa. The book chronicles Forbes' experiences as a tennis player during the 1950s and 60s, when the sport was undergoing significant changes and becoming more global in its reach. Through a series of colorful anecdotes and observations, Forbes provides readers with a firsthand look at the world of professional tennis during this era, sharing stories of his travels, his relationships with fellow players, and his struggles and triumphs on the court. Along the way, he offers insights into the unique challenges and rewards of a career in professional tennis, as well as reflections on the broader social and political context of the time. He also recently penned another book called "I'll Take The Sunny Side," and you can hear him talk more about it below.
Rafael Nadal shares his life story, from his early days as a young player in Spain to his rise to the top of the sport. He talks candidly about his successes, setbacks, and the physical and mental challenges he's faced along the way. This book was also featured in our list of Best Athlete Tell-All Books.
Able by Dylan Scott
Unstoppable by Maria Sharapova
Game, Set, and Match by Mark Hodgkinson
String Theory by David Foster Wallace
If you have a tennis book that you loved and think we should read, please shoot us a note!
For more sports book recommendations, please check out our Recommendations page.
For additional content on Tennis, please check out the Tennis section of our blog.
Last, we also have a list of Pickleball books that we enjoyed and that may be worth your while.
John Willkom is the author of Amazon best-selling basketball books: Walk-On Warrior and No Fear In The Arena. John is an avid reader, sports fan, and father to two incredible little girls.
Check out healthy energy drinks from Celsius: