Charlotte “Charlie” Silver is one of the best professional tennis players in the world, and she’s living a good, globe-trotting life. She’s a talented girl next door with a spotless reputation and a signature ponytail, making her a role model for girls across the United States and beyond.
But when she suffers a broken wrist and a devastating ankle injury in a slip and fall at Wimbledon, she realizes that being a solid pro and America’s sweetheart isn’t enough. When she comes back from the injury, she wants to be the best, and she’s willing to do whatever it takes to get there, starting with hiring a sadistic but overwhelmingly successful coach who has never worked with a “girl” before, Todd Feltner.
The abusive but effective coach-player relationship between Todd and Charlie is at the competitive core of “The Singles Game,” Lauren Weisberger’s new novel about life on the pro tennis tour. If you read or saw the film version of Weisberger’s “The Devil Wears Prada,” you’ll probably spot parallels between Charlie and Todd and that best seller’s Andy Sachs and her boss, Miranda Priestly.
That’s not a bad thing. Weisberger is excellent at telling the story of a good Jewish girl who risks losing herself personally to achieve her professional goals. “The Singles Game” works as a story of one woman’s growth, as a romance and as a sports book.
I’m not much of a tennis fan, don’t read romance novels and am not the target audience for the chick-lit genre, but I devoured “The Singles Game” because it’s so well written and so much fun to follow Charlie on her journey around the world and up the rankings.
I might have enjoyed the book more with less romance, but in a June interview Weisberger said it wouldn’t have been realistic to write about a 25-year-old woman who never thinks about finding love.
She’s looking forward to talking about the book Wednesday, July 20, at the Marcus Jewish Community Center in a Page From the Book Festival event with radio personality Jenn Hobby. The JCC is a regular stop on her book tours, and Weisberger said the big crowd she gets in Dunwoody is always fun. “The best part about getting on the road is meeting the readers.”
Weisberger said she has played and loved tennis since she was a little girl, and she was drawn to the opportunity to write about the women on the pro tour.
“I’m really in awe of these women,” Weisberger said, noting that we know them as one-name celebrities (Serena, Venus, Maria, Steffi, Martina, Chrissie) who are famous for their hard work, talent and dedication. “They’re not just another pretty face on the red carpet.”
To research the novel, Weisberger spoke to a range of people involved in the game, including Women’s Tennis Association officials, current and former players, and players’ hitting partners (Charlie’s hitting partner travels and practices with her and plays a key role in the book).
The writer traveled the world and said she was given amazing behind-the-scenes access at tournaments such as Key Biscayne, Fla., Charleston, S.C., Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. Those tour stops show Charlie’s progress throughout the novel, especially her quest to win one of the four majors.
Weisberger offers glimpses at the glamorous but exhausting lifestyle as Charlie is transformed into the warrior princess of tennis (bringing in some of the fashion sense from “The Devil Wears Prada”), eliminates sugar and caffeine from a strictly regimented diet, builds a new level of fitness, lands endorsements, faces off against a bitter, fashion-model-beautiful professional rival, and romances the world’s top male player.
One element in the novel that Weisberger said did not come from her research on tour is drug use. “As far as recreational drug use, I saw nothing like that. I heard nothing like that. Personally, I’d be shocked if it did occur,” she said. “This is where the fiction comes in. … I never saw anyone even take a sip of a drink.”
Like all of her protagonists, Weisberger said, Charlie is Jewish, but religion plays no part in the novel — not even to the extent that her widowed father expresses any wish for her to find a nice Jewish man.
But Charlie naturally faces obstacles off the court as well as across the net. Her transformation brings the disapproval of her club pro father and seems to create some distance between her and her brother, who is her agent and runs her finances almost as thoroughly as Todd runs her tennis life.
When I suggested that Charlie and her peers seem to be in a state of perpetual childhood — they have coaches and agents telling them where to be, what to eat and what to do; they’re on call for drug tests every day; they don’t have families until they retire; and because they’re on tour 10 months a year, they don’t own homes or do much driving — Weisberger rejected the idea and said pro tennis players are remarkable. “These women are strong and empowered.”
Who: Lauren Weisberger
What: Conversation with Jenn Hobby and book signing
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 20
Where: Marcus JCC, 5342 Tilly Mill Road, Dunwoody
Tickets: $10 for JCC members, $15 for nonmembers; www.atlantajcc.org/bookfestival or 678-812-4002