Monday, 3 May 2010

two different people crudely stitched together

This is from The String Theory, a 1995 essay on tennis by David Foster Wallace. As a set of physical pen portraits, it's amazing:
Television tends to level everybody out and make everyone seem kind of blandly good-looking, but at Montreal it turns out that a lot of the pros and stars are interesting-or even downright funny-looking. Jim Courier, former number one but now waning and seeded tenth here, looks like Howdy Doody in a hat on TV but here turns out to be a very big boy -- the “Guide M├ędia” lists him at 175 pounds, but he’s way more than that, with big smooth muscles and the gait and expression of a Mafia enforcer. Michael Chang, twenty-three and number five in the world, sort of looks like two different people stitched crudely together: a normal upper body perched atop hugely muscular and totally hairless legs. He has a mushroom-shaped head, inky-black hair, and an expression of deep and intractable unhappiness, as unhappy a face as I’ve seen outside a graduate creative-writing program. Pete Sampras is mostly teeth and eyebrows in person and has unbelievably hairy legs and forearms -- hair in the sort of abundance that allows me confidently to bet that he has hair on his back and is thus at least not 100 percent blessed and graced by the universe. Goran Ivanisevic is large and tan and surprisingly good-looking, at least for a Croat; I always imagine Croats looking ravaged and emaciated, like somebody out of a Munch lithograph -- except for an incongruous and wholly absurd bowl haircut that makes him look like somebody in a Beatles tribute band. It’s Ivanisevic who will beat Joyce in three sets in the main draw’s second round. Czech former top-ten Petr Korda is another classic-looking mismatch: At six three and 160, he has the body of an upright greyhound and the face of -- eerily, uncannily -- a freshly hatched chicken (plus soulless eyes that reflect no light and seem to see only in the way that fishes’ and birds’ eyes see).

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