I’ve been wanting to start a regular column here at The Changeover on tennis books and tennis authors pretty much ever since we began the site–I have a bit of a personal interest in the topic– but unfortunately I got busy and also a bit lazy, a terrible combination, and never got it off the ground. But when Jennifer Iacopelli, who I met on Twitter, started tweeting about the release of her new adult (more on that later) novel “Game.Set.Match.” I knew that would be the perfect place to start.
I was right. (As usual.)
The truth is that as much as I love the history and the real-life biographies and the statistics and other serious-face tennis topics, I also enjoy the lighter side of the sport as well. I love the petty rivalries, the romances, the friendships, and the fashion. Though the matches and the training and the traveling are far from glamorous, it’s all still much more exciting and high-stakes than the life I lead. It’s always fun to imagine what goes on off the court between these players that we spend so much time watching.
“Game. Set. Match.” follows the lives of three different girls in their late teens who all train at the prestigious Outer Banks Tennis Academy in North Carolina. The structure of the novel works because all of the characters are different enough to stand alone, but all living in the same world and working towards the same goal–becoming the best tennis player in the world. The men in their lives are all intriguing (and HOT) as well, but they’re definitely the supporting characters in this book. It’s really about the established star Penny, the spawn-of-tennis-legends Jasmine, and the newcomer Indy trying to grow into women on the court and off.
Basically it’s 90210 meets the WTA.
From a writing standpoint, I enjoyed the book because it was fast-paced, flowed well, and never tried to pretend to be anything that it wasn’t. It’s cheesy in parts. It’s romantic. It’s overwrought, but grounded in emotions that make sense. It’s smart because it is exactly what it’s supposed to be. Fun.
From a tennis standpoint, I loved it because it was set in the real tennis universe. Though the characters and the Outer Banks Tennis Academy are all figments of Iacopelli’s imagination, they all exist in the tennis world that we know. The book follows the tour from Madrid through the French Open, so the timing of the release is absolutely perfect, and to be honest it was great to read about off-court drama that wasn’t quite as serious as the stuff that’s been going on in the news this week. It helps that Iacopelli is a real tennis fan, and her passion for the sport shines through. She’s one of us. Though she has to talk about tennis in terms that non-fans will understand, there’s plenty of stuff for hardcore fans to appreciate too, and I never felt like she was talking down to us.
I read the book in an afternoon, got completely sucked into the stories, and couldn’t wait to find out what happened next when it was done. Perfect.
Iacopelli was nice enough to answer a few of the questions I had, and hopefully will show up in the comments to answer any questions you may have! You can purchase the book here.
Q & A:
I know from our Twitter friendship that you really love tennis. How did you become a fan?
Anyone who knows me knows I’m a total sports nut, but tennis was my absolute first love. I grew up in Queens during the early nineties AND my name was Jennifer, thus I automatically assumed I was destined to be the next Jennifer Capriati. I took lessons at the National Tennis Center and just totally fell in love with the sport. Obviously, I wasn’t nearly good enough to play professionally and my interest in playing competitively dwindled, but I’ve always remained a huge fan.
The book is so specific about the life of an up and coming tennis player. Does your knowledge of that come from firsthand experience, research, or imagination?
I like to think of it as unintentional research and a lot of imagination. Obviously, I’m a tennis fan so I’ve heard a ton of stories over the years from players about their journey to the pro tour. The little details I had to fill in myself, but luckily there isn’t only one path to follow, so I could be creative with the players’ backgrounds.
As a tennis fan myself, I couldn’t help but wonder if you based your characters off of any current players? If not, I’d love to hear who you think your characters’ tour counterpoints are.
Oh! My tennis players all definitely have a little bit of some real life tennis players, both past and present.
Of my male characters, there’s only one who plays at a professional level, Alex Russell. He is British and a seven-time Grand Slam champion, but has fallen off a bit, focusing more on partying and less on training. I like to think of him as someone under the pressure of Andy Murray, with the talent of Roger Federer and the attitude of Andy Roddick all rolled into one!
Penny Harrison, on the court, is definitely Steffi Graf, though at the very beginning of her career. She’s got the talent and the drive to be the best ever, though she meets her “Andre” a lot earlier than Steffi did, so let’s hope she doesn’t let that distract her!
I can’t believe I’m about to do this, but Indy is definitely John Isner. She’s super powerful, though not nearly as tall, but she can be really inconsistent and she doesn’t have the strongest mental game. She’s got a ton of talent, but she has to get out of her own way.
And last, but not least, Jasmine. Actually the inspiration for Jasmine came from a “what if” I asked myself when I was doing some very preliminary character sketches. What if Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf’s kids wanted to play tennis professionally? Her character just grew from there.
How fun was it to come up with the names for all those tennis players?
Some of the players are named for my friends. The rest were me just having some fun on the internet looking up common names in different countries. Some of my favorites are Zinaida “Zina” Lutrova, the women’s No. 1, Pallavi and Anaya Kapur, twins who dominate the women’s doubles circuit, my little nod to the awesome Bryan brothers and Paolo Macchia, who is named for one of my favorite athletes of all time, Paolo Maldini of AC Milan!
Though these are fictional characters, you set it in the real tennis universe. There’s Madrid, Rome, the French Open, and even mentions of Rio. Was it hard to make the complicated tennis world accessible for a general audience, and did you ever consider just making up your own tennis rules?
Yes it was hard and no I never considered making up my own rules. One of my biggest pet peeves is a sports movie/tv show/book/whatever that portrays the sport in an unrealistic way.
At the same time, as you said, I wanted to make sure that the tennis, the complexities of the pro tour and the game itself, was as accessible as possible for people who don’t know the difference between love and deuce.
I took the “less is more” approach. I explained things only when absolutely necessary and tried to weave little details into the story when I could. Sometimes there was no getting around just explaining how the game works, like the first time I wrote about a tie-break or when I had to let a reader know that clay courts play slower than hard courts or how its easier to improve your ranking if you do really well at a Grand Slam rather than a much small tournament.
I was lucky in that I had some great early readers, some tennis fans and some not, who gave me a ton of great feedback and helped me strike that balance.
We’re tennis nerds and writing nerds over here at The Changeover. We’d love to hear a little bit about your process of writing this book briefly, from conception to writing to book deal to editing.
I got the idea for GAME. SET. MATCH. in August of 2011. I was actually in the shower with my iPod in its dock on random and the song Penny and Me by Hanson (no judging!) came on. There and then, Penny Harrison popped into my head nearly fully formed. I knew a ridiculous amount of information about her, but the one thing that really stood out was that she was a tennis player. I plotted most of it out and then started writing around the beginning of November. I finished in early 2012, did a bunch of revisions because the first draft was total crap and on March 31st, I was done.
Of course it’s not nearly that easy. I had a finished manuscript, but I didn’t have any way of getting it published, so the next step was to try and find a literary agent to represent me. And that means going through a process called querying. Querying is when you write a short (no more than one page) email, pitching your book to a literary agent.
Remember applying to college? Multiply that stress by about a billion and you might come close to what querying is like and I had it pretty easy. I sent out 100 query emails to literary agents who represented books like mine (young adult/crossover women’s fiction, now with its own new fancy label, “new adult”). I started querying on April 1st. Here were my stats:
Total Queries Sent: 100
Rejections of Query: 44
No Response: 33
Requests to Review Full or Partial Manuscript: 22
Rejections of the Full or Partial: 14 + 5 who never responded = 19
Offers of Representation: 3
I signed with my amazing agent Michelle Wolfson on June 12th, less than a year after starting my manuscript. I was SO lucky that we found each other so fast!
Then came a process that was even more nerve-wracking than querying. It’s called being “on submission” when your agent submits your work to publishers for consideration. We knew it would be really tough to sell GAME. SET. MATCH. because first, people think girls hate sports (untrue, but whatever) and second, I wrote in a category that didn’t exist yet. My characters are between the ages of 17-23, not “young adult,” but not really the right age for a mainstream adult novel. Thankfully we were able to sign with a publisher that was out ahead of a trend that’s really taken off since called “new adult” which focuses specifically on that age group. The awesome people at Coliloquy signed me to a three book deal in late July 2012.
I’ve rambled on a lot, but you did ask about editing too, so I’ll be quick! I won’t lie, there was a lot of editing, a ton really, but what never changed was the heart of the story, my three girls all of whom dreamed about becoming the best tennis player in the world!
Is this your first book? Have you always wanted to be a writer?
I’ve been writing forever, but this is actually the first book I’ve managed to complete from start to finish. I’ve got bits and bobs of dozens of novels squirreled away for a rainy day though, just waiting for me to come back and finish them one day!
What is next for you and for your characters? Do we get to see them again? Please say yes.
In GAME. SET. MATCH. we travel to the French Open and just like in the real world, the next book, which will hopefully be out sometime later this year, will focus on the time leading up to and during Wimbledon! There will be a third book in the series as well and since you’re all tennis fans, I’m sure you can guess what major we’ll be headed to next.
Thanks so much to Jennifer for kicking off our Tennis Book Talk series! If you guys have any other tennis books and tennis authors you want me to read/interview, please let me know!