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Tennis Player Michael Joyce's Professional Artistry as a Paradigm of Certain Stuff about Choice, Freedom, Discipline, Joy, Grotesquerie, and Human Completeness

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This essay, previously published in Esquire in 1996 as “The String Theory,” is a sort of profile of world-class tennis professional Michael Joyce as he competes in the 1995 Canadian Open. Although Joyce is an incredible tennis player (ranked 79th in the world at the time this essay was written), Wallace focuses more on Joyce’s obscurity in the world of tennis, and the implications this has on American culture and values. In short, Michael Joyce “is undeniably a world-class tennis player, but he’s not quite at the level where the serious TV and money are” (221). Joyce is an underdog at the Canadian Open. The way Wallace describes the system of qualifying matches for the major tennis tournaments almost makes it sound as though Joyce has no hope for the world-wide fame that tennis superstars enjoy. (And, from today’s perspective, we know that he doesn’t.)