One of Harlan Coben’s earliest memories of Roland-Garros is Andre Agassi’s career slam-clinching victory in 1999. The author, known worldwide for his thriller and mystery novels, loved tennis as a child and played a lot up until the age of 12, when he stopped for health reasons. At weekends he would practise at the Port Washington Tennis Academy, where many US greats trained. He started playing tennis again last year, and fell back in love with the sport.
Roland: Coben's Parisian plot twist
Acclaimed author Harlan Coben tells Roland about his love for tennis and friendship with Billie Jean King.
In the interim, the New Jersey native had watched a lot of matches, trying to spend at least one day of the US Open every year. He even struck up a close friendship with one of his idols, Billie Jean King, who he has known for a number of years. Coben’s friendship with King is one of the reasons why he decided to pick up tennis again. Back at Forest Hills with King last year, he told her: ‘I don’t want to make you feel old, but I saw you play here when I was a kid!’
“People should know what she’s like in real life: she’s so kind, generous, funny, great sense of irony, modest and intelligent,” Coben said. “She is a really special person, and I am really happy to have her in my life.”
The heady atmosphere of the US Open in the 1990s was the inspiration behind Coben’s 1996 book, ‘Drop Shot’, in which a young female tennis player is assassinated in the middle of the tournament: “People came dressed in tennis clothes, some even walked around holding racquets – as though Agassi would suddenly turn around and say ‘I need a doubles partner!’”
When preparing to write a new book, Coben takes few notes, preferring to take photos and observe and listen to people. On Andre Agassi’s entourage watching from the player’s box: “it looked like the after‑party of an Aerosmith concert, or backstage at a rock concert – they all had wigs, a grunge look…”
Roland asked Coben to sum up some of the biggest names in tennis in one word:
John McEnroe: “Explosive.”
Rafael Nadal: “A fighter.”
Roger Federer: “You know the acronym GOAT? The greatest of all time – that’s how I’d describe him.”
Serena Williams: “Determined.”
Andre Agassi: “Spontaneous.”
For all his attachment to the US Open, Coben’s favourite surface is clay, which naturally makes him a big fan of Roland-Garros. He describes the sensation of sliding on the clay as “a magical moment”.
Along with New York, the French capital is Coben’s favourite city in the world: “Paris is a beautiful woman – who knows it.”