The Tennis Partner is a beautifully authentic story about two friends who meet each other through medicine and bond through tennis.
Abraham is a practicing physician in El Paso, Texas who loves all things internal medicine and all things tennis. His love for tennis is so tunnel-visioned that his wife Rajani feels that he neglects their marriage. She calls for separation and both consider how this will impact their two young boys. While Abraham (“Abe”) is a well-respected and successful physician at work, his home life is slowly unraveling.
David Smith is a fourth-year medical student who has recently started at the same hospital at Abraham. He is a recovering cocaine addict who has just completed his time at rehab and is rejoining the medical field. While shy and reserved at work, David is a former start tennis player and is a brilliant force of power on the court.
When David is assigned to Abraham’s team at the county hospital, Abraham invites him to play tennis after work one day. The two men quickly bond over tennis and grow to become close friends whose relationship intertwines a personal and professional line.
Abraham learns of David’s history but passes no judgment. The two continue to play and work together. Later on, when stressors in David’s life start to affect David’s wellbeing and decision-making, Abraham watches as David decides to spontaneously move in with a new girlfriend after barely breaking up with his former one.
Eventually, David relapses. While David’s sponsor says he saw it coming, Abraham is shocked to his core. What follows is a tragic yet authentic unraveling of the two men’s tight-knit relationship as David goes down a dark and lonely path towards solitude.
Wow. This story was so very open and honest. To witness the two characters in different arenas, both on the hospital inpatient floors and on the tennis court, was such an exciting experience. David thrived and felt most himself on the tennis court as a former star player to the point where he would often advise Abraham. On the other hand, Abraham felt most powerful on the hospital floors where he taught his students and was a strong mentor to David.
We see how both men struggle to maintain their family and personal relationships in different ways. While Abraham struggles to maintain his marriage with Rajani, he never fails to make time for his sons Ethan and Jacob. David struggles to open up to his parents and struggles to keep healthy romantic relationships with his girlfriends Gloria and Emily.
I enjoyed watching how Abe and David’s relationship progressed throughout the book. While the ending was tragic and heart-wrenching, author Abraham Verghese highlighted many lessons that we could learn from his story.
This book opened my eyes to how pervasive disease impacts and affects society. While many put medical professionals on a higher tier, it is important to remember that these professionals are humans with flaws as well. This story reinforced my belief that it can be hard to know a person’s entire story in full. Therefore, we much treat each other with kindness and respect.
For a beautifully written memoir and genuine story of a doctor and his medical student, I encourage you to pick up The Tennis Partner by Abraham Verghese.