Tennis Player With a Story: Michael Steinberger

steinberger headshotYou never know just who you’ll run into on the tennis court. And if you pay close attention, every once in a while you will meet someone with a story worth hearing.

Michael Steinberger is one of those people.

A Delaware resident and USTA League player, Steinberger is a longtime journalist who worked as a correspondent in Hong Kong and has written for magazines like Vanity Fair and The New Yorker. This past summer, he wrote a cover story for The New York Times Magazine about Roger Federer.

When he’s not tapping away on his keyboard, reporting a story or spending time with his family, you can usually find Steinberger on the tennis court.

Steinberger doesn’t need much time to describe why he plays tennis. As soon as he hit the court with a racquet in 2009, he never looked back – not even after tearing his Achilles tendon a few matches into his first USTA League season.

A former standout squash player, he took up tennis because he wanted to try his hand at a different racquet sport, and figured that if he played tennis, it might encourage his kids to play.

“I just love hitting a tennis ball,” he said. “For better or for worse, my competitive instincts seem to be just as keen in my 40s as they were in my 20s.”

Like his journey to tennis, Steinberger’s career story is unique and intriguing. He began his professional career on Wall Street before deciding that investment banking simply wasn’t for him. Interested in the world and always interested in writing, he made the switch to journalism and made the transition work.

During his career, Steinberger has written about politics, economics, food and wine. For nearly a decade he was the wine columnist for Slate Magazine, and he now holds the same position at Men’s Journal. In 2009, he published “Au Revoir to All That: Food, Wine, and the End of France,” a book that explores French cuisine. A story he wrote last year for Vanity Fair about a major case of wine fraud won a James Beard Journalism Award, and film rights to the article were optioned the week it was published.

This year, he traveled to Tokyo to do a magazine feature about the city’s food scene, and he spent five days at Wimbledon to do the reporting for his New York Times Magazine story about Federer.

Steinberger said that interviewing Federer at Wimbledon was one of the more memorable experiences of his career.

On the court he’s seen his game grow, and he competed on two 4.0 men’s teams this past summer. He said he enjoys the camaraderie of league tennis, and also loves sharing the sport with his kids, James (12) and Ava (9).

“Ava is the tennis player – this summer she played her first USTA event,” he said. “She’s in the 10 and Under program, using the low-compression balls. She loves it.”

He said James is more of a basketball player at the moment, but he’s working on that.

“He hits the ball nicely; we’ll see if we can get him playing a bit more,” he said.

In the meantime, Steinberger plans on playing as much as he can and seeing what the sport has in store for him.

“I would absolutely love to improve, and to continue to improve,” he said. “I’d love to go as far as one can go at my age with a career and a family and dodgy knees. It’s a lot of fun.”

For more info on USTA League Tennis, click here.

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