Friday, July 14, 2006


In tennis, when a point has concluded, there is usually one or more balls that have to be retrieved and delivered to the person who will serve the next point. In the pros, as we see on TV, errant balls are retrieved by “ball-kids,” nee “ball-boys,” who scurry around and try to be invisible.

But for us, who retrieve our own balls, the manner in which an opponent delivers balls back to the server says much.

My standard, and, I believe, the civilized standard, is an obvious application of the Golden Rule: return the balls to your opponent in a way that is easy and convenient for your opponent. This means waiting until he is looking in your direction and is more or less expecting you to return the ball. Then, you tap the ball so that it gets to your opponent on one big gentle bounce.

There is a branch of tennis theory and practice (actually all sports) called gamesmanship. This means how to conduct the non-tennis aspects of the match to maximize your chances of winning. One such piece of advice is to NOT be polite in delivering balls back to the server.

So, when I’m the server, at the conclusion of a point, I might be facing away from the net, going back to the baseline, and two balls whiz past me, one on either side, all the way to the fence and I have to exert myself to retrieve them and pick them up.

When this happens I know that my opponent is either a dumbshit who was never taught how to act, or is deliberately following this gamesmanship advice. In the former case, which is rare, I might attempt to educate my opponent.

In most cases I respond in kind. But I don’t return the ball when the asshole’s back is turned. I wait until he is looking straight at me, then I hit the ball so that it misses him by twenty feet. Of course, I follow that with, “Sorry.”

The opponent either modifies his behavior or we have a very slow match. Either way’s fine with this old guy.

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markleym said...

Who knew you play tennis!

Does Pud play tennis too? If so, how does he return the ball?

sfwillie said...

Pud is extremely polite. Pud has been playing tennis from infancy. He doesn't compete. He plays "old man" tennis which is basically conversational, i.e, each shot has some weird spin or unexpected placement, like a funny remark in a conversation.

I'm more of a novice. Pud won't play with me. When I see him at the courts he calls
me "Grasshopper."

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